As a well known regional airline flying small turboprop aircraft, Rex has recently joined the capital city market with Boeing 737 jets. Rex’s first flights between Sydney and Melbourne took to the skies on March 1st 2021, with Adelaide and Gold Coast services now operational, and Brisbane and Canberra soon to follow.
For their new domestic runs Regional Express is using six Boeing 737-800s which were previously operated by Virgin Australia, something travellers may notice when stepping aboard. Rex is positioned as a value-based airline with affordable fares and full service, similar to what Virgin Australia is looking at following their rescue by US owners Bain Capital.
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At Melbourne, Rex’s check-in area is mostly automated, with staff available to help. As I arrived early, there was no line to check in and I was able to print my boarding pass and bag tag at one of the self-serve machines in a matter of moments.
Staff were on hand to assist me and direct me to the lounge.
Rex Business Lounge – Melbourne
Before visiting Rex’s Melbourne Business Lounge, I wasn’t expecting anything much. Rex’s lounges have been designed for regional routes and are simply nowhere near the standard of a Qantas or Virgin Australia lounge. But the good news is Rex plans to revamp these lounges in the future.
The Melbourne lounge is hidden away by gate 30 and is small and basic, but still a quiet space for travellers to enjoy. During my early morning visit, the selection included cereal, individually wrapped chips and biscuits, a wide variety of make-it-yourself hot drinks as well as a selection of alcohol and soft drinks.
After arriving at my boarding gate, I found out that my flight had only eight passengers booked. This made boarding a breeze, although it was clear that Rex was still in training mode.
With such a light load, I was lucky enough to be the only Business class passenger on my flight, and I received a particularly warm welcome from the Cabin Manager.
Cabin & Seat
The Regional Express 737 cabin will be familiar for most readers, being almost identical to Virgin Australia’s 737 aircraft. Virgin’s leather business class seats, purple perspex divider and even Economy X seating remain the same. On some aircraft, you will find the ‘Virgin’ and ‘EconomyX’ wording covered up or replaced with ‘Rex’.
Business Class retains a 2-2 layout with a total of just 8 leather recliners. Each seat is 19.5″ wide and divided by a centre console that acts as an armrest and shared tray for drinks or snacks.
Although row 1 is best for legroom, storage is limited to the overhead bins and small pocket located on the bulkhead in front. This means passengers seated in row 1 are asked to stow large items during taxi, takeoff and landing.
For that reason, I normally select row 2, which in addition offers recline without bothering anyone as the bulkhead is spaced behind these seats.
Food & Beverage
After boarding, passengers were offered a choice of still or sparkling water or orange juice, with meal orders also taken. On my morning flight, the meal service offered a choice between:
- Corn fed roast chicken, country bacon and vintage cheddar on Turkish bread2. Free-range poached eggs with quinoa, kale, goats cheese and avocado salsa
Both options were accompanied by a fresh fruit salad and apple muffin loaf.
I went with the first option which sounded favourable, plus kale and quinoa really isn’t my thing, especially on a plane. As far as taste, the meal was sub-par, lacking flavour and being quite dry.
You will notice Rex has decided to use “environmentally-friendly” single-use materials in Business, with meals served on cardboard trays, in paper and cardboard containers, with plastic cups and bamboo cutlery. Although I would prefer to see more conventional dinnerware, I have to say Rex’s presentation was good.
On the other hand, the drinks selection was rather impressive. The usual choice of tea, coffee, soft drink and juice was available, as well as several red, sparkling and white options (mainly from SA), as well as beers from Furphy and Hahn. Alcohol is available all day in the Business class cabin.
Inflight Entertainment & Amenities
There is no inflight entertainment onboard Rex 737 flights. While many aircraft are already fitted with WiFi systems, the airline has kept this switched off for now.
Seeing Rex love to boast their “country hospitality” I had been eagerly awaiting to see what this really means. While it’s fair to say that I would have received more personal service as the only passenger, the crew were incredibly friendly, welcoming and accommodating. The cabin manager Cameron was particularly lovely. It’s not often I can fault cabin crew, and my experience with Rex was no exception.
Summing up: my take
When booking this flight, both Virgin and Rex were offering Sydney-Melbourne for $199 in Business. At the time, Rex’s position was competitive, but now with Virgin replacing their contexted snack boxes with new business catering, as well as the expected return of free WiFi, the prospect of frequent flyer points, availability of inflight entertainment and superior lounges, Virgin just might have the edge.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed my flight with Rex and would still welcome them as healthy competition to the domestic business class market. The hard product was just as good as Virgin’s offering, the cabin crew were amazing and lounge access was a welcome bonus. Not to mention the bargain $199 price tag!