Virgin Australia priority boarding announcement for veterans backfires

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After announcing via Twitter they’d be offering priority boarding to veterans in Australia, Virgin Australia has partially backflipped on their decision after strong public backlash. The airline has stated that “over the coming months, we will consult with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward. If this process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding or any announcement is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.”

The Virgin Australia announcement was an odd one to begin with. Perhaps they thought the gesture would earn them some good PR but then again Virgin needs to better understand its customer base, and it isn’t America. Having flown internally within the USA many times I find the gesture a little cringeworthy, if not smacks of commercialism. How can we put a price on death and war? Every ANZAC day commercial businesses are criticised if they utilise the dya for profit, so why is it any different here? Moreover if Virgin had done its research it would know that Australian veterans and our service men and women do not seek attention. Australians are more respectful and do not act patriotically around war like America. Whatever the  case Virgin has dug itself in a deep hole and it is dangerous for an airline already on its knees.

What saddens me is that the announcement was done as part of a campaign by NewsCorp, the same lovely folk who brought you the campaign to fire Malcolm Turnbull,. NewsCorp don’t care about people, they care about their agenda and in this case are probably trying to cover their tracks from recent blunders. The organisation’s intent is tokenism at its worst and Virgin sadly fell into its trap.

Here’s hoping Virgin Australia learn from this tough lesson and consult before making surprise announcements.

 

Should Australia be going down the path of the USA and recognise veterans at the airport/ on the plane? Keen to hear your thoughts.

 

Virgin to launch Newcastle – Auckland flights

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Virgin Australia has had a bit of a rough trot of ate with the New Zealand market after one time ally Air New Zealand decided to bin their partnership and get into bed with rival Qantas. The move left Virgin in shock and probably a little ill prepared in terms of a response. Now Virgin has found a trick up its sleeve by announcing this week it would commence flights from Newcastle to Auckland from November this year.

The new seasonal route which will tap into summer passenger demand will feature a Boeing 737 with eight business class seats, 30 Economy X seats and 138 standard economy seats. The flights will run every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 22 November 2018 to 17 February 2019.

Departing from Newcastle Airport at 7.30pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday is VA199, which will reach Auckland at 12.25am the following day. VA198 will depart Auckland at 5.10pm and arrive into Newcastle at 6.45pm.

The news from Virgin comes on top of the airlines recent announcements that it was launching new routes between Sydney and Wellington and between Melbourne and Queenstown from October this year.

It’ll be interesting to see the demand for these new routes and whether the investment was worth it considering no other airline is flying a direct Newcastle – NZ option. Like all ambitious ideas time will tell if the gamble was a success.

What do you think of Virgin’s lastest routes to NZ? Will you be using the new Newcastle – Auckland route? 

Etihad and Flybuys partnership to end this month

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Etihad has been going down a very sad and slippery slope the last year or two. After so much gloss and grandeur, the shine is really taking a beating on the airline. Like I have stated in the past and continue to say, Etihad to me wowed as a new kid on the block. Their premium product I felt was one of the best out there in aviation market.  Fast forward and Etihad is cutting and slashing like crazy to get itself back in the black. The latest cut is the Flybuys and Etihad Guest partnership with the three year old relationship set to dissolve on 31 July 2018.

The news comes after cardholders who had experienced issues being unable to convert their Flybuys points into Etihad Guest miles since December 2017. At the time the two claims it was down to ‘technical issue’.

From July 31 2018 linked members will no longer be able to redeem their Flybuys points for Etihad Guest Miles, collect Flybuys points via the Flybuys-Etihad booking portal or link their Flybuys and Etihad Guest memberships.

All outstanding Tier Miles from Flybuys will be credited to a traveller’s Etihad Guest account by the end of August 2018.

I’m not sure this is one of the smartest moves by Etihad as it had the potential to reach out to new audiences but then again I am not across the logistics of the partnership and whether the cost was worth the reward for Etihad at the end of the day.

 

 

JOHN BORGHETTI TO LEAVE VA

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This week’s best kept secret in the aviation sector goes to the resignation of Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti. The catch is he won’t be stepping away effective immediately but will stay for another two years, with his contract expiring 1 January 2020.

The early announcement was made so that Virgin was given ample time to headhunt a new leader and allow a smooth transition.

Having spent 45 years in the aviation industry, Mr Borghetti was appointed as Virgin CEO on 8 May 2010. Previously he was Qantas’s executive general manager for six years but made the move to Virgin after he lost the CEO leadership opportunity to rival Alan Joyce.

The news whilst somewhat surprising is not at all unexpected. Virgin in recent years has struggled turning a profit with the company posting a loss of $220 million for the full year ended 30 June 2017.

