COMMENT: Virgin Australia’s new “The Business” highlights how much the airline has changed the aviation landscape in this country, writes Chris Frame.
Perth has become a strongly contested city in the battle of Australia’s two major airline groups; and this is one contest that Virgin Australia is determined to win. Today the aviation landscape in Perth, and indeed across Western Australia, is vastly different from where it was just a few years ago. This was extremely evident as I sat in seat 3A aboard Virgin’s freshly refurbished Airbus A330-200 on a recent flight from Melbourne.
Launched on August 17, “The Business” is a new class of travel in the battle for transcontinental passengers. The B/E Aerospace reverse herringbone business class suites are laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, offering everyone in the premium cabin vital aisle access. The suites are visually stunning and generated a great deal of interest among passengers boarding the aircraft.
It is clear Virgin’s employees are excited about the new product. At both checkin and on arriving in the lounge, ground staff enthusiastically highlighted the features of the new business seats and other on board amenities, including a Nespresso machine. Also, a special booklet has been produced to help travellers familiarise themselves with the seat and its many features, while cabin crew spent a good few minutes with each passenger to welcome them aboard the new business experience.
Visually, the dark colours selected for the seating is offset by purple and chrome finishes, making the entire business class cabin appear fresh, luxurious and modern; while the seats themselves are both extremely comfortable and functional.
A fully-flat-bed replaces the angled-flat-bed of the previous business class seat. The new space offers a dedicated work area and lots of storage (including a tablet holder). There’s USB connectivity, in-seat power to charge your devices and a wide screen to watch Virgin’s inflight entertainment system on.
Virgin’s fleet of six A330-200s, which primarily connect Perth with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, will be refitted with the new product by the end of October. For those travelling further afield, the five-strong Boeing 777-300ER fleet (which fly internationally from Sydney and Brisbane) are set to be similarly upgraded towards the end of the year.
Back in Perth, Virgin is due to move into its new terminal at Perth Airport by the end of November. The Virgin pier at Perth’s Terminal 1, which has been much delayed, will offer the carrier the newest facilities at Perth Airport. It will feature 12 aerobridges, new Virgin lounges and two large double loop baggage reclaim belts aimed at speeding up the passenger experience.
The new pier will be connected to the Regional Terminal (T2) which will finally centralise all Virgin operations on the same side of the airfield. This unity of services is essential, as Virgin has dramatically increased its presence in WA through its 2013 acquisition of Perth-based Skywest.
Skywest’s fleet of Fokker 100 and Fokker 50 aircraft have been integrated into the Virgin operation, with the regional arm operating out of T2 in Perth. Currently, passengers transferring from state-based flights onto Virgin’s transcontinental services have to endure a lengthy bus ride to T3. With the opening of the new Virgin pier at T1, the need for bus transit will cease and vastly improve the customer experience.
Changes are also afoot internationally, with Virgin’s low-cost subsidiary Tigerair Australia scheduled to operate leisure services between Perth and Bali from March 2016 as part of network changes which also include Virgin dropping its Perth-Phuket service from January 2016.
These changes are part of a broader rationalisation of the two brands, with Tigerair to concentrate on leisure routes unable to sustain the full-service offering provided by Virgin.
Virgin has certainly changed the Perth aviation landscape. The airline that commenced no-frills services to the west with a single 737-800 in 2002 has developed into a full service, viable option for business and leisure travellers.