REVIEW: Why Virgin Australia's flight to Perth is boring and dull, but occasionally exciting

Nope, it doesn’t look like this across the Nullabor Plains. Picture: Stephanie Gautronneau

Going, on what, for how long?
Sydney-Perth, Virgin Australia, 737-800, 5hr 10 mins
Flight frequency: Four flights daily

Cost
From $199
Fully flexible econ $639
Business $1999

Where am I?
Economy, 8D

Configuration
8 business (2-2)
168 economy (3-3)

Baggage?
Economy: 1 x 23kg (or double that depending on fare and FF status)
Premium/Business: 2 pieces up to 32kg each

How much for more?
Prepay $35 for one piece, $70 for two.
At the airport, $70 for the first piece, $90 for second; $70 for each overweight bag

On deck

“It’s nothing to worry about” is the world’s worst reassurance, especially when you’re told, two hours into a flight to Perth, that you’re diverting to Adelaide.

It’s permission for the imagination to run wild.

A light has come on. Apparently. Just a few minutes after I’d noticed the sun suddenly streaming through the port side of the plane, the captain gets on the PA at 9.13pm and says “Sorry for the late notice, but…”

And we’re not the only unscheduled Virgin flight in Adelaide this night. A Brisbane to Perth plane has diverted for a medical emergency, and once the light that came on has been given the It’s Nothing To Worry About tick of approval, plans to head to Perth are back on, and a bloke who paid for a business class flight from Brisbane suddenly finds himself down the back of economy on our flight because he needs to be in South Africa tomorrow for work.

The back of the seat formerly known as the entertainment system… complete with dirty marks to look at for 5 hours.

He’s simply glad to be heading in the right direction. At this stage, about 30 passengers have their fingers crossed they’ll make the connecting flight.

The best the Virgin cabin crew can say on this codeshare flight is it’s up to South African Airlines and for the next 2 hours and 50 minutes, the 30 have to wait and worry about what news ground staff in Perth will break to them. The connecting flight window is 2 hours and 40 minutes and by my calculation we’ve already chewed up most of that time.

But let’s pretend this is just a routine flight across the island and let me explain why it wouldn’t be a very good one anyway.

Virgin Australia’s invested heavily taking the brand up market to take on Qantas, but this is the sort of flight where the differences are still too all apparent, even if the prices are roughly the same.

For starters, there are just 8 business class seats, so chances are you’ll end up down the back even if you wanted to pay not to be. While the airline has just upgraded its business seats on the A330s, the 737-800 is simply a reminder of how far planes have come in just 5 years.

The crew
A huge thanks to Silvester, one of the cabin crew, who agreed to push on, despite being entitled to clock off. Had he said no, we’d all have slept in Adelaide this evening.

Overall, the floor team was pretty good, although one member of the team is a little too obsessed with The Order of Things and delivered that viewpoint as if still head prefect.

Distractions?

Any thought of catching a movie is reliant on you packing your own device to hook into the Virgin entertainment app. The channel and volume controls are still on the armrest, but now there’s just a big chunk of white plastic on the back of the seat, like boarded up houses in an American CDO-ravaged town.

There’s no USB port, so your entertainment only lasts as long as your battery. Best bring a charger if you want to make it to the other side of the island with some power left on your iPad or smartphone.

Food and drink

The dinner service starts almost shortly after take off. Tonight it’s pork or fried rice and vegetables.

Meh. There are too-large chunks of pork, like Hadrian’s Wall, between three cubes of roast potato and a bunch of peas on the other side.

The knife and fork weren’t tough enough for the pork.

The plastic knife and fork bend and twist as you press them into the meat, like Uri Geller is messing with your cutlery.

The tray comes with a bread roll and butter, water and chocolate mousse.

As a way to pass the time, it delivers neither pleasure nor pain.

The drinks trolley follows behind. They are pleased to offer you complimentary tea and coffee, soft drinks, beer and Australian wines, as well as items from The Menu (aka things you pay for).

I ask for a whisky. Chivas Regal. That will be $8. I offer cash, the call goes out for change. I pull out a credit card to make it easier. The machine is found down the back of the plane. My card and the receipt comes back later.

I’d like a red wine with my meal too please.

Sorry sir, I can only serve you one drink at a time, the attendant explains.

About 20 mins later, the scotch finished, I hit the attendant button.

I’m told service is still on down the back and to wait until that is over, which left me feeling somewhat chastised, although to the crew’s credit, the wine appeared via one of the other attendants a few minutes later, even if she wasn’t quite sure who it was for.

Just two wines to chose from on Virgin flights.

And here’s where I sound like a wine wanker, but hey, in the palate race that has airlines boasting about how awesome their F&B offerings are, Virgin is under-armed.

There’s one white and one red: the Calabria family’s highly enjoyable Richland pinot grigio and Blue Pyrenees 2013 shiraz. As much as I like shiraz, the tannins don’t do it for me when flying. When the plane carries three different beers – Fat Yak, Peroni and Crown – Virgin can’t argue it’s some sort of logistical nightmare to slip in an extra wine or two.

Coming back?

Better plane, the A330-200, which began on the Perth-Sydney leg late last year. It has back of the seat entertainment in economy, and there are plenty of plush business class seats. Ate in the lounge to avoid the plane food, then slept. A much better – and faster – flight.

Verdict?

If money is an issue, Virgin’s discount tickets are about 50% cheaper than the Qantas Red e-Deals, which are just over $300. But after that, the minimal price difference in economy would have me choosing the Flying Kangaroo over Branson every time.

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