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LAX->SYD V Australia business class (+SEA->LAX Virgin American econ)

LAX->SYD V Australia business class (+SEA->LAX Virgin American econ)

Old May 29, 09, 10:37 am
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Programs: HA, QF, DJ
Posts: 16
LAX->SYD V Australia business class (+SEA->LAX Virgin American econ)

[ This TR is in several parts, due to its length. I have over 50 images to include, and found that I can only put 6 in per post in another forum -- does FT have the same limitation? Not wanting to break this post up into 10 parts, I'm still working on solving that problem, but for now, here's the TR. I posted it to the Australian FF community yesterday, but wanted to make sure the folks who enjoyed my first TR see it, too. ]

)) Intro

On April 1, I travelled from Seattle, Washington to Sydney, NSW, Australia, and I travelled the LAX->SYD segment in V Australia’s international business class. Since my last trip report received such a great reception on flyertalk, I figured I’d do another for this trip since I have more to say!

The trip was in two legs, SEA->LAX , and LAX-SYD, and involved two carriers, Virgin America and V Australia. Yes, V Australia now offers bookings from Seattle to Sydney, using Alaska Airlines for travel from Seattle to LAX, but did not at the time my plans were made

As my only other VA experience was their inaugural flight, I particularly looked forward to finding out what a “normal” flight on the airline was like, sans camera crews and various people like a knight with long blonde hair or characters representing flight attendants of competing airlines striding through the aisles.

)) SEA->LAX Virgin America Flight 792

For the SEA-LAX leg of my trip, I was on Virgin America flight 792. This flight was fairly full and as a result, it took a loooong time for everyone to board. Full flights are normally the ones I’d upgrade on, but others had beaten me to the punch, so I travelled in Economy. Scheduled to depart at 3:35, we pushed back at 3:37pm, due to the prolonged boarding time and were finally #1 for takeoff at 3:50pm. The flight was fairly uneventful and, I’ll admit it, I’d had such a hectic time getting ready for my trip that I slept through most of it! Yes, even with that rather bright mood lighting. I did pull out my computer and check to see if in-flight wifi was available yet, and the answer was no – although I heard from a friend who travelled on them recently that it’s up now. I only ate a light snack – some cranberry juice and a package of Brent and Sam’s chocolate chip cookies, which were tasty. The flight’s scheduled arrival time was 6:20pm, and apparently the winds (and traffic on the ground at LAX) were on our side, because the doors were open for deboarding by 6:05pm. I remembered to snap a picture of the pilots on my way off the plane, which is something I always mean to do, but usually am too excited or tired to do.

)) At LAX between flights

Because Virgin America is not particularly tied to V Australia, it was not possible to check my luggage through to Sydney in Seattle. (I don’t know if the new arrangement with Alaska allows for this. Anyone?) So, it was necessary to claim my luggage at the carousel in T3, then go to check-in for my V Australia flight.

)) V Australia check-in experience

And here’s where the fun starts. J By 6:30pm, I had located my two bags and was in front of the check-in counter, with my first chance to turn left at the “International Business Class” sign. J V Australia’s international business class check-in, at LAX, was at the left-most counter. In Sydney a couple months back, I think check-in for the premium classes had been on the right; there’s something poetic about getting to turn left from the get-go.

I was surprised to see a sign on the counter that said the flight may be overbooked. I asked about it and was told that no, the flight was not overbooked, and that that sign is always there. V Australia, why? As a passenger, all this does is get me thinking about how crowded the flight is going to be.

After I checked in and saw my bags tagged with “V Australia international business class” tags, I went through security and then it was off to the Alaska lounge for the long wait for my next flight. Since V Australia doesn’t have its own lounge at LAX, they’re using the Alaska Airlines lounge, called the Board Room. My Alaska Airlines trips have been primarily limited to travel to the Silicon Valley and not LA, so this was my first time in this particular lounge. As a result, I had to go looking for it. It’s found on level 3 of the terminal, nicely out of the way. As a hint to passengers that yes, they’re in the right place, a V Australia signboard is set up outside the lounge.

Fortunately, my arrival, the lounge and the V Australia departure all involved T3, so things were quite convenient for me at LAX this time. Definitely, avoiding the whole TBIT renovation fiasco and the inaccurately adjusted, freezing air conditioning in TBIT (just what one doesn’t need before a long flight) that I ran into with Qantas in February was a very good thing. (For the as-yet-non-LAX-initiated, TBIT is the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the departure point for most international flights, and it’s showing its age.) And speaking of construction, on April 1, the restaurant structure that is often considered the icon of LAX was apparently being refurbished as well, because it was surrounded by scaffolding.

)) Inside the Alaska Airlines Board Room lounge

At the lounge, I was greeted by a lounge attendant and I identified myself as a V Australia passenger. I asked if wifi was available and if I needed a password for it, and she provided a slip of paper with the password, indicated to me where I’d find outlets in their facility, and told me about the food and drink available. When I arrived at the lounge around 7:30pm, the attendant mentioned that business class would be called for boarding around 10:30pm or 11. That meant there was plenty of time to look around.

The Alaska lounge has the usual free wifi and also has a couple banks of computers that one can use if one’s laptop is not convenient. It features an attended bar which offers two complimentary drinks, although while I was there it didn’t seem that anyone was counting. There is also a cold food area, several seating areas, a decent but not plentiful supply of electrical outlets (aka power points) for recharging, and a children’s area with an abundant supply of kiddie videos. There weren’t any children in the lounge while I was there, though. It’s a rather typical domestic airport lounge. It doesn’t match the higher end ones with buffets of soups, salads, sandwich meats and fancy pastries, but its healthy raw snacks, array of beverages and availability of alcohol put it above the lower end ones. I munched on cheese, crackers, raw broccoli and carrots, and fruit and enjoyed a glass of wine, while surfing the net and reviewing some of a friend’s writing.

