Virgin Australia’s first commercial service with what chief executive John Borghetti describes as the best domestic business class seat in the world has taken off.
Virgin flight VA559, operated by Airbus A330-200 VH-XFH, departed Sydney Airport a little after 1300 local time on Monday bound for Perth fitted with the new cabin featuring 20 B/E Aerospace-designed herringbone business class seats with direct aisle access laid out 1-2-1 across the cabin.
Earlier on Monday morning, Borghetti said during a media tour of the first reconfigured aircraft the new seats were longer and wider than any other business class seat flown domestically by any other airline anywhere in the world.
“There is not another domestic business class that operates out of a domestic terminal anywhere in the world that would be as good as this business class. Full stop,” Borghetti said told reporters.
“It’s the business.”
Virgin’s six A330-200s currently fly between Perth and Australia’s east coast capitals, as well as between Sydney and Nadi, Fiji, on a seasonal basis.
And although the resources boom that fuelled the West Australian economy in recent years is now a thing of the past, Borghetti said Virgin’s performance on the Perth route was still holding up well as the airline secured more corporate accounts and a greater share of government travel spending.
Moreover, there were no plans to follow Qantas’s recent move to reduce A330 services on trans-continental flights.
“We are very happy with the level of improvement on that route,” Borghetti said.
“We have no intention of withdrawing any services. They are performing very well and we are happy with that.”
Virgin is reducing the number of business class seats on board its A330-200s from 24 under the old configuration to 20 with the B/E Aerospace seats installed.
However, Borghetti said the airline would be “competitive” for both pricing and the ability to redeem flights via Virgin’s frequent flyer program Velocity.
“When you get to pricing or redemptions, it is a question of competitiveness and I can assure you will still be as competitive as we were and are and will always be,” Borghetti said.
“If you are competitive still in your pricing and you have got a better product, then you’ll get that market share shift and that’s where the profits are. When you have got competitive fares and a superior product, that’s where the money comes.”
In addition to the new seats, Virgin is also installing two Nespresso machines on board each of its A330s as part of a world-first collaboration with the coffee maker.
Virgin said its A330 fleet will be the first aircraft in the world to have the Nespresso by B/E Aerospace machines serving coffee to passengers at 40,000 feet.
“I can’t find anybody that likes airline coffee,” Borghetti said.
“As good as ours is, it is not as good as the barista one that you get in the lounge. Now it will be.
“If it’s good enough for George Clooney.”
While the rollout of the new seats, which feature black, purple, white and silver as their primary colours with finishes that look to have taken some inspiration from inside a sports car, has been delayed from an initial March start date, all six A330-200s were due to be completed by the end of October.
The installation of the new seats is being completed in Singapore.
Qantas began A330 services with its new business class in December 2014, and the airline currently has 10 aircraft flying both domestically and internationally with the latest Thomson Aero Seating-designed seats.
Asked why Virgin’s seat was better than what Qantas had installed on its A330s, Borgetti said: “Just look at it.”
Expanding a bit further, Borghetti said some of the design principles when creating the new seat was that it needed to be appealing to the eye, it had to be comfortable, there had to be privacy and it had to be practical.
“You add all those things up and it ticks all the boxes,” Borghetti said.
Borghetti said the delays to the rollout were due to some regulatory approvals for the seatbelts, given the seat has not previously been installed on the A330 aircraft before and needed to undergo some specific testing.
“The testing was all around the seatbelt and the airbag within the seatbelt,” Borghetti said.
“Contrary to popular belief, it was the seatbelt only.”
Meanwhile, installation of the new business class seats and refreshed premium economy cabin on board Virgin’s five Boeing 777-300ERs was on track to commence in November and was unaffected by the seatbelt regulatory issues given the B/E Aerospace seats were already certified for the big Boeing twin.
Although the same seats will be used, there will be extra storage space and wider seats given the 777 has a bigger cabin diameter compared with the A330.