The other airline that begins with “Q” might be the choice of some patriotic Australians but I was left pleasantly surprised by the recently introduced and much improved Virgin Australia Transcontinental A330 service.
The Narooma winter swimming club on the Far South Coast of NSW was headed over to Perth via Canberra and the flights were booked on Virgin Australia.
Which is just as well as I hear that this international-style transcontinental service is now the choice of travellers and part of the airline’s bid to improve its image and standing in Australian aviation.
I flew courtesy of nobody and this is an honest appraisal from a closet “avgeek” flying across this great land on a boys’ trip with a group of winter swimmers.
The connecting flights from Canberra to Melbourne were done on the same Embraer ERJ-190 that disappointingly still sported the old red-blue livery.
Still these flights were quick and efficient with luggage booked all the way through to Perth, and smooth, particularly on the return trips when both the E-190 and A330 pilots did well in quite stormy and very wet conditions.
The one and only disappointment of the whole Virgin Australia experience was that upon checking in at Canberra, I as always requested a window seat assuming that would be both legs.
While I had the window out of Canberra, upon boarding the A330 at Melbourne, I realised I was mid-section with the rest of the boys.
The moral is when booking through make your desired seat requests for both legs and cross your fingers.
The crew however on board both legs from Melbourne to Perth were exceedingly helpful and friendly, as will be revealed.
Our ride for the transcontinental trip was the “Terrigal Beach”, that Planespotters.net says is the second newest A330 Virgin Australia fleet of seven A330 wide-body aircraft now used on the service.
On the way back, the A330 was “Manly Beach” delivered mid-2012.
Both these aircraft were gleaming outside and plush inside and so much better than the aged 767 and heaven forbid a cramped, single-aisle 737 for such a long haul.
Although disappointed that I didn’t have a window seat this was tempered by the fact that sitting together with the rest of boys from the team would be fun as the anticipation of going on the big end-of-season trip unfolded.
Also helping was a helpful flight attendant inviting one hapless to sit away from the swimmers at a free window seat, as she did with other passengers distributing according to comfort.
I did consider requesting my own seat change but was happy sit with the boys and the flight being quite full saw all the windows occupied anyway.
The flight was held back about 20 minutes because only one runway was available due to construction visible out of the window, even from the middle section.
It’s always nice to hear an explanation from the driver up front and we got there on time anyway making up for it high over the Great Australian Bight.
The new in-flight entertainment was great with plenty of movies, show and music on your own seat-mounted screen.
I left the video display on the flight tracker mode that gave all the flight details although the map did lack detail.
I would love to experience the in-nose camera display apparently offered on some airlines such as Finnair.
With a hot meal and drinks served, it was like being on an international flight and Virgin Australia’s excellent service should dispel any hangovers about being a discount airline, especially on its new “Transcontinental” service.
On the return flight, just past Adelaide there was some kind of incident with a female passenger with unconfirmed rumours of a fainting spell.
The crew huddled around the woman and obviously stabilised her situation.
I have read enough of Aviation Herald to anticipate being diverted, but I guess we were about to initiate the descent into Melbourne and given the stormy weather perhaps being given priority to land was a blessing in disguise.
Although in the bustle of disembarkation, I never did see what happened to her and maybe it was not that serious.
With the bags booked through, there was only time for one beer for the boys with just over half an hour to catching the connecting Canberra flight.
Route: Melbourne to Perth
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200.
Flight time: Five hours.
Seating: 255 luxury leather seats with up to 31 inch pitch in economy; 24 luxury leather lie-flat seats with 60 inch pitch along with in-seat power to charge devices in business class
Food and beverages: Inclusive hot meal and beverages throughout the flight.
Entertainment: Award winning AVOD Seat-back in-flight entertainment on new Airbus A330-200 aircraft. USB connectivity along with in seat power to charge devices.
Aircraft condition: Excellent – Virgin Australia uses its fleet of new A330-200 for the Transcontinental service between Perth and the East Coast.
Flight frequency: The introduction of a seventh A330 to the airline’s fleet will see these aircraft operate all Perth-Sydney and Perth-Melbourne weekday services and two out of three Perth-Brisbane weekday services from October (source Australian Aviation)
Tested by Stan Gorton