The inaugural Regional Express (Rex) Boeing 737-800 passenger flight took off this morning, with flight ZL18 departing from Melbourne to Sydney at 7am.
It marks the beginning of jet aircraft operations for Rex, whose business model since launching in 2002 had previously been to just fly small turboprop aircraft to country towns.
Over the coming week, Rex will operate three daily return flights between Melbourne and Sydney. That’s significantly fewer than the nine daily flights originally scheduled from the beginning of March. The regional airline now plans to gradually increase its Melbourne-Sydney services to 9x daily by the end of March.
When these flights went on sale in December 2020, Rex was selling Economy class tickets from $79 one-way and Business class from $299. But last month, Rex discounted seats even further to just $49 in Economy or $199 in Business – prices that were matched by Virgin Australia.
Given such heavy discounting (with the $49 Economy fare including checked baggage and a snack on board, it’s likely below-cost), and two-thirds of flights in the first week of operations already cancelled before the first flight took off, perhaps ticket sales haven’t met expectations so far. Although, state border closures and related uncertainty could be partially responsible for that.
Following the Sydney-Melbourne launch, Rex had announced it was planning to add Sydney-Brisbane Boeing 737 flights from April 2021. However, these flights are not yet on sale and Rex hasn’t yet announced a launch date for any other jet services.
Rex’s new Boeing 737-800s
Rex, which until now has exclusively operated 34-seat Saab 340 planes, took delivery of its first leased Boeing 737-800 in late 2020. That aircraft, with registration VH-RQC, has since conducted dozens of test and training flights around the east coast of Australia including to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra ahead of entering passenger service today.
A second leased Boeing 737-800 was delivered to Rex in January, and two more arrived from Jakarta last Friday.
All of the Boeing 737-800s in Rex’s fleet are ex-Virgin Australia planes. Other than to reupholster some of the leather seats to remove the Virgin Australia branding, Rex has made very few changes to the cabins. The old Virgin Australia configuration, with 8 Business class seats and 162 Economy seats, has been retained. The “Economy X” extra-legroom seats have been rebranded as “Rextra legroom”.
As these were some of Virgin Australia’s oldest aircraft, there are no power outlets in Business class and there’s no purple mood lighting.
What to expect when flying Rex
Rex is positioning itself in a similar mid-market position to Virgin Australia. It’s not trying to be Qantas, but instead to provide a reliable, no-frills service at a reasonable price.
While the seats on Rex 737 flights are virtually identical to those found on Virgin Australia, there could be some subtle differences in the service.
All Rex Economy class tickets include checked baggage, a snack and tea & coffee on board.
In Business class, Rex customers can expect to receive a light meal with a choice of complimentary drinks. The menu will “take in the flavour combinations of home-style country cooking” and include “ingredients such as artisan cheeses from Bruny Island and Gippsland, Tasmanian smoked salmon and hand-made desserts”, Rex posted on its Facebook page last week. This will all be served on single-use cardboard trays, with drinks served in plastic or paper cups.
While this doesn’t appear to be up to the standard of Qantas catering, this is arguably much better than the pre-packaged snack boxes Virgin Australia is currently serving in its Business class. Although, this could change when Virgin Australia relaunches its Business class later this month.
Rex had previously indicated that Business Class passengers would be offered free wi-fi, but this is not the case and in-flight entertainment is unavailable.
Rex doesn’t yet have a frequent flyer program, but Rex Business passengers are entitled to lounge access. Rex began to reopen its airport lounges today after they were closed for almost a year.
If you’re on one of the inaugural Rex Sydney-Melbourne flights, we’d love to hear about your experience on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Rex to fly between Australian capital cities