Airline Review: Virgin Australia Business SYD-LAX

We went down to the front of the Park Hyatt Sydney to hail a cab at around 8:30 am. Usually it’s very easy to grab a cab or call for one to get to the airport and the bell boys are very good about waving them in. However this morning, it was a completely different story. There were virtually no cabs with vacancies going by the hotel and despite calling for one, the guy never showed up. At 9 am, the situation was getting worrisome because every cab company the hotel called seemed to busy taking someone to the airport. Luckily, the hotel was able to eventually hail a cab for my parents, who left with our baggage. My sister and I however, were left waiting for a cab even longer.

Introduction: Christmas in Hong Kong, and New Year in New Zealand
Cathay Pacific First & Business Class Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific Business Class (Reverse Herringbone) SFO-HKG
The Conrad Hong Kong – Harbor View Twin Room
The Intercontinental Hong Kong – Harbor View Room
The Sights and Sounds of Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge HKG Airport
Singapore Airlines Business Class HKG-SIN-AKL
Arrival in Queenstown & The Rees Queenstown Luxury Hotel Apartments
Queenstown Day 1: Milford Sound
Queenstown Day 2: Glenorchy
Queenstown Day 3: Crown Range Road & Wanaka
The Hilton Auckland & New Year’s Eve
Hobbiton, New Zealand
Emperor Lounge @ Auckland Airport (via Priority Pass)
The Park Hyatt Sydney – Opera View Deluxe King Room
Virgin Australia Business Class SYD-LAX
Virgin America Lounge – The Loft at LAX

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At around 9:30 am, we finally got a cab and were on our way to the airport. Sydney airport is actually only a 20 minute drive (13 km) from the Park Hyatt, but everyone and their aunt were going to the airport. I guess it was understandable, since this was the Sunday after New Year, but it was a complete pain in the neck. The drive took almost 40 mins, which put us at the airport just after 10 am. My parents’ cab driver, on the other hand, took close to an hour to get there since he went about the long way to the airport, telling every cab driver in the city to go to the Park Hyatt. Anyway, when we arrived my parents were nowhere to be seen. At this point, I was getting worried that they wouldn’t even allow us to check in since this was an international departure. Instead we found a few unmanned counters with everyone in line waiting to be checked in. The economy class line had one agent processing close to 300 people, while the business class line had no one. Not a great start to the Virgin Australia experience this time.

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We must have waited close to 40 minutes before an agent showed up to check us in. But judging by the look of the economy class line, I figured they should theoretically hold the flight for everyone to get on.

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At around 10:40, we were finally checked in and ready to go toward departures and security. At the security line, however, this very rude lady directed me to the longest lane possible despite my mentioning that I was in a rush to catch my flight. My parents and sister, on the other hand, were able to get into the fast lane on the right. At this point I had resigned to my fate: just spending the night in Sydney or however long it takes for me to get a another flight out. (Not bad eh 😉 ) I somehow got through security before the departure time and just ran for it. Lucky me, the gate happened to be the farthest one available from security!

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one rushing to make the flight and when I got to the gate, economy was still boarding. I breezed through the priority lane and joined my parents on board.

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Virgin Australia has a rather tightly configured business class with seats being in the 2-3-2 arrangement (I felt really sorry for the guy stuck in the middle). There are two saving graces: fully lie flat seats (unlike you Emirates), and the wonderfully friendly crew. As soon as I stepped on, I knew that this would be a great crew. As boarding proceeded the purser came around and introduced herself and handed out menu/breakfast cards, amenity kits, pajamas, and drinks (orange juice or champagne). She chatted with us a little and apologized for the delay (citing the security lines). I mentioned to her about the check in line and she assured me that she would let the ground crew know.

Sweaty from the sprint to the gate, I changed into my pajamas while boarding continued. After returning, I examined the contents of the amenity kit, which was by Mandarina Duck.

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The kit has a dental kit, a box of hand creams by REN, a pen, eyeshades, socks, and a 20% discount card for REN.

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As you can see it is nothing spectacular, but certainly serves the purpose for a quick refresher during or after the flight.