The lounge was quiet although well-occupied earlier in the evening, which made it easy to work, although there was a bit of competition for seats near power outlets. There was also a nice view of the outside, so that one could watch the goings-on of arrivals and departures, although that’s somewhat limited at night by the darkness. One of the planes I spotted in the twilight was Alaska Airlines’ Disneyland 50th Anniversary plane, which I’d never seen in person before. J

After 9:30pm or so, the lounge seemed to be just about deserted except for a dozen V Australia passengers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a between-flights shower area of the sort that one usually finds in international lounges. (V Australia, it’d be great if you’d find a way to make that happen… some people are making connections from the other side of the country, and they’re going to be in flight for another half day before reaching Australia.) Making a connection after several hours of prior travel, I missed that, but otherwise found the lounge to have everything I needed, which amounts to a quiet place to sit, edible non-junk food, a free glass of wine (without the awkwardness of a ticket to hand in at the lounge, as I once found with Qantas in a US partner lounge) and free wifi. For most of my time in the lounge, I was in a seat near an outlet, busily surfing the net, handling email and making notes for this TR. It worked well for those purposes.

It was somewhat unnerving to me, as a first-timer in V Australia’s business class, that the lounge’s displays showed departures of Alaska flights (it is their lounge, after all), but didn’t mention V Australia. Hours went by without any sign that V Australia even knew we were there. I wondered from time to time if we’d been forgotten about, if I’d misunderstood some instruction, etc., and finally asked the front attendant, who told me that all was still well and that the V Australia staff would definitely come to the lounge to retrieve us when it was time to board. (This requires a bit of trust of Alaska’s staff… maybe a card handed out at check-in could underscore that V Australia staff WILL show up near flight time and perhaps even giving pax a number to call for status info would be a good addition? Then again, once you’ve done it once, you know not to worry, “Where are they?”.)

)) V Australia greets business-class passengers in Alaska lounge

Sure enough, at around 10:30pm, a handful of people in the usual Virgin Blue uniforms came to the lounge to chat to the business class passengers. They split up and just walked up to folks to introduce themselves and welcome people to the flying with V Australia. They chatted with just about everyone else before getting around to me, so I spent a good 5 or 10 minutes watching all this wondering, “What are they talking about? Who are they, that they’re getting talked to?”. It turned out, they talked to everyone. One of the two staff who chatted with me introduced himself as Mark, and said that we’d be called to the gate in about half an hour and that he’d see me on board. I don’t know if pax were greeted in this way just because the lounge itself didn’t belong to V Australia, but I thought it was a very nice touch. Even a higher-end European airline like SAS doesn’t send their cabin crew around the lounge to say hello (or at least, it never has for me ;-), and United didn’t when I flew with them.

)) At the gate for LAX->SYD V Australia Flight 2

The V Australia departures board in the same gate area as Virgin America. As you would expect, everything is clean and new looking. The gates are arranged in a curve (think: the Virgin Blue “pod” area at Brisbane, if you’ve seen that) rather than a long, straight aisle with gates to both sides, with seats in the middle, so there were plenty of seats near the departure gate even for a 777. I note that mainly for economy passengers who might be reading this, because passengers retrieved from the Alaska lounge didn’t have a chance to sit down there. The international business class boarding announcement was made as we were making our way to the gate, at around 11pm, enabling us to walk right onto the plane. Some people might prefer to start off for the gate a bit earlier than that. Knowing that they might call for business class pax relatively late, you might want to figure out what you feel is a good time to be at the gate, watch your watch in the lounge, and head toward the gate before the official call.

I bounced down the jetway, excited about my trip to Australia, and at the final turn left in the jetway, a half dozen or so of the V Australia cabin crew were lined up to welcome everyone on board. Imagine my astonishment when one of them said to me, “Welcome back!”. Now, admittedly, this was accurate, but it really surprised me, because this was only my second flight with the airline, and my first had been a month earlier in the middle of a media circus. I would have thought random paying passengers were one of the least memorable parts of the flight for those who worked it. I exclaimed, “WHAT?”, in disbelief, and she replied, “You were on the inaugural flight, right? I remember you!”. +++ on the customer service orientation of your staff, V Australia! I figure one of two things could have happened: (1) the woman really did remember me, because it had been only a month ago, or (2) the reconnaissance effort in the Alaska lounge identified me as the repeat passenger, so that that could be mentioned during boarding. Either way, it’s good business to recognize repeat customers. It’s not the first time I’ve had it happen when flying J or F (or even Y), but it hasn’t happened often, and never on my second flight with an airline. I picked up my dropped jaw, and proceeded toward the plane.


)) On-board in business class, V Australia Flight 2

At the end of the jetway, I got to turn left while boarding and finally saw the front cabin of a V Australia plane for myself, rather than just through the pictures in the media of the launch flight. What struck me first was, of course, the spaciousness. There were only 26 seats in the main business class cabin, so it had a very exclusive feel. I remember someone remarking about business class on the launch flight that this must be what it’s like to fly in a private jet, and I can see why they’d say that now. Seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration, but staggered across the aisles so that you don’t feel that you’re right next to the people across the aisle from you. You can see that in some of my pictures – the leftmost set of seats in a row is furthest toward the front, and the rightmost set of seats is furthest back. The main business class cabin contains 4 rows, although the right hand side of the plane only contains 3 rows, due to the arrangement of the seats. Some people may be groaning about the idea of a middle seat in J class. But hey, it’s really useful that it’s there, if it’s empty and you’re seated in the center section, on the right hand side (seat G). Why? If the middle seat isn’t in use, the person in G has the use of the between-seats flat area belonging to the middle seat as well as their own, making for twice the convenient flat space, without having to take a table out of the armrest. That little flat area is there to provide space for the entertainment console.

In addition to the roominess, the other thing I noticed was the sort of odd retro space age design of the seats that made me initially wonder if they’d be as comfortable as the better business class seats I’d experienced, because they just looked unusual as far as lie-flat seats go (yes, they are as comfortable). Think 1960’s sci fi design updated for the 21st century; it looks like what they were aiming for was a unique but still comfortable and high-end design. (In the process, they’re probably going to puzzle those who think they know what a business class cabin “should” look like.)

