Flight Review: Is Virgin Australia’s award winning coast-to-coast “The Business” Service worthy of its hype?

A lot has been made about Virgin Australia‘s upgraded A330’s, operating from East to West Coast, in particular their “The Business” product, which offers a flat bed on Australia’s longest domestic route. The acclaim has sat on the quality of the seats, the fact that every seat has aisle access, and on the high quality of the meal service – on a menu led by the airline’s executive chef Luke Mangan. So does the service live up to the hype? I flew the service last month to find out.

Carrier: Virgin Australia
Route: Sydney to Perth (VA 559)
Class: Business
Seat: 3D (centre in a 1-2-1 layout)
Aircraft Type: A330-200
On time? On time departure and arrived 10 minutes early

Check-in and Baggage

Checking in at Sydney’s Domestic Terminal is a breeze, thanks to a dedicated premium line. Though business passengers are bundled up with other premium flyers and velocity members, so don’t leave it too last minute for check in; baggage drop closes 30 minutes before the flight is due to depart. This timing can be particularly handy, however, if you’re using the domestic service as the start of an international voyage. Though you’ll still have to go through International security as your transit airport (in this case Perth), you’ll save yourself on the need to arrive at least two hours ahead of your departure. Business Class tickets permit 2 bags up to 32kg each, or three if you are flying business AND hold a Platinum Velocity membership. Business guests can also access a dedicated premium boarding queue when boarding the flight.

Lounge Access

If flying with a carry on only, however, passengers can skip the check in queues and go straight to the dedicated entry for frequent flyers and business class guests. This can also be accessed by guests with checked in luggage, after said luggage has been checked. All business class passengers get lounge access before the flight, regardless of your status with the airline’s frequent flyer service. The Sydney lounge has multiple levels; though upstairs is only available during peak hours. There’s always soups, salads and self-made toasties available for guests in the lounge, as well as a barista service. Alcohol pops up in the form of wine and beer after 11am. You’ll also find chips and chocolates and other snacks about. During set breakfast, lunch and dinner hours, you’ll also find additional hot food options like scrambled eggs, or butter chicken with basmati rice.

The Business Cabin

There are just five rows in the cabin, with everyone getting an aisle. Sitting the in the middle two seats, there’s a movable dividers depending whether or not you know the person next to you – though it’s only big enough to talk, not get cosy. There’s no stand up bar on this business service, like on the international leg. There is, however, an “on demand pantry” with snacks available as you want them. Macadamia muesli, chips, Lindt chocolate, olives and more were among the snacks available. And to add an extra touch, Grown Alchemist toiletries are available in the bathroom.

The Business “Suite” Seat

Shortly before sitting down, a stewardess came and talked me through the impressive business pods, with complete flat bed. There’s a lot going on, so make sure you pay attention should this be your first time in the seat. The best way for me to put it is that everything in this seat has been carefully and cleverly designed so much of what you need is hidden away from sight, tucked away into compartments specifically for its use.

Rather than the usual pile of buttons and knobs, the seat is adjustable via a touch screen next to the seat, which can take you through a variety of angles. Then, everything from your noise cancelling headphones to the remote for the touch screen TV, even the USB and AC ports can be found in different compartments around the seat. The compartment holding the headphones also pulls up to become an armrest. You can use these compartments for your own belongings too – and you enjoy ample room in the overhead bins given the limited seats in cabin.

There’s a light above you, and also a small reading light right next to your head. The tray table folds out in front of the monitor and a tray release level allows you to adjust its position (bringing it lower if you have the seat in recline). Every aspect of the design of these seats has been meticulously thought through; everything has a reason for being there, and it’s much of the reason these seats have been rated the best in class.

Service & Amenities

The cabin wasn’t full so the attendants were particularly quick to assist as needed, and serve the lunch service. Any question you had they were more than happy to answer, and it was all delivered with a smile. On arrival, you’ll only find a pillow at your seat… interestingly, there’s no blanket or amenities kit, though they will deliver it on request. I imagine it’s something they don’t automatically bring out on day flights. Definitely grab an amenities kit though as it has a great reusable bag with a toothbrush and White Glo toothpaste, eye mask and ear plugs, pen, tissues, lip balm and more.

Dining on Board

Champagne, sparkling water or orange juice were available once you sat down, on request. Your menu was also provided promptly, and orders were taken right after take off. You could choose a full three course meal service or an express service without the main hot meal, so you could eat quickly if you wanted to sleep for the full flight, which is a great idea for a flight of this length. Though this was a day flight so it wasn’t an option taken by many.

A 390mL bottle of Nu water and hot towel were the first things you enjoyed after take off, then there was a drink service with nuts. Meals didn’t take too long after that. Warm Sourdough bread was served first, with butter and salt and pepper shakers designed to resemble the Sydney Opera House.

The first course was Peking duck or corn and coconut soup. The mains were a beef and dark ale pie, Atlantic salmon with broccolini, or a papaya salad which could be served with or without chicken. Dessert was either a cheese platter or a blueberry roulade, and a selection of teas and coffee were available at the end of the service, including a Nespresso cappuccino should that be your drink of choice. Liquor, wine and beer service was also available throughout the service and the flight, with Black Label, De Valcourt Napoleon Brandy and more ensuring you had no shortage of choice.

I went for the duck, the salmon and the cheese platter. All dishes were delicious, served with a precise design and to a restaurant quality finish. Luke Mangan’s menu definitely did not disappoint. It’s remarkable what they’re able to prepare in the sky these days. You can read more about Mangan’s recently updated Virgin Australia menu HERE.

In Flight Entertainment

With a massive 16 inch touchscreen built into your Business suite, it’s like having your own little cinema in the sky. And the noise cancelling headphones are terrific. Virgin definitely need to work on their TV selection, but film selection is outstanding – and most films are presented uncut. The service does need an option to “Star” films and shows you want to watch, however, so you don’t have to go searching every time you want to watch something new. As a frequent flyer, too, I wonder if there’ll ever be a way you can log in to the system and have it remember where you left off the last time you boarded – especially with airlines who require you to use your own device. But that’s a thought for another time.

The Verdict

With great food, excellent service and a suite that’s envied around the world, there’s nothing not to love about the coast-to-coast offering from Virgin Australia. Virgin’s Business experience is worth all the hype. If you can’t afford it, definitely consider it worthy of a points upgrade in the future.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

To book your next trip with the airline, head to their official website.

The writer flew at his own expense, with a complimentary upgrade courtesy of Virgin Australia.