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Forget No Frills, V Australia Is The Real Deal

V Australia again stunned the aviation market last week, with a rock-bottom airfare of just $777 between Sydney and Los Angeles, the lowest ever seen on the lucrative trans-Pacific route. But while the airfare prices may be no-frills, the product onboard is all five-star, as James Wilkinson discovers.

When V Australia was first announced by Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson in Sydney on July 25, 2007, the aviation market was in strong position – airlines were posting record profits, ordering record numbers of aircraft and launching new routes across the globe.

Sleep tight: V Australia’s International Business

Had the suggestion of $777 return economy airfares between Sydney and Los Angeles been made in July 2007, there would have been almost disbelief. Even 12 months ago, the cheapest return airfare between Sydney and Los Angeles on Qantas was hovering around the $2100 mark.

Now, in April 2009, $777 airfares are a reality and could be seen for some time, should the current market conditions continue.

But, what do guests get for no-frills prices? As Spice News finds out, it is five-star meals, service and entertainment across every cabin aboard V Australia’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft which currently operate to Los Angeles from Brisbane and Sydney, and Melbourne from September.

International Business
Virgin Blue group had not operated business class in the region until the launch of V Australia and the product has certainly been worth waiting for. From the meals and drinks to service, seats and entertainment, V Australia’s International Business class is simply outstanding.

The experience starts at check-in with dedicated business class queues and baggage tags, before heading to the lounge (provided in Sydney by Malaysia Airlines, and in LA by Alaska Airlines).

Once onboard, the choice of pre-take off drinks include juice, water or the Moet and Chandon Grand Vintage 2000 Brut. In a sign of both luxury and quality, the vintage bubbles are available during the flight, including at the dedicated onboard business class bar, which comes complete with stools and a very impressive range of beer, wines and spirits. Luxury brands include Belvedere Vodka, Hendrick’s Gin, Hennessy VS cognac, 2007 Ninth Island Pinot Noir and 2008 O’Leary Walker Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc amongst others.

The food complements well with the choice of wines and spirits on offer – delicacies such as barramundi, Tasmanian smoked salmon, chicken osso bucco and beef fillets are available throughout the flight (the idea is order what you want, when you want).

On the comfort side, seats in business class recline to become a fully-horizontal lie-flat bed (188cm long), have a pitch of 77-inches and are 20-inches wide. Guests are provided with Bvlgari amenity kits, along with V Australia thongs and pyjamas. Like sister carrier Virgin Atlantic, pillows and doonas are also provided.

Entertainment is featured in the way of Red, an on-demand system provided by Panasonic. While the system features hundreds of hours of movies, television shows, music, entertainment and games, the highlight is the large number of Australian films available, in a huge show of support for the local film industry (in business, it is on 12.1-inch touch screens with noise-cancelling headphones).

Other highlights include a women’s only bathroom and mood lighting, which features stars on the roof at night, including the Southern Cross.

What’s missing from the business class cabin is one thing – five-star prices. Business class return airfares from Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney to Los Angeles start at $5999 including taxes and charges.

International Premium Economy
Perhaps the hottest cabin for international airlines, premium economy is becoming the business class of 2009, as more companies reduce travel costs for staff on international travel missions.

With seats the same width as business class, an impressive range of beer, wine and spirits from a self-service bar, large TV screens (10.6-inches) and high-quality food, premium will be a strong product for V Australia in the foreseeable future.

Mood lighting is also featured in this cabin, which features 40 leather seats (that have a 38-inch pitch and recline 9-inches) in a 2-4-2 layout.

Other highlights include dedicated check-in desks, noise cancelling headphones and the serving of Blue Pyrenees sparkling wine onboard.

Premium economy return airfares from Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney to Los Angeles start from $1777, which is fantastic value.

International Economy
As expected, V Australia spent significant time researching and producing a high-quality economy class product, and the outcome is impressive.

The seats are the widest on offer on the trans-Pacific route at 18.9-inches, just a tick below business class and premium. They have a pitch of 23-inches, recline 6-inches and feature on-demand entertainment screens the same size as premium (10.6-inches).

High-quality food and mood lighting throughout the cabin are the other highlights of economy class, which features 288 seats in all.

However, there is a dash of no-fills in economy. All non-alcoholic beverages are included in the cost of the airfare, along with one free alcoholic beverage with the main meal. But with the airline having reduced airfares to the cheapest ever seen, few will be complaining.

Every-day, economy class return airfares from Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney to Los Angeles start from $999, but expect the airline to hold a number of sales throughout the year (such as last week’s $777 offer).

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