I walked all the way up to the front of the plane and settled in seat 1G, thinking to myself, “This will not be a bad way to spend 13 or 14 hours.”

The cabin has the same multicolor mood lighting that changes from purple to pale pink to pale orange and such over the course of the flight, as economy. As noted in my inaugural flight TR, you may like this, or may not. I like it, because it makes the plane feel more upbeat instead of institutional (if that makes sense). Note that if you’ve experienced Virgin America’s mood lighting, you’ll find V Australia’s to be much more subtle, which I consider to be a good thing. In fact, it’s sufficiently subtle that I *still* don’t have a good picture of it, after two flights of tries.

)) Telling the secret of Row 5

I didn’t learn until later in the flight about Row 5 of business class. Row 5 sets V Australia’s business class cabin arrangement apart from other airlines I’ve flown to Australia, or elsewhere for that matter. Because, you see, row 5 is in its own little mini-cabin of the plane. The first four rows of business class seating are in the very front, behind that cabin is the business class bar, and then behind that in its own mini-cabin is Row 5, still part of business class but separated from the rest of it. Each set of seats (left, right, middle) in Row 5 can be sectioned off with curtains for a bit more privacy. It’s the closest thing to a private suite that I’ve ever seen in international business class. Maybe that’s because I’ve just never noticed similar areas on other planes, but I think it really is an unusual feature. I could see any number of people partaking of this: public figures, celebrities, people with a big business deal to discuss, even a couple on a special trip. I eventually learned about it because I went on a middle-of-the-night sojourn around the plane, and walked through a really dark area that seemed to be just aisle and nothing else; commenting about the darkness to one of the FA’s, I was told of Row 5. I have no idea who might have been there, but the curtains were closed. If you want privacy, row 5 is where it’s at, because the other rows of J likely won’t even think to venture further back in the plane past the bar (figuring that’s likely where premium economy starts), and no one else is allowed up past premium economy.

No pics of row 5. I wasn't sitting there and didn't want to look foolish taking pics of passengers sitting not even plausibly near me. :-)

)) International business class seating

Regarding the seats themselves, they are generously-sized and convert to a flat bed at night. I’d read a rumor online that the seats were actually at a slight angle rather than completely horizontal, but that wasn’t the case from what I could see or feel when the seat was in the “bed” configuration. Seat width seems about the same as on the Qantas 747’s (I haven’t tried a 380 yet); even though someone said V Australia had the widest seats, I didn’t particularly notice that. They certainly qualify as generous and comfortable for a trans-Pacific flight. In J or F class, an inch or two isn’t as noticeable as it is in economy, so this is not likely to be a significant issue. Regarding comparing the VA seats to other carriers like United and Hawaiian, they’re just not in the same league at all. I heard United might have upgraded their business class seating from when I was last on it a couple years ago, but as of late 2007 their business class still featured typical reclining seats (wide, but not lie flat) that were nice but no competition to VA’s and QF’s. As far as I know, Hawaiian still uses reclining seats in business class. I might give a slight edge to Qantas' seats in the "bed" configuration based on where the different sections of seat hit my torso and legs, but that's going to vary from person to person and the difference is just between "comfortable" and "a bit more comfortable". I see VA's seating as a better value for the price, and would be unlikely to spend more on QF for the slight difference in seating.

There was a great deal of space between my seat and the bulkhead at the front of the plane. The official word is 1.95 meters of space between your seatback and the one in front of you, and I’ll take them at their word, because to me it was just “plenty of space”. I didn’t notice appreciably more space in front of me in the bulkhead row than for seats in other rows, so it’s not necessary to go out of your way to book row 1 to try to get another 5cm or so. Every seat in J seemed to have plentiful legroom to accommodate the flat bed configuration of the seats, and in the flat configuration, there was plenty of room for me (at 5’6” or so) to stretch out. An extension piece was added on to the leg rest when it was in “bed” configuration; I didn’t have a chance to find out if this was specific to row 1 or if that’s how it worked for all seats. As noted elsewhere, each set has an IFE screen, tray table, flat area on the armrest for holding a drink without needing to take out the tray table, a personal LED light, power point, USB connector (still haven’t figured that one out), 3-prong headset jack and a couple of small (eyeglasses sized?) storage cubbies in addition to the seat itself. The IFE screen was easily viewable whether the seat was in sitting or bed position.

The open but spacious feel of V Australia’s J-class cabin seem to be designed with the assumption that people often travel together in groups of 2 or 3 and want easy access and visibility to their travelling companions, while still having a comfortable, business class amount of room between seats. This might not be the case for everyone, but in J class on the day I flew, it seemed that there were many groups of 2 and 3 pax, rather than primarily solo travelers. The V Australia seats don’t have that “hood” type construction that sits along the back and sides of the Qantas and a few other airlines’ business class seats (and is admittedly what I first picture when I think “business class seat”, from experience). However, the V Australia seats have a divider that can be pulled up between seats for privacy (mainly to be used while sleeping, I think). The cabin itself doesn’t (to me) feel as traditionally luxurious as Qantas’ 747 J-class cabin, but does have a very clean, uncluttered look that is visually appealing in a modern-interpretation-of-classic-air-travel sort of way. I think that which one a person prefers will come down to taste, as they’re both nice in their own way. I don’t go in for ornate home furnishings, so the leaner aesthetics of the V Australia cabin are my choice. But on the other side, a few weeks ago some Qantas fans who tried V Australia said they still preferred the Qantas interior. (I'll have more to say about perceived value -- how much are interior aesthetics worth to you, when buying your own ticket, for example -- later).

