Virgin Australia will relaunch its domestic Business Class in early 2021, flagging changes that make it “more accessible” and “better aligned to the expectations of the cabin’s core customers”. Before it finalises the changes, the airline is now completing an “end-to-end review” of its Business Class product in collaboration with cabin crew.
Virgin has hinted that its Business Class seats will be sold at lower prices in the future. But will cheaper prices also mean reduced service?
While some details remain unknown, there are already some things we do know about the new Virgin Australia Business Class.
What we know so far
Firstly, Virgin will retain the existing Business Class seats found on its Boeing 737s. This means there won’t be much change to the hard product. However, with Virgin having retired its Airbus A330s, there will be no more lie-flat Business Class on any of Virgin’s trans-continental or international flights.
There will, however, be significant changes to Business Class catering after Virgin terminated its contract with celebrity chef Luke Mangan.
The woeful snack boxes currently offered to Business Class passengers will likely be upgraded after the relaunch, and we’re likely to see a return to substantial lunches and dinners during meal times. But with Virgin looking to cut costs, catering is one area it may choose to do reduce its offering. In future, the Business Class meals may not be as good as they used to be – although prices may be reduced to reflect this.
At the end of last year, well before COVID-19, Virgin had already made significant cuts to Business class catering. The airline had also started charging Business passengers for extra items from the Economy Class buy-on-board retail menu – even going as far as placing the retail menus in the seat pockets of Business Class seats. Perhaps we’ll see more of this type of thing going forward.
We already know that Virgin is scrapping free snacks from Economy Class from early next year, and will instead implement a new buy onboard menu. Virgin will continue offering complimentary tea, coffee and water in Economy Class, but not juice.
Virgin hasn’t yet revealed its future plans for wifi or in-flight entertainment, but we would expect these features to remain complimentary for Business Class passengers – along with things like complimentary baggage allowances, and lounge access at the limited number of airports where Virgin Australia lounges are still available.
Expect a focus on the “soft touches”
While Qantas arguably has more comfortable Business Class seats on its Boeing 737s and often better catering too, Virgin’s Business Class product often excels in other ways that don’t cost money to provide.
One aspect of this Virgin’s enthusiastic cabin crew who genuinely try to provide great service to their passengers. Virgin says it wants its cabin crew to continue providing “exceptional service” to Business Class guests.
But it also comes down to little things like ensuring priority boarding works properly and keeping the Business Class cabin private. This may sound simple, but Qantas is often criticised for allowing Economy class passengers to freely walk into the Business section and use the Business class toilets. By contrast, Virgin’s crew are trained to send back Economy passengers that try to sneak into the Business cabin (the magnetic rope divider behind row 2 helps with this too). And at the end of the flight, a Virgin flight attendant stands between the Business and Economy cabins to ensure Business passengers have a chance to disembark first.
It seems Virgin Australia’s goal is to continue offering a premium Business Class experience while spending as little money as possible. Having enthusiastic, well-trained cabin crew and focusing on “soft touches” that cost nothing to implement – but are valued by passengers – is the most obvious way to achieve this goal.
This seems to align with Virgin’s pledge that its review “will ensure better alignment to guests’ needs, while maintaining the elements [Business class passengers] love.”
Aiming for the middle of the market
Virgin Australia says its plan will “see the airline compete in its mid-market heartland for guests who want a more premium experience at an affordable and competitive price”. This will include competing for price conscious corporate travellers, small businesses and premium leisure travellers.
“Australia already has a low-cost-carrier and a traditional full-service airline, and we won’t be either,” incoming Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said.
“Virgin Australia will be a mid-market carrier appealing to customers who are after a great value airfare and better service. We will continue to evolve our offering for our customers based on data and feedback, but the Virgin Australia experience millions of travellers know and love is here to stay.”
In theory, this approach allows Virgin to appeal to all segments of the market – offering a premium experience at a lower price than Qantas, and a better experience than Jetstar for those willing to pay a little extra.
But as I wrote in August, the mid-market strategy is fraught with risk. Firstly, by trying to please everyone, Virgin risks pleasing nobody. But secondly, Virgin seems to be chasing an almost identical semgent of the market to Rex, which will launch flights between capital cities using ex-Virgin 737s next year.
Reduced Business Class offering to remain until early next year
With the Business Class relaunch not due until early 2021, the current limited Virgin Australia Business Class offering will remain in place for at least a few more months. This probably explains why Virgin recently extended its 30% discount on Velocity Reward Seat redemptions in Business Class until January 2021.
Thankfully, Virgin has already given up serving two-minute noodles as its Business Class meal. But if you’re flying in the next few months, expect to receive a disappointing snack box as your in-flight meal instead. At least complimentary drinks including alcohol are now back on the menu.
What do frequent flyers want from Virgin’s Business Class?
Australian Frequent Flyer members have weighed in on what they’d like to see in Virgin’s new Business Class. Some would like to see improved catering, particularly outside of meal times. But others would just like to see simple changes that could cost very little to implement. These include:
- Ensuring Business Class overhead locker space is reserved for Business passengers
- USB power outlets at each seat
- Seat cushions
- Complimentary high-speed wifi
- Table holders at bulkhead seats
What would you like to see when Virgin Australia relaunches Business Class in 2021?
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: VA Business Class under review: What changes would you like to see?