Virgin Australia: CNS to BNE

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Virgin Australia flight review

The low-fare carrier has expanded rapidly over the past decade. As Brisbane prepares to host this month’s G20 summit, Director sampled the service on a flight from Cairns to Queensland’s state capital…

Flight: Virgin Australia, VA776, Cairns to Brisbane, economy

Later this month leaders such as Obama, Cameron and Merkel (and possibly Putin too) will descend upon Brisbane for the G20 summit, with everything from climate change to global economic growth predicted to be on the agenda. This strong political presence The G20 summit in Brisbane put the Queensland state capital firmly on the business map, having long been known for tourism. Queensland’s economy is worth around A$283.6bn (£154bn), and is set to grow at a rate of four per cent over the next three years, a statistic which Trade & Investment Queensland believes makes it “the fastest-growing state economy in Australia”. The UK is a key trade partner.

The success of Virgin Australia mirrors Queensland’s recent economic success. Having launched as two-aircraft Virgin Blue in 2000 (it rebranded in 2011), it serves more than 50 destinations across Australia and New Zealand. The airline, in which Sir Richard Branson retains a minor stake, is also snapping at the heels of domestic market leader Qantas (which flies to 63 destinations), regularly engaging in bitter price wars. With burgeoning business opportunities for British executives in mind, Director climbs aboard a Virgin Australia flight to find out what the country’s second-biggest carrier is like…

Check-in

Virgin Australia offers four fare levels, ranging from Business Class (lounge access and larger seats) to Economy Saver Lite, which doesn’t have baggage allowance. This appeared to be the fare class I had. Bag drop confirmed my worries and an additional A$70 per case had to be paid. As this was my travel agent’s error, the check-in clerk was apologetic, giving us Virgin telephone numbers to call to pre-pay for luggage on subsequent flights (at a cost of A$30 per bag). Having travelled extensively on domestic flights during this trip, I was also surprised to find that at airport check-ins I wasn’t asked to show photographic ID when dropping bags or boarding the aircraft. Whether this is down to revenue control or lax security, it was a markedly different experience to travelling in Europe. 7/10

The seat

Virgin Australia offers four fare levels, ranging from Business Class (lounge access and larger seats) to Economy Saver Lite, which doesn’t have baggage allowance. This appeared to be the fare class I had. Bag drop confirmed my worries and an additional A$70 per case had to be paid. As this was my travel agent’s error, the check-in clerk was apologetic, giving us Virgin telephone numbers to call to pre-pay for luggage on subsequent flights (at a cost of A$30 per bag). Having travelled extensively on domestic flights during this trip, I was also surprised to find that at airport check-ins I wasn’t asked to show photographic ID when dropping bags or boarding the aircraft. Whether this is down to revenue control or lax security, it was a markedly different experience to travelling in Europe. 8/10

Virgin Australia in-flight experience

I expected to pay for a hot drink as I flicked through the in-flight magazine, but tea and coffee are free, as are snacks on longer routes (otherwise it’s A$4 for a Coca-Cola or A$10 for a sandwich and drink). An alcoholic drink is also offered free on flights from state capitals departing between 5pm and 7pm (Monday to Friday), otherwise it’s A$8. Virgin Australia now offers WiFi on some flights. The free app needs to be downloaded before boarding and you can then stream live television and a catalogue of shows and movies onto your device (mobile phones can’t be used to make calls or texts while in the air). Some longer flights have complimentary tablets available with pre-downloaded movies, ?TV shows and music for business passengers. 8/10

Cabin crew

The crew handled passengers’ requests politely and with true professionalism. It was a busy flight so they had little time to engage in much conversation, but they were always smiling and attentive as they carried out tasks efficiently. Female cabin crew’s uniform is darker than their Virgin Atlantic counterparts, with similar variations in trimming. Purple scarves match the ties of male crew members, who are otherwise neatly turned out in grey trousers and black jackets. The uniforms were designed by Juli Grbac, who said she wanted them to be about “style, sophistication and old-world glamour”. Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti even had a hand in choosing the tie worn by the male crew. 7/10

Arrival

After the bags promptly arrived at the luggage carousel, Director sauntered off to find the rental car desks. At Brisbane International airport this involved a good 10-minute trek past the taxi ranks to a car park where the major hire company desks are located. The airport is situated next to several major highways, so it wasn’t long before I was heading to my next destination. 8/10

The verdict

Virgin Australia’s seats were comfortable and the on-board service better than expected for a low-cost airline. The range of fares available meets differing passengers’ needs, even if we had been booked with the wrong fare.

Total score 38/50

There are up to five daily Virgin Australia flights between Cairns and Brisbane. The average scheduled flight time is 2hrs 15mins. A typical Economy Saver Lite fare costs from A$218 (£118). To book, visit virgin australia.com

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