As you might expect, the first row of seats was slightly different than the others, because there was no seat back in front of it. It appeared that the main thing I was missing, sitting in Row 1, was a hat or coat hook. In addition to a pocket attached to the bulkhead (where my computer lived during the trip when I wasn’t making notes for this TR), I made use of the cubby between my seatback and the one to the left, up near the top of the seat, in which I could hide the Bvlgari kit and a pen for safekeeping.

FA Dave gave me a tour of my seat, explaining the controls (tilting the seat bottom forward and back, recline, leg rest, lumbar support, etc.), the power outlet (aka power point), the in-flight entertainment console, the personal LED reading light, etc.

The personal LED reading lights are one of the real “hits” in terms of facilities on the V Australia 777’s, as they are on other carriers that have them as well. If you’ve ever tried to sleep while 6 people around you have wanted to read, you know how annoying others’ overhead lights can be. In economy, V Australia hands out little LED lights that are powered through the USB plug in the IFE console. In business class, the lights have adjustable brightness and are built in to the seats, on an adjustable gooseneck wire so that they can be positioned as needed. An interesting observation: During the entire flight, I never saw a traditional overhead light on in the J cabin – not once – but did see most pax using their personal LED lights. When I needed a reading light, the first solution that came to me was to turn on my little LED light, not the overhead light, and I’m guessing that that’s the way it was for others, too. It’s the rare “better mousetrap” that’s perceived as more convenient for its user and also less impacting on others, than its alternative (the normal overhead light at each seat).

(Continued in next post)
heleno is offline  
Old May 29, 09, 10:39 am
  #2  
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)) Overall service


Service was very attentive throughout the flight. The FA’s made sure that everyone understood their seat adjustment controls, had seen the Bvlgari toiletries, headphones, etc., had a menu and knew how the dining worked, etc. The business class cabin was not completely full, and I’d guess that there was a 1:3 or at most 1:4 ratio of FA’s to pax, which meant that there were still plenty around when some were on breaks during the long flight. Yes, seriously. J-class was overrun with FA’s to the point of unbelievable. Multiple FA’s knew my name and I was asked many times if I needed anything (tea, water, wine, more V Australia logo chocolates), during the flight. This is of course how it is supposed to go in premium classes, but doesn’t always, so it’s nice when it goes well.


The FA’s seemed to determine whether a passenger wanted to be left alone, or wanted to be engaged in conversation, and acted accordingly. On this flight, it seemed that only a couple of us were particularly conversational, so there was no shortage of FA’s willing to chat about anything and everything, be it pointing out the Southern Cross on the bar area’s ceiling, telling me about their weekend of Aussie Rules football game watching (in Melbourne during round one earlier in the year) once I said I was a fan of it and wanted to go see a game at some point, or discussing bacon. I’ll say more about the bacon later. ;-)


The FA’s were all great, but Lee and young Dave stood out in particular because of the many times we interacted. Lee and young Dave, you’re exactly the kind of FAs that a fan of Virgin Blue would hope to find on V Australia.


)) In-flight entertainment

J-class passengers enjoy the IFE on a bright 12.1” LCD screen that is larger than those in economy or premium economy class. Also, the headphones, provided in a nice V Australia labeled case whose contents were not obvious until I opened it, are nicer than those in economy. They are the over-the-ear, noise-cancelling variety, and it did make a difference to the audio. My earlier trip report of economy class on the inaugural flight covers the entertainment options available, which include a wide assortment of movies, music, video games, inter-seat chat, etc. I won’t go into them here, because it appears that there’s no difference between the options available to business and economy pax. Same for the remote control that is used to operate it.


My entertainment console remote control was stuck in my seat, which made playing Bejeweled difficult. The FA tried to get it out without success and offered to move me, but I was settled, had decided that I liked the little bit of extra table space the G seat provided, and didn’t want to move by then, so I made do without Bejeweled (mostly – I did hop over to the empty seat next to me for a couple games, though). I’d hope they’ve fixed it by now, but if you’re in 1G, you might want to double-check that if playing video games or doing in-flight chat is important to you; other functions work just fine with the remote still in the seat. I also listened to music and watched a couple of movies, including Bottle Shock. My tastes run toward less-violent fare, and I found plenty of options that were interesting (which is often not the case), so the people selecting the in-flight entertainment did a good job. I also saw a good amount of children’s programming, if that’s something you’d be looking for.


There was still no in-flight V Australia magazine, although I did find the V Australia launch covered in the next issue of the Virgin Blue in-flight magazine, later in my travels. I can understand this, because it’s a small airline at this point and a magazine of its own doesn’t really make sense, but some of us are flyer geeks who like to read about what’s up with the airline we’re flying on. How about a one-page, double-sided slick of “V Australia News”, updated monthly, on each seat prior to boarding, perhaps?


)) Restrooms (aka toilets)


J-class has a ladies-only restroom on the front right side of the plane. However, on this flight more men than women used it, somewhat nullifying the point of it. In fact, at one point, a lady walked up to it, but couldn’t use it because it was already in use by a man. When I pointed this out to the FA’s, they didn’t seem particularly fazed, so I’d guess that’s become a rather common occurrence. There were more men than women in the business class cabin, which has seemed to me to be typical of other flights I’ve been on, so maybe there’s just disproportionate demand for male restrooms in business class vs. in the general population? Maybe this is a good idea whose time has not yet come, because people are so used to unisex restrooms on a plane?


And now, about the restrooms… people who read my inaugural flight TR may remember my description of the large restroom in economy class. I can now report that they’re not all that size. The ones in J were of the size you’d expect. (Economy passengers get the large restroom, J-class gets row 5; this makes sense in a Virgin group kind of way.) I asked an FA about this, and the answer is that the larger one in economy is there for the comfort and safety of disabled pax, an idea that hadn’t occurred to me back in February. And thinking about it, it would also be good for families travelling with young children – I wonder if any of those travel agencies who specialize in travelling with kids know about it. (V Australia, you’re based in Brisbane… I know there’s at least one of those agencies in QLD, with an office in Townsville, so find them and let them know.)


