It’s always nice to get an empty seat next to you on the plane. But passengers on a recent Virgin Australia international flight could choose from entire rows of empty seats, with just 19 passengers booked in Economy. Up the front of the plane, there were 4 Business passengers bringing the total number of paying customers on board to 23.
There are 176 seats on Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800, meaning just 13% of seats were filled on the flight from Honiara to Brisbane. One of the 23 passengers on board was AFF member openseat, who wrote about their experience on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum:
Coming back on VA52 (HIR-BNE) recently there were only 23 of us. I support Virgin on this route despite being only Tuesday and Thursday, as it would become an effective monopoly without them. Another passenger said that they are subsidised to keep the flight going, and I did notice that there was a lot of freight being unloaded from the plane in Honiara. Also there were many more passengers on the flight up. So maybe it’s not all bad news.
When there are so few passengers on board, the service is often more personalised and attentive as the cabin crew have fewer people to look after. Sadly, it seems this was not the case on this occasion.
Previously on this flight when there have been very few, the service has been exemplary. This time, however, the crew’s interest was sorely lacking with only the bare minimum effort being made. Surprisingly they even made jokes about there being so few passengers. You’d think if your job depended on good numbers you’d be going the extra. Oh well.
While a load factor of just 13% is unusually light for a 3-hour international flight, Virgin Australia’s services to the Solomon Islands are rarely full. Data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics shows that Virgin Australia filled just 42% of seats from Brisbane to the Solomon Islands in the last financial year. On flights in the other direction, from Honiara to Brisbane, Virgin filled only 36.7% of seats on average.
Only Virgin’s Brisbane-Port Moresby flights had a worse seat factor, with 35.8% of seats occupied on average last year. The Port Moresby route was downgraded earlier this year to a smaller aircraft.
By comparison, Solomon Airlines had average seat factors of 61.8% across all its flights between Australia and the Solomon Islands last year.
Three airlines fly direct between Brisbane and Honiara in the Solomon Islands. In addition to Virgin Australia’s twice-weekly flights, Solomon Airlines serves the route four times per week. Qantas codeshares with Solomon Airlines. The third airline with Brisbane-Honiara flights is Nauru Airlines, which operates the route as a fifth-freedom service that continues to/from Nauru.
Virgin Australia has generally been a profitable domestic airline, but the international Virgin Australia network has struggled over the years.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Oh dear…..23 passengers (4 of them in Business)