Regional Express, or Rex, began operating Boeing 737s between Australian capital cities in March 2021. Beginning with the lucrative Melbourne-Sydney route, it has since expanded its Boeing 737 network to Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Canberra.
By many accounts, Rex initially struggled to fill its planes with paying customers. This is despite a relatively good on-board service and on-time performance. But business does appear to be improving for Rex, which has seen more sustainable loads of late and will soon take delivery of its seventh jet aircraft.
I reviewed Rex’s Boeing 737 Business Class service when it first launched flights from Melbourne to Sydney in March 2021. In this review, I’ll take a look at Rex’s domestic Boeing 737 Economy Class service on a recent flight from Canberra to Melbourne.
|Route||Canberra (CBR) to Melbourne (MEL)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-800|
|Class of travel||Economy|
|On-time performance||We arrived on time|
I paid $169 for an Economy Saver fare, plus Rex’s 1% online booking fee (why is this a thing in 2022?!) and 1% credit card surcharge, for a total cost of $172.72.
All Rex Economy fares on domestic Boeing 737 flights include 23kg of checked luggage and standard seat selection. (Up-front seats cost an extra $10 and extra legroom seats cost $15 – which isn’t a bad deal.)
I arrived at Canberra Airport at 12.30pm, 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time, and was surprised to find that the check-in counters were not open yet. No check-in kiosks were available in Canberra either, as they are in major Rex ports like Sydney and Melbourne.
At this point a small queue was starting to form and it didn’t take long for the line to become quite long. Around 12.35pm, 3 Swissport staff arrived to start checking in passengers.
There was a dedicated Business Class line for the 5 or so passengers on this flight who had booked a Business Class ticket.
After this, it took only a minute to clear security and I headed upstairs to where the Rex Lounge used to be. Unfortunately, the Rex Lounge in Canberra is no more. The doors to the old lounge area were locked and the space has been converted back into an international departures area for use by Qatar Airways when it resumes flights to Canberra later this year.
Rex does still have lounges in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide which can be used by Business Class guests and Rex Lounge members. Access is also available for an additional fee to passengers with an Economy Saver or Flex ticket, as well as to Priority Pass members flying with any airline.
Boarding was called around 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time and I couldn’t help thinking that the wording of the boarding announcement was identical to Virgin Australia’s.
There was a priority boarding lane for Business Class passengers and the whole process was refreshingly calm and orderly. There was no mad scramble to be first on board and there didn’t need to be, since there was plenty of overhead locker space for everyone. I guess that’s one advantage of flying with an airline that lets everyone check in a bag for free!
The Hard Product
Rex’s Boeing 737-800s used to fly for Virgin Australia, and that’s immediately obvious upon boarding as Rex hasn’t changed much of the interior. The leather Economy Class seats are exactly the same as those found on Virgin Australia – even down to Virgin’s signature grey, red and purple headrests and the purple screen behind Business Class.
I was seated in row 27 and lucked out with a whole row to myself, even though Economy was 71% full. Business Class was completely full, even though 3 seats were still available for sale right up until departure, which indicates to me that there were likely 3 free upgrades given away.
The seat itself was absolutely fine. There was an adjustable headrest, which I like, and the legroom was just sufficient.
There was an in-flight magazine in the seat pocket. On this flight was the magazine for June & July 2022.
I browsed through the TrueBlue magazine and noticed that the Chief Operating Officer specifically mentioned in his welcome message that the new Rex loyalty program is coming soon. That’s good news – it can’t come soon enough!
The in-flight magazine also featured a full-page advertisement for Rex’s wifi service which is available on “selected domestic flights operated by our Boeing 737-800NG”. Apparently this wasn’t one of those selected flights as there was no wifi router on our aircraft and no possibility to connect.
Where available, Rex normally offers wifi for a fee of between $6.50-$14.99 in Economy or for free to Business Class passengers. Complimentary in-flight entertainment is also normally available for all passengers to stream to their own device via the wifi network.
The Soft Product
At the start of the flight, the cabin manager introduced herself and the rest of the cabin crew who were standing in the aisle ready to conduct the safety briefing. This was done in exactly the same way as it’s done on Virgin Australia.
At this point, if the staff weren’t wearing Rex uniforms, one could be forgiven for thinking they were on a Virgin flight. As well as the actual plane, many of the service elements closely resembled what you’d expect on Virgin – which isn’t a bad thing. Even the music played during boarding comes from the same provider as Virgin’s boarding music, although at least it’s a different track!
An announcement was made at the start of the flight that face masks were mandatory on board, in line with government requirements. But the cabin crew removed their masks for the entire introduction speech and safety briefing – a good 5 minutes – to “demonstrate the correct use of the oxygen masks”.
This is also something Virgin crew used to do back in 2020, but they stopped doing this long ago. On most other airlines I’ve flown recently, the cabin crew were perfectly able to briefly remove their face mask while demonstrating the use of the oxygen mask, then immediately replace their face mask so it was off for about 10 seconds.
We took off towards the north from Canberra before turning left towards Melbourne.
After takeoff, the cabin crew came through the aisle to offer a complimentary snack along with a choice of tea, coffee or water. Wine was available to purchase for an additional $6 and soft drinks could be bought for $4 each, with card and Apple Pay payments accepted.
The savoury snack was a small bag of “smoked corn and soy crisps”, which was nothing special. No additional food was available for purchase.
The complimentary snack was pretty much the only thing I got on Rex that I wouldn’t have received if I’d flown Virgin Australia from Canberra to Melbourne. On the other hand, as I have Velocity Gold status, I would have been able to use priority checkin, priority boarding and the lounge at Canberra Airport (as well as for up to 60 minutes after arrival in Melbourne) if I had flown Virgin. There also would have definitely been in-flight entertainment on Virgin’s Boeing 737.
Rex may have been $8 cheaper for this particular flight, but since I had no lounge access I ended up paying $16 for a sandwich at Canberra Airport. So, I don’t necessarily feel that Rex was better value for me – more on that in a moment.
Otherwise, it was a pleasant and unremarkable flight with good cabin crew. Given all the travel disruptions lately, I’m very happy with “pleasant and unremarkable”!
We pulled into the gate at Melbourne Airport’s Terminal 4 on time and had to disembark using stairs. My checked bag appeared on the luggage carousel a short time later.
Rex Boeing 737-800 Economy Class
As I mentioned just before, Rex was very slightly cheaper than Virgin Australia for this flight. But Rex doesn’t have a loyalty program, which means I missed out on all the usual benefits like lounge access and priority boarding that I would have received as a Velocity Gold member. I also didn’t earn any points or status credits by flying Rex.
Without a loyalty program, Rex’s service would need to blow the competition out of the water for me to consider flying them again on a regular basis. It was fine, but not enough to convince me to book them over Qantas or Virgin next time.
Rex has good people working for them and once on board, the service is quite good. If you don’t care about loyalty programs or frequent flyer points, and Rex has a well-priced flight at a suitable time, they are probably a good choice.
But, despite positioning themselves as a full-service airline and trying to attract business travellers, I didn’t notice a single person on my flight who appeared to be travelling for business. I would guess that everyone on board was a leisure traveller and most would have probably chosen Rex based on price.
The fact is, Rex is not attracting business travellers or frequent flyers with its current service offering. A key part of this is the lack of any loyalty program and poor airport lounge network in comparison to competitors. For many businesspeople, the lack of frequency on a route like Canberra-Melbourne which is served only once daily in the early afternoon is also a deal-breaker.
At least Rex’s on-time performance lately has been good, and they didn’t lose my bag!
You can leave a comment on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum.