Virgin’s COVID-19 Business Class Experience Disappoints

Virgin's COVID-19 Business Class Experience DisappointsI’ve previously written a fairly positive review of Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 Business Class. But during COVID-19 it’s a very different experience.

As I discovered on a recent flight from Canberra to Brisbane, Virgin Australia Business class passengers are no longer receiving even close to the full Business class experience during COVID-19.

Flight Details

Flight number VA1227
Route Canberra (CBR) to Brisbane (BNE)
Aircraft type Boeing 737-800
Class of travel Business
Seat number 1A
On-time performance This flight arrived 5 minutes early
Star rating 2 stars out of 5

The route

VA1227 route map

Flight Cost

A one-way Business Class seat on this flight would have cost $899. However, with Velocity Frequent Flyer redemptions now available again on some Virgin Australia domestic flights, I was able to redeem Velocity points for a seat. It cost 15,500 Velocity points + $50.01 in taxes & charges for a Business Reward seat.

Airport Experience

The online check-in process took a little longer than usual as there were some additional health and contact tracing questions for COVID-19.

Additional COVID-19 questions when checking in online
Additional COVID-19 questions when checking in online

Once at the airport, I was able to use the priority check-in queue to drop off my luggage and was served promptly. As usual, it then took less than a minute to clear security at Canberra Airport, which has just installed new scanners.

Normally, Virgin Australia Business class guests are entitled to use the lounge before departure and upon arrival at the destination. However, all Virgin Australia Lounges have been closed since March. Even though Qantas has already started to reopen its lounges, there is currently no indication if or when Virgin will do the same.

Virgin Australia's lounges remain closed indefinitely
Virgin Australia’s lounges remain closed indefinitely

Boarding began on time, with Business class, Platinum and Gold customers invited to board first via the priority boarding lane. Unlike Qantas, Virgin has not implemented staggered boarding by row number.

Also unlike Qantas, Virgin did not hand out face masks or hand sanitiser at the boarding gate. I’m told face masks were available upon request on board, but I didn’t see anybody ask for one and this was not well-publicised. None of the cabin crew wore face masks.

The Hard Product

As I’ve covered in a previous review, there are two rows of Business class on Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737s in a 2-2 configuration. The leather seats are wide and relatively comfortable, with good legroom. As this was a full flight, and being in the midst of a pandemic, I did appreciate the additional personal space provided in Business.

Virgin Australia Boeing 737 interior
Virgin Australia Boeing 737 interior

Virgin Australia does not offer seat-back in-flight entertainment, and the Samsung tablets have been removed from Business class. But the streaming entertainment via the Virgin Australia Entertainment App was working, and there was a reasonable selection of content available. I do enjoy Virgin’s “Upbeats” music playlists – if only the audio wouldn’t stop working when closing the App or locking your mobile device!

Although this aircraft was wifi-enabled, the system was switched off so in-flight internet was not available.

The Soft Product

The soft product is normally the highlight of the Virgin Australia Business class experience. Sadly, it was a real let-down on this flight.

Normally, a choice of drinks would be offered before and after takeoff and, given the 6pm departure time, dinner would be served. This did not happen.

After takeoff, the flight attendant handed out plastic cups of water along with sanitiser gel. The only other drinks available were Coke, Coke No Sugar and Sprite. No alcohol was available, and I couldn’t even get a soda water. I was told this was “due to coronavirus restrictions”.

Instead of a meal, the cabin crew walked through the cabin with a tray of sugary snack bars to choose from. I was hungry so asked for one of each. No other catering was available (not even for sale) and I believe the same thing was served in Economy class.

The current dinner service in Virgin Australia Business Class
The current dinner service in Virgin Australia Business Class

In fairness to Virgin Australia, they do advise customers on their website that catering is currently limited and the meal was described as a “snack” on my ticket. So, my expectations were appropriately low to begin with.

The cabin crew were friendly as always, and did their best with what they had to work with. But it was quite clear to me that this airline is in a serious cost-cutting phase. This is disappointing when it’s still charging full-price for tickets.

I understand the need to minimise contact between cabin crew and passengers, and I’m grateful that Virgin continues to fly despite being in voluntary administration. But blaming coronavirus for not providing service is starting to wear thin. Qantas has already reopened many of its lounges, resumed serving hot meals in Business class and reinstated bar service on flights departing after 9am. If Qantas can do it, why not Virgin?

One last thing… I did find it slightly amusing that they had to remind everyone before the safety demonstration to remove face masks before donning an oxygen mask in the event of a loss in cabin pressure. A sign of the times…

Arrival Experience

Disembarkation was done one row at a time, and we were met by army officers that checked everyone’s Queensland Border Declaration Passes. This didn’t add too much extra time, and bags appeared on the luggage carousel quickly.

Virgin Australia's COVID-19 Business Class Experience
  • Airport Experience
  • Hard Product
  • Soft Product
2

Final thoughts

I suspect that Virgin’s current financial woes, rather than government-mandated health restrictions, are behind Virgin’s decision to continue offering bare-bones Business class service in August 2020. Perhaps this cost-cutting strategy is currently working for Virgin, but I would have been furious if I had paid $899 for a Business class ticket on this flight. Virgin Australia’s new owner wants to move the airline downmarket; let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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Pat

I wouldn’t expect much change yet as the sale is still not a done deal until sometime in August when the creditors give final approval. Lounges, business class alcohol and meals and such won’t be on the cards until then. Considering that and the fact they disclose what you get for ticket before you buy not sure why the low rating in your review.

Robert

I think Business class passengers have every entitlement to expect something quite differentiated from Economy, given they’re paying double. If Virgin can’t offer Business like services during its transitional period, it shouldn’t be selling the seats as Business: they should just be Economy.

saul geffen

Their business class domestic offering has always been average at best. The seats are average, the food so-so and economy X is/was much better value.

Dee

What a joke, deflecting blame to the federal government and social distancing for the lounge closure.

donald witheford

You forgot to mention that Virgin, unlike Qantas and Jetstar, have empty seats between economy passengers. This will impact on revenue.

Simon

Very disappointing to read and misleading to call it business class. They are trashing the brand and burning platinum frequent flyers. What is logic behind this?

Robert

What a let down. While you’d have low expectations for the form of ‘snack’ in Economy (sugary bars being the predictable go), I’d be really quite POed if the ‘snack’ in Business were not something differentiated —heaven forfend, cheese and crackers or some such! And could they not have had single serves of wine (like they do in Qantas in Economy in non-Covid times)? This impresses more as a cost cutting response to the pandemic than a health necessity, especially given the absence of PPE. I too have been impressed by the Virgin Business class offering in the past but… Read more »

Blaz

Yes, stupidly short-sighted. How hard would it be to give business class passengers a choice of “gourmet” snacks, and bottled wine or spirits. For a few extra bucks, they could keep their loyal passengers happy. Bean counters kill loyalty, and always have.

Sara

Any update on the drinks situation in QF economy after 4pm? Is it still water due to “coronavirus” measures or have they loosened up with a mini wine or beer for thirsty travellers?

Ian

I’m guessing things are a little random for them at the moment. My experience Syd-Bri return Jul 11 and 13: Seat 1A both ways….paid for with money. Much the same experience except masks offered and not accepted by most either direction. The snacks and a range of soft drink and beers offered both ways. Also flew Syd-Bri return in economy seats 5A and 7A (based mostly on previous business experience) Jul 31 and Aug 3: Muesli bar and water offered. Masks offered and accepted by almost all both directions.

SirDougless

Thanks for the review. It just reinforces my choice not to fly business until lounges reopen and food and drinks return. Doesn’t matter if I’m paying $ or using points.

Amanda Browning

I’m flying business class Monday week and like you purchased with points as we had only transferred points a month prior to all this chaos. So at least won’t really be out of pocket. But like you can’t believe they can’t pass out beer or a wine (since when is water Covid safe but not wine etc. Also would it really be that difficult to actually give the Business class passengers packs of biscuits, olives and cheese, at least that might placate a few of us. Also I read somewhere last week they were offering vouchers to use in Airport… Read more »