As Virgin Australia expands its presence in Hong Kong and China (starting with the launch of Melbourne-Hong Kong flights this month), the airline is left with a small problem. Virgin will soon be using its small fleet of six wide-body Airbus A330 aircraft to fly to Asia. This means these aircraft will no longer be available to fly between the Australian east coast and Perth.

A few years ago, Virgin Australia fitted its A330s with comfortable lie-flat beds in Business class. These aircraft were to be used exclusively on trans-continental domestic flights, and were designed to compete with Qantas’ lie-flat Business Suites. But now, more and more of Virgin’s trans-continental flights are being operated by narrow-body Boeing 737s. Eventually, all Perth flights will be operated by these smaller aircraft. These aircraft have basic recliner seats in the pointy end. It’s a vastly inferior Business class product and does not even compete with Qantas’ A330s.

It seems that Virgin Australia may have found a solution. The airline has confirmed that it fit brand new Business class seats on at least some of its Boeing 737s. These aircraft would be used for flights between Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. They could also be used for some of Virgin’s international short-haul flights, e.g. to Bali, New Zealand and Fiji.

The exact design of the new Business class seats is yet to be revealed. Either way, the seats are unlikely to be as good as the current A330 seats in “the business”. But they should be a significant improvement from Virgin’s current 737 seats.

A seat like DL use in Delta One on the 752 transcon or AA use in J on the 321T would be the most likely candidates. A big step down from what we have now on the 330 but a big step up from what is currently offered on 737.

Many members agree that, while “the business” is nice, a lie-flat bed is not necessary on a domestic flight. However, a better Business class seat is needed than what is currently offered on the Boeing 737 – especially on redeye flights departing Perth around midnight.

I’m a VA Plat and I will <not> accept the 737 J class on trans-con. I also avoid VA over the Tasman as the J product is weak. What a difference a lay flat seat would make!

This would retain all that really hard earned loyalty while allowing the A330’s to go to Asia. It would fix a looming problem, and give VA a competitive edge over QF again. Yes it would cost some rows of economy, but those can be the ultra cheap seats.

At this stage it seems that Virgin will only reconfigure a small handful of its narrow-body fleet with the new seats. One member notes that operating sub-fleets of aircraft can be expensive and cause operational complications…

VA can’t afford a subfleet. To do so would be driving further costs into the business that they cannot afford right now. Jetblue had this exact issue with Mint and hence the expansion. Sure Robin Hayes (B6’s CEO) says that he wishes they had more Mint seats in the A321’s and that they are expanding it due to the success but it is also about expanding the reach of the product to lower the overall operating costs of the subfleet. As the Mint fleet gets bigger the costs drop.

It will be interesting to see what the new seats will look like, and how Virgin Australia completes the roll-out in the coming months.

Join the discussion HERE.

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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]