Virgin's new premium classes mean long-haul travellers can arrive at their destination feeling more refreshed.
Until recently, business class was more about a seat and less about a bed. And sometimes that bed was more like a park bench.
But now it is more about a bed that doubles as a seat.
Possibly the ultimate acid test for business or first class is the midnight flight from Perth to Los Angeles via Sydney. Essentially two “red-eye” flights back to back.
And when the trip is just for a two-day meeting, the pressure is on to sleep. And that pressure alone makes it much harder to sleep, tests of pilots have shown.
So, to get to urgent discussions with aviation safety regulators in LA, I decided to put Virgin Australia’s new business class suite to that ultimate test.
The airline recently finished upgrading its fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs with a slightly larger version of the business class that was completed in its A330s last year.
The Boeing 777-300ER is wider than the A330, allowing for additional bench or work space, and it has more storage space. But the real plus is the bed, with its triple-layer seat cushion, supported by a hammock sub-frame.
From Perth, I got three hours sleep and then a refreshing shower and breakfast at the lounge at Sydney Airport.
My flight to LA was away on time. Lunch was a culinary delight a starter of king prawns, carrot, daikon and coriander with miso and yuzu dressing followed by a main of barramundi with black bean sauce. There were three choices for starters, and dessert was a delicious affair; cheese selection, lamington with poached blueberries and creme fraiche; coconut and kaffir lime sorbet or mango and ice-cream.
After lunch and a few Sir David Attenborough documentaries, I was ready for another sleep — this time, a great six hours as our pilots managed to avoid every bump in the sky. (The captain is a friend and flew me back to Australia two days later — again another silky-smooth flight.)
Arrival into LA was at 6.50am and I breezed through US border controls and was out of the terminal with baggage waiting for the Avis bus in just 25 minutes. Amazing. And what was more amazing was that I felt great and ready for the first meeting at 9am.
Quite simply, Virgin Australia’s radical upgrade of its long-haul fleet of A330s and Boeing 777-300ERs means the planes finally match the service. Virgin now has a world-class product for all budgets.
On the 777s you will also find premium economy — now just called premium. The improvements to the 24-seat premium cabin are numerous, with more leg room than any other Australian airline in a comparable class. It has 22.8cm more leg room than economy, with a 40.5cm-wide seat with 22.9cm of recline.
Passengers get a plated meal served on business-class crockery and accompanied by a selection of wines from the business-class cellar.
There is dedicated check-in, priority boarding and priority baggage, enabling guests to speed through airport formalities.
Premium is really a business light rather than economy-plus.
But there is a plus for economy passengers on the 777s. It’s called economy space+. It sits neatly between economy and premium and costs between $135 and $165 more than economy one-way between Sydney and Los Angeles.
There are 67 seats with most — 47 — in a dedicated cabin of five rows behind premium and the exit rows of the main economy cabin. It is great value.
Passengers get extra leg room, 86cm instead of 81cm, check-in via a dedicated premium check-in counter, pre-boarding, preferred overhead locker and a noise-cancelling headset.
Back to my marathon. The return flight was even better. I slept for nine hours - a record for me.
A shower at the Virgin Terminal in Sydney and I was all set for the last leg back to Perth. The final test? Could I sleep through upon my return? Yes — no interruption at all.
Perhaps the brevity of my trip had something to do with my body clock not adjusting to US time but I put it down to Virgin’s bed and no alcohol.
See virginaustralia.com and travel agents.
DisclaimerGeoffrey Thomas was a guest of Virgin Australia
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