V Australia Welcomes Us Onboard at LAX

Friday marked the first aircraft delivery for V Australia, Virgin Blue’s long haul arm that will inaugurate service on February between Sydney and Los Angeles. On the way down from Boeing, V Australia brought the plane to LAX for a reception and viewing of the onboard product, and I was able to get on board. First thoughts? Coach and Premium Economy seem to be quite good, but Business, while good, is not quite best-in-class.

Usually we get picture-perfect Southern California days for these events, but Friday was filled with cloudy skies and rain. That didn’t stop V Australia from throwing a heck of party. There were free drinks, trendy seating areas, loud music, and of course, famous folks (I’m pretty sure I saw Chase from House there). In other words, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Virgin airline, though probably not the best way to spend money in these lean times.

Though Branson Raises Champagnethere was a lot to like at the event, it started out on a sour note when they brought members of the USC marching band and cheerleading squad out to greet the plane. As a UCLA fan, I couldn’t support that at all. (Ok, maybe the cheerleaders did look pretty good.)

Finally, the plane arrived and Sir Richard Branson went into PR mode. He came out on to the wing with some members of the crew and popped open a bottle of champagne. At that point, it started to rain so people started to retreat into the tent where LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fawned all over Branson for bringing jobs to the area, and Branson announced on stage that the airline would begin 3 times weekly flights from LA to Melbourne in addition to the already announced flights to Sydney and Brisbane. Flights from Sydney to Johannesburg were also announced.

After that, it was time to go on the plane. I joined Grant Martin from Gadling (click for Gadling’s coverage) and Juliana Shallcross from Jaunted (click for Jaunted’s coverage) along with the rest of the media in a preview tour. First impression of the airplane? It looked like a Virgin bird, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

As usual, there was mood lighting in full Padded Toilet Seat Cushioneffect. We settled down at the bar toward the back of Business Class as Branson and Villaraigosa popped another bottle of champagne and made a toast to the airline. At that point, they turned the lights down and showed off the nighttime lighting which projects stars on the ceiling. Branson actually said that he wanted to get a skylight in the bar, but Boeing told him that wouldn’t happen.

Another reason it seemed like a Virgin plane? Padded toilet seats. I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.

Let’s get to what matters here. The Business Class product was Laying Flat in Business Classnice, but it isn’t the best in its class. Despite what you might expect, the airplane does not have the herringbone configuration that Virgin Atlantic pioneered. Instead, they’ve opted for a 2-3-2 configuration that is forward-facing and is said to go fully flat.

My friend Paul and I tried the seat out (you may remember him from previous events at LAX), and while it was comfortable, the bed didn’t feel completely level to me. That could have just been me though, but it wasn’t bad. The biggest problem? If everyone is sleeping, there’s a lot of climbing required to get to the aisle from the window seat. And nobody is going to want to be in that dreaded middle seat. The footrest was also sort of awkward and I couldn’t quite figure it out.

Premium Economy SeatsOne quick tip – if you’re flying in Business, I’d go for row 5. It’s separated from the rest of the Business Class, and it’s very private back there.

If you’re flying Premium Economy, you’re going to get a very comfortable leather seat with 38 inches of pitch. I personally liked the little flat square at the end of each armrest that acts as a cupholder when the tray isn’t being used.

Coach has about 32 inches of pitch, so it’s about average (though better than United’s Economy Minus by an inch). My friend noted that the color scheme was going to show a lot of dirt, and these aren’t leather seats. So there could be some cleanliness issues here. Overall however, it was a relatively Coach Seatsnormal-feeling coach seat with decent legroom. So why do I say it’s best in class? The inflight entertainment.

Every seat has Red, the same system Virgin America uses, though it won’t have live television. Oh, and unlike Virgin America, coach seats don’t have power outlets (Business and Premium Economy do). Very lame.

But overall, I’d say the seats were good and relatively comfortable, something that’s very important for the long haul flights they’ll be operating. Hopefully this added competition will help keep prices lower on a route that has historically been filled with high fares. I’m glad to see V Australia flying this route, and I think they’ll do well.

Stay tuned for part two to be posted soon with my interview with Brett Godfrey, CEO of Virgin Blue Group (owner of V Australia).

To see all my pictures from the day, visit my Flickr Photoset.


11 Responses to V Australia Welcomes Us Onboard at LAX

  1. Dan Webb says:

    The fact that there isn’t any power in economy is annoying – especially because V Australia claims they have it! http://vaustralia.com/in-flight-services/economy/index.htm

  2. CF says:

    Very interesting, Dan. I actually didn’t inspect the seat for power, but I was going through the information they handed out to us at the event. It specifically says “Laptop power and mobile phone charging (International Business and International Premium Economy only).” Clearly I’m going to have to do some follow-up work here.

  3. CF says:

    Confirmed by Grant at Gadling that there was no in-seat power in coach. They’ll need to fix their website.

  4. Ralph says:

    Just FYI, couple of broken links to Gadling and Jaunted.

  5. Ari says:

    V is a welcome addition to the competition on the route.

  6. CF says:

    Thanks, Ralph. Fixed.

  7. The Traveling Optimist says:

    No laptop power in coach? Thanks for the fare war, V, but Qantas, here I come (power, miles and the A380).

  8. QRC says:

    Cranky, do you know if they intend to have an F class as well in the future? Or sticking just with J? Regardless definitely a welcome addition, about time UA and QF get competition.

  9. CF says:

    QRC – I would be shocked if they did. No Virgin airline that I know has a true international first class. I imagine they’ll stick with that strategy and make business class better.

  10. Jay Daniels says:

    Wow! V Australia seems very good!! Read many reviews, and I can decide between flying either Qantas A380, or V Australia 777-300ER

  11. SydneySwan says:

    Good luck Virgin to lowering prices on the Pacific Route.

    I was talking to an Australian who is in a senior position working for an American pharmaceutical company and their travel has to be United. Basically they can’t sponsor anyone to fly United if they go to the USA because of it’s outdated interiors.

    Interesting to see though Delta’s B777-200 vs V Australia B777-300.

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