)) On-board amenities


Part of the fun of premium travel is the amenities. V Australia offers each business class passenger a set of Bvlgari toiletries in a nice black nylon pouch, as well as a small surprise toward the end of the flight, described later. I think there may also be something else in a grey nylon folder type package, but I didn’t receive one of those, and for all I know, that might be something that Premium Economy gets instead of the Bvlgari bag that J-class receives. I found one in a restroom shortly before descent and handed it in to the FA who asked, “Is this yours?” and I said no, so maybe I should have gotten one and did not, and didn’t know it was missing so I didn’t know to ask for it. (?) The Bvlgari toiletries bag includes some Bvlgari items such as cologne and lotion, and also a small deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush and Plax mouthwash (ahh, thanks V Australia, forgot the mouthwash!) I’d never had any Bvlgari toiletries before, so it was nice to try these; for that, I give them an edge over QF (who also supplies a nice pack, admittedly), because VA’s just feels like a more exclusive set of kit.


I saved most of the toiletries for later, except for the Plax, having brought the other items I needed. I left them unopened so that I would still have them to show friends back home later.


As with many (but not all) international carriers including Qantas, they also provide sleepwear/loungewear for business class pax, so that you don’t have to spend the entire flight in your travel clothes. The V Australia business class pyjamas I received consist of a black knit t-shirt (skivvy) and matching black knit pants, in a matching bag with a V Australia logo. As far as airline pyjamas go, they’re understated in not having the logo prominently displayed (it’s on a small tag on the outside of the side seam of the shirt, and on the tag on the inside at the top back of the shirt). They also provided a pair of thong sandals to each passenger so that one didn’t have to go barefoot or in socks alone, while walking about the cabin.


No, I don't know what the deal is with the pale ones that were pictured in an earlier thread. Maybe those are for women and I was given men's because I tend to push the boundaries of ladies size L? ;-) I'm definitely more comfortable walking around in public in a dark knit than in a pale knit (hello Qantas), as I think most women of my age would be. So, to those of you who cringed at the sight of the ones earlier, don't fear.


)) OK, that’s the plane, how did the FLIGHT go?


As you’d expect, the FA offered me a welcome glass of champagne while the plane was still finishing boarding, which I gratefully accepted. Once we pushed back (approximately on time, in contrast to the inaugural flight that ran a bit late), we taxi’d around for a good while before taking off around midnight. My timing is approximate on that because my cell phone is my watch, and I don’t have it turned on while in-flight.


)) Dinner


Less than an hour into the flight, the FA’s went around to take dinner orders. Practically speaking, one could order anything off the menu at any time (any time dining being one of the features of V Australia business class, as it is on Qantas as well), but there was a particular time that they let people know basically that the kitchen was open for business.


For economy class pax in February, dinner menus were available on the online entertainment system only, but business class pax in April also had printed menus to peruse, which I appreciated. (Otherwise, it’s got the “cool” factor but is a bit like electronically hunting for dinner given that the menu’s location isn’t immediately obvious!) For my main and only course, I chose “red snapper with soy ginger sauce, linguini, red pepper and green asparagus”. I went with just water to drink, except for a couple taste sips of the suggested wine, because I wanted to check out the business class cabin’s bar area after dinner.


There were many options (and several courses) for dinner, and I saw others enjoying courses including a rather nice looking “marinated shrimp with Asian salad”, vegetable consommé soup, “Beef fillet with a mushroom duxelle, green peppercorn sauce, duchess potatoes, carrots and broccolini” and “Spinach ravioli.” There was also a “Chicken osso bucco with fava bean ragout and soft polenta” main, which I didn’t see. There was also a cheese course that looked interesting (brie, gruyere and Roquefort), and a choice of pear frangipan or vanilla ice cream for dessert. (There was a note saying all desserts were served with ice cream and/or caramel or vanilla sauce… ice cream with ice cream?) I bypassed them because they all looked quite rich, and I was full from my main. I’m one of those multiple-small-meals people, who’d rather have 5 snacks than 3 full meals. If one wasn’t interested in anything on the full dinner menu, there was also a set of lighter bites, including a meat pie, that one could order at any time.


From some of the comments left in reply to my earlier review (one or two people didn’t think that VA’s portions were large enough in economy, where I thought they were a reasonable meal size), I have to conclude that I just don’t eat as much in-flight as most people do, and my TR’s reflect that. My guess would be that those individuals would also consider the business class meal portions small, but in J-class, the food is unlimited and you’re welcome to order more at any time, so I wouldn’t count serving size as a negative in J-class – just an opportunity to try more different dishes. I’m not a fan of dairy-rich food, and am always happy to find in-flight meals that meet that criteria and are fairly healthy, AND are more than a plate of steamed broccoli and an apple, which is a real meal I once received on a domestic US carrier. Based on just one VA experience, I’d put them pretty much neck and neck with QF and ahead of United on business class meal options. I think the qourmet level and complexity of some of the QF options might be a bit ahead of some of VA’s, from an objective standpoint, but from my view and with my personal tastes, there were more interesting and unusual menu options on the VA menu (check out the wild mushrooms!). I’d recommend that VA consider offering a small dessert (like the lamington from economy on the inaugural flight, maybe accompanied by some in-season cherries, or a plate of strawberries and chocolate truffles) as well, for those of us who’d enjoy a sweet but would prefer a smaller portion.


The menu had suggested wine pairings for some of the mains, including the snapper I’d selected. For that, they suggested their Pipers Brook Ninth Island 2007 Pinot Noir. While not normally a fan of Pinot Noir, I tried it, and agree that it complemented the dish well. Moet and Chandon Grand Vintage was also an option. White wines available included O’Leary Walker Adelaide Hills 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Hungerford Hill Victoria 2008 Pinot Gris and Buena Vista Carneros 2006 Chardonnay. Red wines available in addition to the Pinot Noir were Watershed Margaret River Senses 2005 Shiraz and Lockwood Monterey 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.