In addition the loss of key partnerships has hit the company hard with the Air New Zealand divorce and Qantas-Air New Zealand partnership announced recently in its place being the final straw in his downfall.

It will be interesting to see where Virgin heads from here. It is a very tough act for anyone to navigate and I will give Borghetti some kudos where it is due as it would not have been easy. That said Virgin does need a strong and decisive future, something that has not been evident lately with the company in a confusing budget/ premium model mindset.

Whatever the case the next couple of years will be key to Virgin’s future.

 Comments

What do you think of John Borghetti’s resignation? Do you think he acted in the best interests of the company or was this a poor decision at a time when they needed him most?

QANTAS AND AIR NZ SURPRISE AVIATION SECTOR WITH NEW CODESHARE DEAL

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In aviation you don’t often get ‘surprised’ as rumours seem to circle for months if not years about something newsworthy. So when Qantas announced its new codeshare deal with Air New Zealand, many (including me), were taken aback by the news.

This is a great win for both of the airlines. The deal would see QF coded onto 30 domestic AirNZ services across NZ, whilst Air NZ would see the NZ code on 85 domestic Qantas flight in Australia.

In addition the new deal would allow Qantas and Air New Zealand business class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers reciprocal airport lounges access as well as the ability to earn points and status on each airline’s loyalty program.

However it is understood that the new codeshare deal will not include Trans-Tasman and other international flights.

The biggest loser from the announcement is Virgin Australia who is still probably shell shocked by the announcement more than anyone else. Their partnership with Air NZ has tanked and is due to expire 28 October, the same day the QF and Air NZ alliance starts up. Talk about a kick in the teeth. John Borghetti must be fuming, yet again throwing another dart at his Alan Joyce dartboard in this office.

I am excited to see how this partnership will evolve but it does sound quite promising and even more reason for me to book a trip or two across the ditch.

Comments

What do you think of the new Qantas and Air NZ codeshare deal? Will you benefit or lose out from it? Keen to hear your thought.

 

 

 

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA BUSINESS CLASS 777-300ER MELB-LOS ANGELES: REVIEW

Flight: VA23, Melbourne – Los Angeles (15 April 2018)
Loyalty Scheme: Velocity Frequent Flyer
Frequency: 5 flights weekly
Duration: STD: 11:35am (+10) ATD: 11.35am (+10) On time, STA: 9:00am (-7) ATA: 9:08am (-7) Delayed 9mins

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Virgin Australia operates five Boeing 777-300ER aircraft exclusively for their long-haul fleet, with that type of aircraft predominantly flying from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles. All five aircraft have an identical three class configuration which features 37 of Virgin’s medium/long-haul business class product dubbed ‘The Business’, a 24 seat Premium Economy product and 278 Economy seats (75 of those are dubbed ‘Economy X’ which feature an additional 2” of legroom). ‘The Business’ features the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond reverse herringbone seat which is my personal favourite when it comes to Business Class seats.

 

The Airport

Melbourne Airport’s international terminal was recently refurbished last year. It’s bright, modern and airy terminal and is by far the nicest terminal at Melbourne. I was connecting from Auckland so passed through international to international transfer which was fast and painless.

Virgin Australia has a myriad of lounge access rules depending on which class, airline and frequent flyer status. As they rely heavily on partners for international flights, it can be hard to keep up. Luckily they do have a webpage which allows you to select the way you are eligible to access a lounge (status or class), and then scroll down to your departing airport.

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For my flight to Los Angeles in Business, I was entitled to use the Etihad First and Business Class lounge. Breakfast was currently being serviced with a range of hot and cold options. My goal was to get a shower before my long flight. I found the shower well-appointed but was slightly disappointed by the water pressure which could have been improved.

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Other amenities that I enjoyed during my brief stay was the wifi which was fast, plus not to mention the nice views of the tarmac, with single seats line up along the windows.

 

The Seat

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I assigned myself 2A in the forward cabin. There are two cabins, the main forward one with roughly 7 rows (24 seats) and smaller rear cabin (13 seats). I was greeted by the Flight Attendant working my aisle shortly after boarding and I ordered a glass of the Champagne Ayala Millésimé 2007 Vintage. This was served with the menu of the meals for later in the flight.

The seat itself was set up with two pillows which would later be used when set up as a bed, noise cancelling head phones and a bottle of water. I found it to be pretty lacking in storage with shallow or narrow spaces rather than a usable large space. The tray table pops out from under the entertainment screen but wasn’t intrusive or impeded on my knees which can sometimes happen on other business class seats.

