Although Flight Hacks has already reviewed Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 Business Class, flying during COVID-19 is a completely new experience. This article reviews my flight from Brisbane to Hobart onboard Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800 Business Class.
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When I arrived at the airport at 7am, the check-in area was hardly busy. I was able to print my boarding pass and bag tag at one of the self-serve machines in a matter of moments. The “Priority” bag drop line was completely empty, as was security.
My flight wouldn’t depart for over 2.5 hours (yes, that’s how much I love the airport), so I headed off to check out Virgin Australia’s newly reopened Brisbane Domestic Lounge. Premium Lounge Entry at Brisbane airport is currently closed, but the lounge is only a short walk from security. There wasn’t much to get excited about here, apart from the fact the lounge is finally open.
Cabin & Seat
Virgin Australia’s 737 Business Class hard product retains a 2-2 layout with a total of just 8 seats. As before, the leather seats are quite comfortable, with great legroom and fully-adjustable headrests.
Probably my least favourite thing about this style of seat is the tray table. As is the case with many narrowbody Business Class seats, the tray table folds out from the armrest. This design means the table is not strong enough to support anything without shaking around.
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
This area was a big let-down for Virgin Australia in what is usually a highlight of their Business Class experience.
After boarding, passengers would normally expect a choice of drinks and to have their meal order taken. For some reason, there was no welcome drink choice on my flight, despite drinks being available after departure. Each passenger was instead offered a bottle of water.
Shortly after departure, the flight attendant came around with a small pre-packaged snack box which contained a brownie, chickpea JAX, crackers and tomato chutney and a small chocolate. The brownie was nice but the rest was nothing to write home about.
While the drinks offering had been reduced, there was still an average selection available including a choice of tea, coffee, Coke and Sprite. The regular bar service had been cut to just one variety of red, white or beer. All drinks were served in disposable plastic/paper cups.
I am grateful that Virgin Australia is able to continue flying and are trying to reduce contact between flight attendants and passengers, although blaming reduced service on COVID-19 does not sit well with me. These cost-cutting measures might be working for Virgin Australia, but I’d bet many travellers would be disheartened if they paid over $559 for a seat on this flight. By comparison, Qantas reopened many of its lounges, brought back full meals in Business Class and resumed bar service on flights months ago.
Inflight Entertainment & Amenities
As before, you’ll need to bring your own device with the Virgin Australia Entertainment app installed before departure to access the Inflight Entertainment system. The app is easy to use and features a selection of movies, television and podcasts as well as information about your flight. The range has clearly been reduced since my pre-pandemic flights with Virgin Australia.
My aircraft was fitted with inflight WIFI, although this was unavailable “due to the pandemic”. Being Virgin Australia’s youngest 737 at the time of review, my aircraft was also equipped with AC power for each Business Class passenger. Thankfully, this was enabled.
There is one dedicated toilet for the 8 business passengers. The toilets were well stocked and clean.
I have flown many times with Virgin Australia and not once have I met a crew member that wasn’t cheerful and welcoming. This flight was no exception. The cabin crew on my flight were happy to be in the air and took a genuine interest in each passenger.
It was also somewhat entertaining to hear the cabin crew remind all passengers to remove their face masks before fitting an oxygen mask in the event of a loss in cabin pressure. I guess that’s the world we live in now.
Following our departure, the flight attendant mentioned each aircraft is cleaned thoroughly at the end of every day, and that aircraft HEPA filters capture 99.9% of particles including viruses. Passengers were also strongly encouraged to wear masks throughout the flight, although most seemed to ignore this message.
Summing up: my take
All in all, my flight was good. Although the food offering was sub-par, the comfortable seat and friendly staff have not changed. The unavailability of WiFi and reduced drinks range was also disappointing, although I suspect these cost-cutting measures are due to Virgin Australia’s financial instability and not government-imposed restrictions.
(Images © Tom Goward)