The Boeing 737-800 is the backbone of Virgin Australia’s domestic fleet. In this review, we put Economy class to the test on one of the longest domestic routes in Australia. How does Virgin’s service stack up against rival Qantas?
|Route||Darwin (DRW) to Melbourne (MEL)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-800|
|Class of travel||Economy|
|Route on-time performance||81% (my flight arrived 25 minutes late)|
I booked this flight by redeeming the free round-trip Virgin Australia domestic flight that comes with my ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures credit card. This flight would normally cost $289 one-way for a Getaway fare, or you could redeem 17,800 Velocity points + $37.39 taxes & carrier charges.
The check-in counters at Darwin Airport only open 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time. But as I had checked in online and had no luggage, I made my way directly through security and into the Virgin Australia Lounge. Our flight was the only domestic departure at this time of the afternoon, so the terminal was very quiet.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Virgin Australia Lounge at Darwin Airport. There was more than enough seating and the staff were friendly. Salad, soup and the usual toasted sandwiches were available, as well as hot sausage rolls, which were a hit. Barista coffee, beer and soft drinks were available.
There were sufficient power outlets and the wifi worked well. There are no runway views from this lounge, but those sitting by the window get a great view of the Darwin Airport carpark. All in all, it was a comfortable place to wait for the flight.
The lounge also had a shower available, which was clean although the shower head fitting was broken.
The Hard Product
Virgin Australia offers extra legroom to passengers in Economy X seats (rows 3-5 and the exit rows). These are free to Velocity Platinum members, or an extra $75 on this route for everyone else. I feel that $75 for an extra 3 inches of legroom is a bit too expensive, and was happy enough in a regular Economy seat. The legroom was alright and the seat was comfortable enough, although I was ready to get off the plane after 4-and-a-half hours.
There are no seat-back screens on this aircraft. Instead, passengers can stream in-flight entertainment to their own mobile devices via the Virgin Australia Entertainment App. I do prefer seat-back IFE, but there was a reasonable selection of TV shows, movies and music on the App. I understand that many airlines have now opted for streaming entertainment as it makes the plane lighter, saving on fuel. But it would have been good if Virgin had in-seat power to charge my phone, as watching movies for four hours started to drain my phone’s battery.
Free in-flight wifi was available and worked surprisingly well. There was also an option to pay extra for high-speed internet, but the free plan worked just fine for checking emails and social media.
The Soft Product
Virgin Australia’s cheerful staff have always been one of the airline’s best assets, and this flight was no exception. The cabin crew were friendly and attentive.
In general, Economy class catering is one area where Virgin Australia falls far behind Qantas. On a Qantas flight of this length, you’ll typically receive a hot meal in a box, as well as complimentary drinks and dessert. So, what does Virgin Australia offer on a 4-hour meal-time flight?
As this was a flight over 3 hours, it qualified for a “Cafe Plus” meal service with 3 items. I received a fun-size spinach & ricotta roll, half of a falafel wrap, a snack bag and a mint. This was served in a brown paper bag. Nothing says “classy” quite like a brown paper bag!
The food was OK, but I definitely prefer the meals on Qantas. At least with Virgin, you have the option to purchase additional items from the onboard menu if you’re still hungry.
As this was a Happy Hour flight departing between 5-7pm on a weekday, we were offered one complimentary beer, wine or soft drink with dinner, in addition to the standard complimentary tea, coffee, juice or water. (When I flew in the other direction, complimentary alcoholic and soft drinks were not available as the flight departed after 7pm.)
I was pleasantly surprised to see Ink Gin on the menu, which went down very nicely with a Fever Tree tonic water. The gin and mixer cost $16.
Towards the end of the flight, the crew came through the aisle again to offer water.
We landed around 25 minutes late. As we were waiting to disembark, one passenger seemed to be in a hurry and was trying to push his way down the aisle to the front of the plane. I’m not sure where he was trying to go exactly as the front door wasn’t open yet and there was a flight attendant standing between Business and Economy to ensure the Business class passengers could leave first. The man got into a verbal altercation with another passenger after elbowing him, which I feared could have turned into an all-out brawl if the door wasn’t opened soon after. As I left the airport, I noticed this particular gentleman was still waiting for his luggage at the carousel – so much for being in a hurry, eh?
Virgin Australia 737 Economy Class (VA1464 Darwin-Melbourne)
This was a pleasant flight, with the highlight being the friendly Virgin Australia cabin crew. However, the meal service was a bit of a let-down.
One last thing… Virgin Australia may be experiencing some financial woes at the moment, but this wasn’t evident on this flight which was around 95% full.