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Later in the flight, there was turn down service available with some padding placed over the seat and pillow cases put over the seat pillows. The finishes are beautiful and the shell provides just the right amount of privacy without being claustrophobic. Pyjamas were also offered before take-off along with an amenity kit containing little goodies like moisturisers from Hunter Lab. The medium pyjamas that were provided sat pretty large on me and the amenity kit was mostly forgettable.

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Entertain me

Inflight entertainment was offered on this flight courtesy of a beautiful HD screen. Fixed to the shell of the seat in front, I did not experience any issues seeing the screen in any reclined position. The surface of the screen was quite shiny, however with window blinds down, it was bright and clear. Content was reasonable with a fair number of new releases and some classics. Other than that there was not particularly a lot of choice, particularly when it came to TV shows and Music. I had a number of shows downloaded on my laptop (usual power points and USB ports available) so I can imagine I would have been a bit short of choice had I not had brought my own content to watch.

Wifi is not currently available on Virgin Australia international flights, however there are plans to equip these planes with wifi soon.

 

The Bread and Butter (food and drink)

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Virgin Australia isn’t particularly well known for its food when it comes to those down the back (I have a running joke with some friends about domestic economy catering – think tiny muesli bars, Lindt balls or protein balls). One area I can’t fault them however, is that they consistently do Business class meals very, very well.

Lunch and breakfast were offered on this flight. Service began roughly an hour into take off with tables set, drinks and some nibbles (olives and cheesy biscuits). I had a smoked duck starter followed by pan seared salmon on a bed of soba noodles and finished off the meal with both the burnt butter caramel ice cream and churros (oops!). The meal was well paced, with only the churros taking longer to serve than the rest. Overall, I really enjoyed the meal and cleaned it up too quickly that I forgot to take a photo of the main!

During the flight, I was hungry after about a six hour nap and asked for a snack. I was offered the prawn toast with corn salsa and jalapeno mayonnaise. It offering was delicious.

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About an hour and a half before landing, breakfast was served. Virgin Australia has guests fill out a breakfast form around take off with the breakfast card, including drinks and all food, which means that the flight attendants don’t need to wake you up prematurely before the meal if you are asleep. I had chosen the smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, baby spinach and goats fetta. This was served with a croissant, some fresh fruit and a fruit smoothie. Again, top marks for presentation and freshness of the food.

 

Verdict

Virgin Australia really gets it right when it comes to ‘The Business’. The seat is well designed, comfortable and private. The food is on point – being fresh, tasty and well presented. Service was casual yet attentive and the whole flight was relaxed and enjoyable. A far bigger inflight entertainment selection and more useable storage would be welcome improvements in what was an overly enjoyable flight experience. It is a shame their international network is so small, as they a formidable force when it comes to international business class.

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About the writer

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I’m a well travelled 30 something who blames it all on his father (though really, I’ve taken it to the next level). Travelling from a young age and continuing to do so independently from the end of high school, I am happy to step on a plane headed anywhere. Indeed my colleagues at work don’t ask me if I’m going away in holidays, but where I’ll be headed. They don’t even bat an eyelid when I pop down to Melbourne for the weeknight just to see some show that takes my fancy.

All of my travel is self funded. Through a mixture of great fares and frequent flyer points I’ve developed a penchant for sitting at the front of the plane. However let’s be honest; I’ll just about sit anywhere if it means I get to fly somewhere.

Air NZ cuts ties on its alliance with Virgin Australia

 

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Air New Zealand gave notice this week that it intends to end its seven-year strategic alliance with Virgin Australia.

The alliance created in 2010 on services between New Zealand and Australia will see regulatory approval for the alliance expires at the end of October 2018. Air New Zealand says the two airlines will not apply for renewal.

Signs that relations between the two airlines had started to fray go back in 2016 when Air New Zealand announced it planned to sell its share holding in Virgin Australia. The move left Virgin with a bloody nose but the move was simply seen as more a formality than something more impacting .The relationship was further hampered late last year when Virgin slashed points and status credits for travellers on flights other than those on Air New Zealand’s trans-Tasman and domestic flights. At the time Air NZ said it was ‘business as usual’.

 

Air New Zealand sites the move as necessary due to the change of market dynamics on the Tasman route with the airline now possessing a strong enough presence in Australia that it did not need to really on the alliance with Virgin Australia. The announcement also comes on the back of Emirates having quit the majority of their flights between Australia and New Zealand, in turn entrenching Qantas and Air New Zealand as the biggest players in the market.

The airlines are working through arrangements for codeshare, scheduling, lounge access and frequent flyer programs.

Current alliance arrangements will remain in place until 27 October 2018.

 

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