In addition to a new business class with direct aisle access from every seat and a refreshed premium economy cabin, Virgin Australia’s fleet of five Boeing 777-300ERs will also feature a number of extra legroom economy seats that will be marketed as Economy Space +.
Economy passengers on Virgin’s 777s, which operate from Sydney and Brisbane to Los Angeles, as well as from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, can buy an Economy Space + seat for between $135 and $165 per sector, with the new product available for sale from Tuesday for flights from August 30, Virgin said on Monday.
The seats are located in the first five rows of the main cabin, where they are set at a 34in pitch, as well as at the exit rows. Passengers will also be able to checkin at a dedicated counter, have priority boarding and be guaranteed their first meal choice, among other benefits.
Virgin Australia chief customer officer Mark Hassell said Economy Space + offered passengers more choice when booking their travel.
“Coupled with Virgin Australia’s award-winning service, we believe Economy Space + will be very popular with a range of travellers,” Hassell said in a statement.
“Economy Space + enables you to speed through the airport and enjoy service from dedicated crew members throughout the flight, providing great value for guests travelling to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi.”
Economy Space + is a similar concept to what Virgin’s trans-Pacific alliance partner Delta Air Lines offers on its daily Sydney-Los Angeles service with Boeing 777-200LRs. Delta’s Comfort+, which has more legroom, priority boarding and some extras on board, is available for purchase and offered complimentary to the airline’s elite frequent flyer members subject to availability.
The announcement of the new economy offering comes as Virgin begins operations with refitted 777s featuring its new Tangerine London-designed and B/E Aerospace-manufactured business class seats, that were also on board its six Airbus A330-200s, and a refreshed premium economy cabin between Sydney and Los Angeles.
Currently, VH-VPD is the only aircraft that has been refitted and commenced flying on April 30. The seats were being installed at Chennault International Airport in Louisiana. All five 777s are expected to be refitted by the third quarter of 2016, Virgin said.
Overall, the cabin changes have resulted in a reduction of 22 seats on board Virgin’s 777s, from 361 seats under the old configuration to 339 under the new configuration.
While Virgin’s 777 premium economy cabin, which is being renamed to “Premium” was shrinking to 24 seats at 41-inch pitch, from 40 seats currently at 38in pitch, the business class cabin was increasing from 33 seats currently in a 2-3-2 layout to 37 seats in a 1-2-1 layout.
There is also a 10-seat reduction in economy, from 288 seats to 278 seats, according to the Virgin Australia website.
Virgin chief executive John Borghetti said the response from travellers on the new business class seat on board the A330s, which fly domestically from Perth to Australia’s east coast capitals and seasonally to Fiji, had been very positive and he was confident of a similar reception from passengers on the 777s long-haul routes.
“With competition increasing from Australia to North America and the Middle East, we believe this will be the best Business Class on the Pacific, with the product also being introduced to Abu Dhabi later this year,” Borghetti said in a statement.
“We have seen customer satisfaction scores increasing to all-time highs after introducing ‘The Business’ domestically on transcontinental routes so we are confident that, with our new Boeing 777 Business Class cabin and refreshed Premium cabin, Virgin Australia will be the number one choice for premium travellers.”
In addition to the new seats, Virgin said its 777 business class bar would be staffed with a cabin crew after the first meal was served, compared with a self-service offering currently on board.