Compensation for Virgin Aircraft Downgrades?

Virgin Australia’s A330s feature one of the world’s best Business class products. Passengers can enjoy comfortable lie-flat beds with direct aisle access, a large entertainment screen and plenty of personal space. “the business”, as Virgin calls it, is offered on all Airbus A330 flights between the east coast of Australia and Perth.

Unfortunately for Virgin Australia flyers, the airline regularly downgrades its trans-continental A330 flights to smaller Boeing 737s.

Seems every time I book the business on a Sunday night from Sydney to Perth the aircraft gets swapped out for a 737. I know the 330’s will almost disappear from this route but what’s the point in continuing to sell the business if you can’t support the service!

This problem is likely to become more frequent as Virgin moves its A330s onto Asian routes. Even red-eye flights – where the lie-flat bed is really needed – are not immune.

On the 737, Virgin Australia’s Business class seats are basic leather recliners – without personal entertainment screens – in a 2-2 configuration. There’s no comparison between the two products; the 737 has vastly inferior Business class seats. Virgin Australia realises this as they label A330 Business class as “the business” on their website and charge a premium for it.

In fact, as the two products are differentiated on Virgin’s website, one member believes that Virgin is contractually obliged to offer the product being advertised.

If you book on the Virgin website, they generally tag the A330 flights with the notation ‘The Business’. They are then contractually obliged to provide that product. Anything else, and the product is not as described.

So, what can you do if you’ve booked an A330 flight and end up on a 737?

According to one member, Virgin Australia does have a policy for aircraft downgrades. Compensation in the form of Velocity points is offered. Passengers can also choose to change to another flight or cancel without fee.

I spoke to an aussie customer service staff who had informed me that they do have policy in place for compensation due to operational downgrades from a330 to 737. At the time I was given a choice of 15k one way (in addition to 30k refund from points upgrade) or to reschedule flight to another time slot with the a330 running. The option to cancel with no fee was also avaliable.

Our members have had mixed success with the implementation of this policy. One member’s recent request for compensation was not entertained.

I sent VA an email last week about it just telling them of my frustration at it when I had used points to upgrade based on the fact that it was an A330. I did say to them while I understand you have a policy in place for aircraft changes and I understand that they have to happen but when the quality of the product is just so different something has to be offered as compensation specially. Their response was just an apology no offer of points or anything.

On the other hand, another member was easily able to change flights.

Phoned VA and they moved me without any hassle to the later A330 flight.

Qantas also uses a mixture of A330s and 737s on trans-continental flights. Qantas has not been known to offer compensation for aircraft changes, but such swaps appear to be less frequent.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]