Meals were served on china and glassware (as were drinks at the bar) that seemed to be equivalent in quality level to what you’d find on Qantas, but with an a whimsical twist -- a message on the saucer, underneath the teacup. They featured real silverware, and a V Australia hallmark – ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Sydney Opera House “sails”. I don’t know if they’ve been doing this all along, but toward the end of the flight, they distributed a boxed set of these shakers to pax in J-class. That’s the surprise amenity I mentioned earlier. I’m wondering now if the flights from Brisbane (rather than Sydney) and future flights from Melbourne also offer the Sydney-themed salt and pepper shakers.


Also, pax were given a card with which they could select a breakfast meal in advance, humorously entitled, “Do not wake me unless you come bearing food”. For what it’s worth, I didn’t fill it out. I was still undecided about what to have for breakfast and was reluctant to commit! I didn’t notice how many others were as well.


)) The business class sit-down bar


About an hour later, by 2:25am, I decided to try out the bar, and ended up hanging out there for about half an hour, enjoying some Australian red wine and munching on savory nuts. Yes, the plane has a real bar, with a bartop and bar stools and a shelf of liquor including Bundaberg rum, Jim Beam, Bailey’s, etc. in addition to the wine. This was simply too novel not to experience, so it was a can’t-miss for me. Sometimes it was serve-yourself (as it’s advertised to be), or if an FA was around, they’d offer to pour. While there, I ended up having nice chats with several of the FA’s and a fellow passenger. One pointed out that the stars in the bar’s ceiling area contained the Southern Cross constellation that is also represented on V Australia’s logo. (This is also where I heard the scoop on Row 5).

Allow me to offer a lighthearted warning to future visitors to the V Australia business class bar: its dimensions aren’t necessarily what you’d be accustomed to in a bar, and the back of the bar features an indented area to hold items that can be trouble. Not once, but twice, yours truly managed to tip over a partial glass of wine by placing it down on the sloping edge between the main part of the bar top and the indent. (This was after just one glass of champagne when boarding, remember.) Sensing my near-fatal embarrassment at my lack of eye-hand coordination (which has been an issue for me all my life – you do NOT want to pick me for your sporting team, for sure) the second time it happened, one of the FA’s volunteered, “Would you feel better if I knocked a glass over, too?”, and you know, I suspect he would have actually done so if I’d said yes. At one point, another of the FA’s (Lee, perhaps?) produced some chocolate truffles labeled with the V Australia logo. AHHH! The small dessert I’d been looking for. Perfect! FA Dave took a pic of me sitting in the bar, but at 2am after a day of travel, it does neither me nor the bar justice, so it’s not included here. I have shown it around to friends as proof that I was there, though.


)) Back in the business class cabin at “night”


At 3am (still on LAX time here), I went back to the business class cabin, to discover that the mood lighting had darkened and the much-heralded stars were out on the ceiling above the aisles. I never did figure out how the effect was produced (whether it was through projection or through tiny holes and fiber-optics in the ceiling), but stars there were, just like in the ceiling of the bar area.


By that point, most people had gone to sleep, so I asked the FA turn my seat into a bed and did likewise, after requesting a bottle of water to have with me overnight in case I got thirsty. Ahhh, J-class provides one with a nice, like-new-condition pale-colored quilt (aka doona), rather than polar fleece or wool blankets. I changed into the provided pyjamas, happy to find that they fit reasonably well, which hasn’t always been the case with airline-supplied nightwear when I’ve flown business class.


There was some mild turbulence during the night. When I woke up and noticed it, I observed to myself in a rather zen way, "Turbulence isn't so bad when you can look up at the ceiling and see stars." Really, folks. It is very, very cool to look up at the ceiling and see stars. I can’t say that strongly enough, if you haven’t yet experienced it. It sounds simple, but in my opinion, the attitude of the staff and the stars in the entire J class area, including the bar, *make* the V Australia business class experience, more than the food or the seats (which give or take personal preferences are arguably equivalent in comfort between Qantas and V Australia – different, but similar in quality).


)) Let’s dine anytime!


Very early in the morning (around 4am-5am Sydney time), when most people were still asleep, I got hungry and decided to test the “dine anytime” idea by asking for a meat pie, since another passenger had told me they’re good. Alas, meat pies were not available at that time. I explained to the FA that I was looking for a pre-breakfast snack (since I could have an actual breakfast as late as a couple hours from the current time), and she suggested a fruit plate consisting of strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and mango, which I eagerly agreed to. (Yay, more healthy, tasty food.) After enjoying that and a chamomile tea, I read for a while and watched the IFE.


)) Breakfast


Remember I promised more details about bacon? I’d had a discussion with one of the FA’s the night before about the lack of my much-loved waffle from economy’s breakfast menu, on the business class menu. He said he could attempt to wrest one from economy if that was what I decided I wanted. But then I thought about it and concluded that while I was up at the pointy end, I had to make the most of it. I picked a bacon roll off the business class brekkie menu, never having heard of such a thing before. And yes, Americans, it consists of a bread roll containing bacon (no egg, no cheese, just… bacon). Oh, and Americans, an Aussie’s concept of bacon is different from ours! Australian bacon is kind of like Canadian bacon (I say “kind of” because every time I describe it that way, an Aussie says, “no, it’s not”… but I still think it’s the best description of it), and in fact closer to ham than to American bacon. So, think “very large ham biscuit” or “ham sandwich with only ham in it”, with some ketchup (aka tomato sauce) served on the side, and you’ll be on the right track.