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I apologize for not taking too many pictures of the cabin. Since the business class cabin was completely full, I didn’t feel comfortable taking too many pictures. Here is a picture of my sister and I waiting for the departure time to roll around. Hope that keeps you happy 🙂

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At approximately 12:40pm, we began our pushback from the gate. The captain came on to apologize for the delay and estimated the flight time to be approximately 13 hours, which would put us into LA just a little late. After a surprisingly quick taxi to the runway, and a rather long take off roll we were finally airborne.

30 minutes after departure, the FAs sprang into action. They first came around with hot towels and then drinks along with some nuts. The menu for this flight read as follows:

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First of all, it’s important to mention that Virgin Australia doesn’t offer an Asian Vegetarian Meal on its flights. Instead the menu offers a vegetarian main course for each meal served on the flight. I’m absolutely fine with this since AVML meals can be hit or miss, whereas the Western options offered on the menu are at least half decent.

The table was first set with the opera house like salt and pepper shakers, which I found to be a very nice touch.

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And then came the hand cloth, butter, glass, and butter knife. I really appreciated the organized nature of the service.

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I started off with the Zucchini and Parmesan soup, which was phenomenal. I was quite hungry so I finished it before I remembered to take a picture.  I then had the Spinach, feta, and ricotta pie with roasted fennel, artichoke, and pine nuts, which was very good though a bit too saucy. In case you guys are wondering what I had to drink, it was Diet Coke or Coke Light as they like to call it in other parts of the world 🙂

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I finished off the meal with some Passionfruit roulade, which was excellent.

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Seeing that I finished dessert so quickly, I was offered another plate of the roulade, but I politely refused. I don’t think this plane was equipped with a fitness center.

As soon as meal service finished, I hopped on my laptop and got some work done. I was actually typing up this post before I felt so drowsy that I nodded off on the keyboard. I woke up a while later to just have a walk around the cabin to stretch my legs. I noticed that there was a bar located in between the business and economy class cabin. A whole of lot of the younger passengers were just hanging out there drinking away. Some appeared to be quite drunk and had to be rather forcefully ushered back to their seat by the FA. Come on, even I know VA doesn’t serve Krug.  After the walk around, I returned to my seat to find that the FA had made my bed without my asking. I think she noticed that I had slept on my keyboard.

Virgin Australia has some nice bedding, and the seat is more than long enough for a 6 foot person. I slept comfortably for almost 8 hours before I was woken for breakfast service.

I had filled out the breakfast card upon departure from Sydney, and had the following: Sultana Bran Cereal, a warm apple cinnamon muffin, fruits, seasonal juice blend, and some vegemite to go along with a croissant I got later.

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I really enjoyed the muffin, which was wonderfully warm, and tasty,  and of course my cereal and fruits. This is where I have to apologize to all my Australian readers: I’m not a fan of vegemite. In fact, I couldn’t even put the croissant in my mouth after I spread that stuff. Maybe I might have liked it if I had stayed in Sydney for a couple more days…..

For the main course, I had ordered Bircher muesli, which I had to politely refuse because I was already full. Apparently there was a breakfast quiche, which was not on the menu and went along with the Vegetarian meal, but I wasn’t hungry.

By the time the breakfast service finished we were well on our descent into LAX. The FA and the purser who served us came around to thank us for our business and gave us a mint before taking their seats for landing.

Bottom Line: 

Overall, both the flag carriers of Australia seem to be a cut above the American legacy carriers in all terms.Virgin Australia offers a good combination of service, comfort, and convenience (flights are redeemable using Delta or Virgin America miles). Though they aren’t releasing quite as many award seats now as they used to ahead of time, close in availability still appears to be outstanding. The menu on the flight had a good vegetarian menu option, and the breakfast menu had a lot of fresh bakery goods. I didn’t get a chance to check out the lounge in Sydney, but judging by the look of things we really didn’t it’s not anything to write home about. What I am really excited about is that VA now has the new business class (reverse herringbone) seat with direct aisle access on in its LAX flight, and that just looks like a fantastic product:

Let me note here that I would never hesitate to fly VA again even with this older seat.

Now, if only I could find a way to try one of Qantas’s premium cabins without breaking the bank 😉 Award availability seems to be always poor on the direct routes to the U.S.

And that’s a wrap on the penultimate post in this series…..

Next up: The Virgin America LOT @ LAX