By James Wilkinson
Virgin Blue’s new international airline V Australia is set to add Sydney-Johannesburg and Melbourne-Los Angeles flights this year following delivery of the airline’s first Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
While an announcement of the flights was expected when the aircraft touched down in Sydney for the first time on Feb 9, Virgin Blue Group CEO and co-founder, Brett Godfrey, jumped at the opportunity of announcing the new Melbourne flights.
“We just couldn’t wait to get home to let everyone who finds Melbourne a more convenient trans-Pacific departure point know that we will be bringing some healthy competition to a route on which only one other airline currently operates non-stop direct services to Los Angeles,” he said.
Qantas operate direct Melbourne-Los Angeles flights using both Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A380 aircraft, while United Airlines operate a service via Sydney. United do have a seasonal direct service between Melbourne and Los Angeles, which the airline has been flying this summer.
Melbourne-Los Angeles is the third route to be announced by V Australia, joining Sydney-Los Angeles (launching on Feb 27) and Brisbane-Los Angeles (Apr 8). Thrice-weekly Melbourne flights commence on September 15, 2009.
“We know this is something people have been crying out for on both sides of the Pacific. Even in these tough economic times passenger traffic through Melbourne has been continuing to grow, so stimulating the destination further with more convenient, value-for-money, freshly innovative and high quality air services can only be a good thing for all,” Godfrey said.
The handover of the new aircraft in Seattle marked the first of seven Boeing 777-300ERs for V Australia. The airline made it an all-Australian affair, with staff — including Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson — dressed in board shorts and wearing zinc.
Branson accepted the keys to the B777 at the event in the Boeing hanger after frolicking with cheerleaders, women in bikinis and Aussie celebrities, including Julian McMahon and Holly Valance.
The aircraft took off for Los Angeles, where Branson helped Godfrey announce the new Melbourne-Los Angeles flights, along with Sydney-Johannesburg, a route fiercely dominated by Qantas.
While the start date for the South Africa flights is yet to be announced, they are expected to commence later in 2009 as V Australia take delivery of more aircraft from Boeing.
V Australia’s brand new 360-seat Boeing 777-300ER aircraft feature three cabins — business, premium international and international economy class – along with in-flight bars, state- of-the-art Panasonic entertainment systems and mood lighting.
Melbourne-Los Angeles flights are on sale for $1199 (including taxes and charges) until midnight tonight (Feb 10), for travel between September 15 and December 9, 2009.
Godfrey said while the $1199 flights were a special offer, everyday return economy fares will be very competitive.