Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Australia (as Virgin Blue) as a modest no-frills domestic carrier in 2000. The airline was struggling just as Australia’s second largest airline collapsed three days after 9/11. Qantas was handed market dominance, which they exploited, while Virgin Blue scrambled to acquire new aircraft to fill the void. In 2005 Patricks Corporation took over a majority of the airline and itself was taken over by Toll Holdings who essentially exited the company in 2008. Air New Zealand disastrously purchased 15% of Virgin Blue a few months before it changed its name to Virgin Australia in May 2011. Virgin Blue launched an international service under the name Pacific Blue in 2003 and began unprofitable domestic services in New Zealand which ceased in 2010. They also launched loss making V Australia in 2008 flying Boeing 777’s to the US, South Africa, Phuket, Fiji and now Abu Dhabi, in partnership with Etihad. In 2010 the company replaced Brett Godfrey with the uninspiring John Borghetti as CEO. Their share price continues to slide and the airline’s financial future remains weak. In October 2012 they acquired 60% of Tiger Airways and all of Perth based Skywest. The strategic improvement of Virgin Australia together with other changes makes them Australia's best domestic airline.
Quite possibly Virgin Australia is the gayest airline in the sky. Clearly they have aimed to recruit staff based on their looks above anything else so most flights are crewed by attractive but vacuous bleached blond bimbos with spray-on tans and a substantial number of wrist flapping vacuous gay gym bunnies also with spray-on tans. Staff can be very entertaining and they do provide very attentive service. Landing announcements can include wrong information about the arrival city, local time and airport procedures; laughed off by both crew and passengers.
As a domestic airline within Australia Virgin Australia has a comprehensive network that covers all major cities and popular destinations. The airline wisely invested in smaller Brazilian built Embraer jets which allow the airline to serve many less popular routes such as Hobart to Canberra and Rockhampton to Townsville which have been ignored by Qantas. Flights are generally frequent and punctual. Their international network is modest essentially transporting budget Australian travellers to popular holiday destinations like Vanuatu, Bali and New Zealand. The airline’s only long distance flights link Australia to the US, Phuket and they also fly to Abu Dhabi.
Virgin Australia began as a no-frills discount airline but has steadily moved up market until today it is practically a full service airline comparable to its main competitor, Qantas, and superior to Jetstar. Ticket prices have reflected this move up market however the airline is generally very competitive, has frequent sales and can be ridiculously cheap on occasion. It definitely pays to check their website regularly or join their mailing list to receive news of sales. Their so-called Premium Economy is a joke and a total waste of money, however their new products launched in 2011 are better but are taking time to introduce.
When you visualise poor airline food you very well could be imagining Virgin Australia’s catering. The airline’s Premium Economy fares include catering while everyone else needs to pay if they wish to have any. Essentially their hot meals are low quality supermarket TV dinners or you can buy instant noodles, fattening snack foods, tea, coffee, soft drinks and alcohol. However on shorter flights you become aware how unnecessary catering can be, while on longer flights it could be an idea to bring sandwiches from home.
Virgin Australia’s flights do not include entertainment, unless you include the antics of some of their ditsy staff which can be amusing. Passengers, which they call ‘Guests’ must pay to use the entertainment channel built into the seat back. The channel is essentially a mixture of Fox and Sky TV type shows and movies, available on 737 flights. Their magazine called Voyeur has quality news stories and is one of the most readable in-flight publications in the sky. It’s best to bring a book or your iPod for longer flights.
Peak flights have long check in times while off peak flights and those from smaller airports can have no waiting times at all. When travelling with baggage it is difficult to see what the point of On Line check in is. If you have no bags their internet check in is a great way to avoid the queues. Fare prices include or exclude baggage and the airline is vigilant over charging for excess, however their rates are reasonable. Baggage problems, especially on international flights, can be a major drama as their ground staff vanish into thin air soon after arrival.
Virgin Australia’s Premium Economy is essentially the first few rows at the front of the aircraft with different fabric and a tray table placed in the middle of three seats. Meals and drinks are included but the overall deal is so obviously a rip off, it’s hard to imagine anyone recommending it. Virgin Australia has ‘The Lounge’ located at all of Australia’s capital city airports. One off visits can be purchased on-line which is a good idea if you are anticipating a long wait. Virgin Australia’s premium services are overall modest but improving.
Virgin Australia began as an economy only airline and has steadily moved up market. Their Economy Class product is extremely ordinary – a seat, magazine, menu card, baggage allowance and a promise to get you to your destination (usually on time). The playfulness that launched the airline is being replaced by more professionalism. Generally flights are unmemorable.
Virgin Australia does not belong to any airline grouping but has its own Velocity frequent flyer programme which is partnered to an extensive range of products and a few other airlines; notably Delta, Etihad and Malaysian. Unless you are an extremely frequent flyer you are unlikely to get any benefit from the scheme as points are practically worthless. The scheme has improved and is now comparable to Qantas's Frequent Flyer scheme.
Virgin Australia has gone from one extreme to the other. Sir Richard Branson launched the airline as a relaxed informal airline that targeted budget travellers. Sir Richard was approachable, friendly, generous and his management team was imaginative, daring and alternative in their thinking. That all changed when Qantas’ former marketing manager took over in 2010. John Borghetti seems determined to transform the airline into Qantas, while Qantas chases Jetstar downmarket. The task of improving Virgin Australia has been made easier by the fact Qantas, under Alan Joyce, seems to be determined to self-destruct. The airline's improvements have been welcomed by staff and passengers and their alliance with Etihad has proven very popular. However the airline is financially weak and its share price has slumped. It paid for its buyout of Tiger Airways by giving Singapore Airlines a 10% stake in themselves.
Virgin Australia operates a fleet of brand new aircraft comprising a variety of Boeing 737 variants and smaller Brazilian made Embraer’s together with new Boeing 777's for its longhaul flights. The airline hires younger pilots, fresh from training and seems to have operated without major incident. The airline farms out much of its maintenance. In June 2011 while Qantas, Jetstar and Tiger Airways all inconvenienced thousands of travellers by cancelling flights when a Chilean volcanic ash cloud entered Australian airspace, Virgin Australia largely continued by flying below or around the cloud. Clearly the other airlines over-reacted.
Virgin Australia is an average airline that provides an average product at an average price.
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