I’d had such a discussion about Aussie bacon with the FA the night before, while discussing breakfast options in light of the absence of the waffle from the menu. And I’d said, “So, kind of like a ham biscuit?” and he said no, it’s bacon, not ham. Imagine the humor with which he informed me in the morning that, in fact, because their “bacon” was supplied in America for this trip, and since they don’t have Aussie bacon in America, the “bacon” this time was in fact ham, and the “bacon roll” was in fact a very large ham biscuit! I’m still wondering about this. Was running out of bacon and needing to get a resupply in America an unusual occurrence? And given that Australians and Americans think of different things when one mentions bacon, wouldn’t it make sense to mention on the menu that this is Australian bacon? Otherwise, I think an American is eventually going to receive a large ham biscuit, point out that it’s ham and ask where the bacon is. Or, an Aussie is going to get a ham biscuit and wonder where HIS bacon is.

So breakfast for me was cranberry juice, some more chamomile tea and the bacon roll. V Australia once again has a clear win vs. Qantas on breakfast (this time in J-class), because they offered something warm that wasn’t full of egg or cheese. (To be fair, I had sausage and fruit on Qantas a year or so ago, which is lots better than I’ve ever done for breakfast on United or any US-based carrier, but still, the bacon roll was tastier, and I didn’t have to “eat around” the dairy on the plate.)


Other breakfast options included cereal, a muffin with preserves or vegemite, seasonal fruit, a “whole works” omelette containing many things, etc.
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Old May 29, 09, 10:40 am
  #3  
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LAX -> SYD V Australia business class (+SEA->LAX Virgin America econ)

)) Before landing

At breakfast time, the FA’s distributed feedback survey forms and requested that we fill them out. It’s nice to know that a company is interested in their customers’ opinions!

Oh, by the way, J-class is indeed treated to hot towels in the morning, as all passengers on long international flights should be. Yes, I’m still on my one-woman campaign to convince VA to provide them in economy as well, if they’re not already doing so, as I expect to be flying Y-class more often than J, and I like this airline.

Quick side note: V Australia, I’ll admit this. Your pyjamas ended up in my purse with my toothpaste when I changed out of them in the morning, and I forgot to take them out when I was back at my seat. They’re black and easy to overlook.

We touched down at 8:25am according to the flight tracker on the IFE (note that unlike Virgin America, which uses Google, V Australia uses a more traditional-looking flight tracker map system). Business class exits the plane at a different door at the front of the plane (vs. the one we boarded through, between business class and the rest of the plane), giving us a head start on economy and premium economy passengers. I suppose this is most useful for those with no checked luggage, as the international business class tag on my luggage didn’t seem to mean it was among the first bags off the plane – never does, on any airline I’ve experienced, and sometimes my J or F class bags, marked as such, have even been the LAST off the plane probably due to some baggage attendant with a strange sense of humor. I was sufficiently surprised by the different point of exit, and by Lee offering to take my pic sitting in my seat before I exited the plane, that I didn’t remember to take a pic of the flight crew. Sigh.

[ Quick edit to add something I forgot to mention ] The "Over the Rainbow" tune that was playing as we all exited the inaugural flight in Los Angeles showed up again as the arrival exit music for this one, so apparently it's in regular use. It's an upbeat, cheery choice that makes me smile when I hear it, and I'm glad they kept it around. The version they play is an instrumental-only version of the arrangement by that Hawaiian singer who covered the original song some years back. It is the latest in a list of great arrival music chosen by Virgin Blue, the most memorable of which, to me, was "All I want for Christmas is you" a couple years ago. An airline has one more chance (other than getting your bag back to you at baggage claim) to leave you with a positive impression as you exit, and good, upbeat music contributes to that.

The FA’s had handed out express passes to J-class customers, to help us get through customs as quickly as possible. Alas, it is only possible to use the pass if one doesn’t have food to declare. I have a few American ex-pat friends in Australia and my trips to Oz tend to involve supply missions; the cooler (esky) full of cajun rice mix, Reese’s and root beer requested by my friends nixed my ability to use it.

I noticed that it was 8:59am at baggage claim. This time, there was no, “Hurry up, get out of the way, an Airbus Is Coming!” urgency at baggage claim and customs, which was good – this makes sense, as the inaugural flight’s departure and arrival times were unusual, so it is reasonable that there would be a different set of traffic in the airport.

)) Summary

My flight from Seattle to LAX was fine and uneventful, and the chocolate chip cookies were good.

My time in the Alaska lounge met my expectations, but wasn’t super-impressive from international business class standards, given my experience with various international carriers’ lounges. I’d set my expectations going in, knowing that this was a domestic lounge, and found it to be a quite nice one.

The V Australia flight, however, stood out as an *experience* because of the business class service, features and amenities provided along with that lighthearted, let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously Virgin personality (which happens to mesh well with the Aussie culture, hence the popularity of the domestic Virgin Blue carrier). The closest J-class experience I’ve had to it, in terms of the personality of it, is Hawaiian, but their other J-class trappings don’t even begin to compare to VA’s. And while QF and UA may be closer equivalents to VA as far as seating and dining and a general high end “vibe” go, they have a more “corporate” personality that isn’t as good a match for me as VA’s.

Why not have a bar with bar stools? Why not have stars in the ceiling to give people something interesting to look at, at night? Why not have china whose saucer displays a message like, “Look, a flying saucer” when one lifts up one’s teacup? And if there’s an American passenger who’s crazy enough to fly from LA to Sydney just to get on your airline’s first flight, why not make note of it and remember her when she comes back? Some airlines do some of these things, but only VA does all of them.

I end up upgrading to J class on about half my trips to Australia, on various carriers, usually on the segment of my trip TO Australia rather than back from it. And I definitely think flying V Australia business class again would be worth it, particularly on the outbound section of my trip even if I couldn’t cost-justify it in both directions. It’s much easier for me to justify business class at V Australia’s prices than at Qantas’. Any extra “luxe” of Qantas in terms of cabin feel or gourmet level of food seems to come at a price that can be nearly double V Australia’s and it’s a matter of personal opinion as to whether it’s worth it or not. I experienced great service on V Australia, the equivalent or better of any I’ve had in business class on other airlines. I had a flat bed seat. I didn’t have to skip or skimp on meals, and feel like I was losing out on part of the value of premium class travel, because of a lack of food that matched my tastes. Beyond that, extras are great but I consider price next when evaluating a premium travel experience, so as long as V Australia’s pricing remains competitive, they’re the front runner for me.

