With more than 80 aircraft, the Boeing 737-800 is the backbone of Virgin Australia’s domestic and international short-haul fleet. In this review, we test the Business class seats and service on one of Virgin Australia’s Pacific Island routes.
|Route||Auckland (AKL) to Rarotonga (RAR)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-800|
|Class of travel||Business|
|Route on-time performance||69% (my flight was on-time)|
This flight cost around $490 for a one-way Business class ticket during a sale.
As a side note, this flight is often used by frequent flyers as part of the Virgin Australia Rarotonga status run from Australia to the Cook Islands via Auckland, which can be a nice earner of Velocity status credits.
As a Business class passenger, I was checked in straight away through the priority check-in queue. Bizarrely, the check-in agent gave me an express card for Australia – which was useless as I was flying to the Cook Islands.
After clearing immigration and security, Virgin Australia Business class passengers are invited to use the Strata Lounge, which is also part of the Priority Pass lounge network. This is located across the hall from the Qantas and Emirates lounges. The Strata Lounge in Auckland had plenty of seating and a reasonable selection of buffet food and drinks. I would rate it slightly above the current Qantas Business Lounge in Auckland, but below the Emirates and Air New Zealand lounges.
The Hard Product
On Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800, there are just two rows of Business class in a 2-2 configuration. The seats are leather recliners with a decent amount of recline and legroom in both rows – although row 2 offers more space to stretch out your legs as there is no bulkhead in front of you.
The seats are reasonably comfortable for daytime flights of up to 4 hours, but I would be hesitant to book this product on a longer overnight flight such as Denpasar-Sydney, where these aircraft are also used.
The aircraft used for this flight was modern, clean and featured the Boeing Sky Interior with Virgin’s signature purple mood lighting.
At the time that I took this flight, Virgin Australia was still offering Samsung Galaxy tablets to Business class passengers. These have since been removed, with in-flight entertainment now streaming to passengers on their own electronic devices via the Virgin Australia Entertainment App. There are no seat-back entertainment screens.
The Soft Product
There were only 4 Business class passengers on this flight, and the service was friendly and attentive.
Before take-off, I was offered a pre-departure drink of still water, sparkling water, sparkling wine or orange juice. This was followed up by nuts, olives and another drink shortly after take-off.
As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, I was offered two meal choices for dinner:
- Beef with carrots, potatoes and beans
- Eggplant Baba Ganoush salad with tomato, feta and chicken
I chose the beef, which was tender and delicious. I inquired what wines were available to go with the meal, and disappointingly, the flight attendant had no idea beyond that there was “red or white” available. To her credit, she did go back to the galley and came back a minute later with a list of what was available. I’ve generally found the wine in Virgin Australia Business class to be hit-and-miss, but in this case the shiraz was an enjoyable drop.
After dinner, the flight attendant asked if I’d like anything from the pantry menu. Although Virgin Australia now charges Business class passengers for food and drinks from the Economy class retail menu, you can always request “pantry” snacks such as nuts, chocolates and chips free of charge.
One of the things I really appreciate about Virgin Australia Business class, compared to Qantas Business class, is Virgin’s effort to keep the cabin private. There is a magnetic rope separating Economy and Business class, and the crew is very quick to turn back Economy passengers that try to sneak into the Business class toilet. After landing, a flight attendant stands at the back of the Business cabin to make sure you’re given an opportunity to disembark first. By comparison, since Qantas removed the Business class curtain from its Boeing 737s, the Business class toilets have become a free-for-all. I’ve even had Economy passengers doing mid-flight stretches in front of my seat while sitting in row one on a Qantas 737.
Because the Cook Islands sit on the other side of the International Date Line, we left Auckland on a Saturday afternoon and arrived on Friday evening. We landed right behind a full Air New Zealand Boeing 777, so the queue for immigration was unusually long.
If you’ve flown into sunny Rarotonga during the past 37 years, you’ve probably been greeted by Jake Numanga playing songs with his ukelele. In that time he has never missed a flight, which is a mightily impressive achievement!
Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 Business Class
Although the Virgin Australia Boeing 737 Business class seats are not the best out there, I’ve found the service and food to be consistently great.