People who think more expensive must mean better, or who’ve been loyal to the flying kangaroo for decades and don’t like change, will likely still go for Qantas. Although, they might want to try VA just to see if the extra $$ for QF are really worth it for them. And those who like traditional US carriers will likely stick with United. Those comments are especially true for those who like acquiring FF miles through Qantas or United.

I’d encourage others, again, particularly those who like Virgin Blue in Oz, or non-traditional carriers like Southwest in the US, to try V Australia’s business class if you’re in the situation to fly business class between the US and Oz. And if you’re interested in having your own nearly private business class cabin for 1, 4 or 6 of your closest friends, V Australia is where you’ll find it.

As noted above, the main exception to my recommendation would be if you want/need to accrue FF files and aren't a member of Velocity Rewards, the V Australia program (it's currently restricted to AU and NZ residents, although they're working on expanding it). V Australia really provides a lot of value for the price.

Now, V Australia, are you going to give us some hints on how to get upgrades to J class? I saw info on how to go from economy to premium economy, but didn't see info on how to upgrade to business class.

Cheers until the next TR…
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Old May 29, 09, 11:17 am
  #4  
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^ Great report heleno!
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Old May 29, 09, 2:02 pm
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Absolutely a great report.. thanks so much...
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Old May 29, 09, 2:58 pm
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Great detailed report. Thanks
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Old May 29, 09, 5:35 pm
  #7  
 
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Yes, you can embed more than 6 photos

Just be sure that you properly size them so that they load relatively quickly as the more you have, the slower the report loads.

I use www.photobucket.com for mine. It was relatively easy to learn with a little coaching from LarryU one of our photo report eggspurts.
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Old May 29, 09, 8:29 pm
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WOW

I really enjoyed your TR on the launch flight, and equally so enjoyed reading your J class experience on V.

I have friends who are Flight Attendants on the airline, and its great to hear from a pax - that echos what they say.

Looking forward to experiencing J on V sometime myself.

Adam
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Old May 29, 09, 9:34 pm
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What a throughy interesting read -very impressed

I would love to try V Australia on my twice yearly trips to LA. The only snag is their FF program. Since I rarely fly domestic within Australia It really isn't that good for me (I am *G with NZ).

NZ have started serving the Bacon Rolls in the pointy end too.
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Old May 30, 09, 12:10 am
  #10  
 
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Originally Posted by heleno View Post
)) On-board amenities
Part of the fun of premium travel is the amenities. V Australia offers each business class passenger a set of Bvlgari toiletries in a nice black nylon pouch, as well as a small surprise toward the end of the flight, described later.
Bvlgari amenities for J class ? Damn nice ! ^

This is something for F, not for J. Even only a handful of airlines use Bvlgari in F, SQ used it before, and OZ always has it.

Which Bvlgari line they have ? The original green box ? The blue BLV ? Green tea ? White tea ? Hopefully you had taken a photo and will post it to let me see it. I am a big fan of airline amenity kit !

Did you by the chance also see what kind of products they use in the premium economy amenity kit that you found in the washroom ?

Nice detail report btw .^ Hopfully we can see you post all the photos soon.

Last edited by ORDnHKG; May 30, 09 at 12:18 am
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Old May 30, 09, 9:59 am
  #11  
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Originally Posted by opushomes View Post
Just be sure that you properly size them so that they load relatively quickly as the more you have, the slower the report loads.

I use www.photobucket.com for mine. It was relatively easy to learn with a little coaching from LarryU one of our photo report eggspurts.

What size photos do you use on photobucket? I uploaded mine to pb at 640x480, and that looked a little big. Should I use 320x240 instead or is 640x480 fine? (Remember, I have dozens, including airport checkin, lounge, flight...)

Thanks!
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Old May 30, 09, 10:01 am
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Originally Posted by ORDnHKG View Post
Bvlgari amenities for J class ? Damn nice ! ^

This is something for F, not for J. Even only a handful of airlines use Bvlgari in F, SQ used it before, and OZ always has it.

Which Bvlgari line they have ? The original green box ? The blue BLV ? Green tea ? White tea ? Hopefully you had taken a photo and will post it to let me see it. I am a big fan of airline amenity kit !

Did you by the chance also see what kind of products they use in the premium economy amenity kit that you found in the washroom ?

Nice detail report btw .^ Hopfully we can see you post all the photos soon.
Yes, I thought the Bvlgari was pretty cool, never having tried their stuff.

The kit is a black pouch and unfortunately it and I are in different cities right now. I'll detail the premium economy kit in my TR on my premium economy experience from yesterday, as soon as I have a chance to write it up.

Thanks.
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Old May 30, 09, 12:41 pm
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Would love to see the photos

Are you going to post them?
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Old May 30, 09, 6:13 pm
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Originally Posted by heleno View Post
What size photos do you use on photobucket? I uploaded mine to pb at 640x480, and that looked a little big. Should I use 320x240 instead or is 640x480 fine? (Remember, I have dozens, including airport checkin, lounge, flight...)

Thanks!
No, 640x480 is fine as long as your photos are clear instead of blurry, take a look of my trip report

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...inal-part.html

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...-c-photos.html

Both of them are using 640x480. The photos in the trip report that made by gleff about his *A trip was too big I think in my opinion.
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Old May 30, 09, 6:15 pm
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Originally Posted by heleno View Post
Yes, I thought the Bvlgari was pretty cool, never having tried their stuff.

The kit is a black pouch and unfortunately it and I are in different cities right now. I'll detail the premium economy kit in my TR on my premium economy experience from yesterday, as soon as I have a chance to write it up.

Thanks.
If you have a chance, or if you remember, please do let me know which one of the Bvlgari line they are using ? You can tell by the color of their bottles, green ? white ? blue ?
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