Monday, July 11, 2011

Seat Review - Pacific Blue International Economy Class (Virgin Australia)

Virgin Australia (nee Blue) may have rebranded and retargeted itself in a flurry of fancy press events and well crafted media releases, but when it comes to the product there is nothing fancy or well crafted about Virgin Australia’s Pacific Blue international economy class. It is a flight that gets you where you are going with a smile but the bare minimum of extras. It is low cost seat, nothing more. The BOOT rating for Virgin Australia / Blue International Economy is 1.5 stars out of 6 or "Bad Seat". Here is the detailed (other reviews and scoring system for airline seat reviews here)

Getting on board

Score 0

I am Velocity Gold (Virgin’s frequent flyer program), Qantas Gold, United Gold and Singapore Airlines Gold. But none of that matters or means anything when flying Pac Blue. There is no lounge access for anyone in any status or any class no matter what. I put a post on Australian frequent flyer hoping that someone knew a trick or twist…but had nothing but crickets in response. On the Virgin website under the lounge section they mention how for every other international flight they do on V Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad etc. Velocity Gold is enough to get lounge access. If flying from NZ there was mention of some lounge with names I'd never heard of. But in ex-Sydney on Pac Blue nothing. This is a significant weakness in this product. Lounge access is a critical value to a top tier flyer. The absence of it is felt and sets the tone for this product. I did get access to a priority check in queue which saved about half an hour on the land side (but then without lounge access what am I actually going to do with that extra time airside).

Pac Blue is pure low cost carrier in approach but does have assigned seats. However, they have not initiated online check-in for international departures. By phone they will not set aside seats for groups/families sitting together. I asked over the phone “can you guarantee that all four of us will be seated together.” The useless reply was “we cant guarantee but you will probably be able to sit together.” This means we had to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of time to guarantee being together which mean 1.5 hours in the airport with no lounge access. Pure LCC.

Note -
DJ have announced a tie up with Singapore Airlines which may deliver lounge access but press releases of future luxury do not remove the sting of having to pay $5 for a luke-warm coffee on a hard bench in an overpriced airport.

The Seat

Score 0

It is a economy seat on a low cost carrier so you expect it to be small and narrow. It meets that expectation. To be fair, the seat is a reasonable size for a economy class seat. The tray table is a fair size and adjustable. The arm rests lift, allowing children to easily sleep on the laps of parents. The seats are leather and pleasant on the eye. All acceptable stuff. What is not acceptable is how dirty the area is in and around the seats. Carpets stained with what I hope is food. Seats covered in what I hope is dust and seat back pouches filled with tissues, dirt, wrappings and what I hope is not human waste. Filthy and unacceptable. If is fine for low cost seat to mean small but it is unacceptable for it to mean unhygienic. What is also not acceptable is the slant. For some reason the head rest slants forward not back. It is understandable that the LCC economy class seat does not recline much but it is unacceptable that the headrest pushes forward - not lean backward. By pushing forward it makes sleeping impossible. If it could lean back just a few inches it would go from impossible to bearable.


Score 0

Virgin’s live2air service combines a live feed from Australian cable television companies Foxtel and Austar. Means 24 cable channels covering sport, comedy, drama and kids programs. There is also a movie channel with 3 movies running on a loop (set start times). Cost is $9.90. That is fair and reasonable for a low cost carrier but I am not sure why they chose live TV vs on demand TV. For live TV to be attractive there has to be something on at the time you are on. Taking a day-time flight means the TV channels are full of...well…day time television. Hardly appealing stuff. The decision to use live TV goes from strange to ridiculous on the return trip starting in international waters. Clearly Virgin or Foxtel have not secured rights to broadcasts starting in non-Australian waters. As a result return trips to Australia involve a number of hours of "service not available" until Australian territorial waters appear. Virgin should replace this as soon as possible with an on demand service


Score 0.5

There is lots of food on board provided you are happy to pay. Again -completely acceptable on a low cost carrier. But it is completely unacceptable that there is no free water option. The only water available is $3 for 330ml. It is well accepted that you should drink a lot of water on planes. The official recommendation is to drink two litres per day. For a flight you should increase this 50%. Means for each hour of flying time you need to drink between 125-200ml of water. To do this on DJ long haul adds a minimum $12-13 to the price of the price of each ticket. It should be a regulatory requirement that airlines provide water. Regulations aside Virgin must immediately change this position and make water available for free.

Another peculiarity of the food is the timing of the hot food service. My flight was a day flight lasting 7 hours. The first cart came passed a few moments after take off (ie in the morning Sydney time). It was only made clear to me later (maybe I missed it) that this was the only time hot food would be served. This does not work for me (and probably for most people) to get on a plane first thing and have to eat the only hot meal. As Sydney dinner time approached all that was available was day old wraps and cheese and crackers

That all said, the quality of the food on offer is better than low cost carriers I have flown in Europe through the sourcing of snacks from higher quality providers.


Score 1.0

The staff were fantastic. They out-shined all other elements of the product. The staff were pleasant and lively despite a flight at horror hours and children running everywhere. A tribute to air crew. The plane was full of children running everywhere yet the staff dealt with all with a smile, a sense of encouragement and filled with great humour

BOOT Factor

Score 0

The flight is factor-less. There is not a bell or a whistle or a twist.

Final Score



Hiconomics said...

That's the thing about bootstrapping start ups.. no more Biz class ;)

Yury said...

TH, we are going to pass the hat around, so next time you can afford to buy the water

Virgin Australia said...

Hi Tim,

In reply to your review of your Pacific Blue flight, we'd like to point out a few of the changes that are to come in the near future for our airline.

You are correct that our Pacific Blue product isn't in line with the newly re-branded Virgin Australia.

Recent company announcements have indicated that product changes, including a name change will begin this side of Christmas.

This will mean that the on board offerings will also change for the better, including seat, entertainment and food.

The lack of lounge access has been addressed with recent alliance announcements with Etihad, Singapore and the start of our new trans tasman alliance with Air New Zealand where eligible members and guests, will receive reciprocal entry to the other carrier’s lounges. Information on which lounges and where, can be found on our website.

Once these changes are phased in, we would hope to see that your BOOT score move significantly upwards!

Thanks for your time.

Virgin Australia

Tim Hughes said...

@Hiconomics and @ Yury - in start up world there is a lot more turning right than left on a plane

@Virgin Australia - nice to have you comment. Thanks for taking the time. I appreciate that you are upgrading the product and look forward to it. There are somethings that can be fixed without the need for a full upgrade. Two immediate fixes should be

1. improving the cleanliness of the aircraft by (i) cleaning the seat pockets at the end of each flight (ii) steaming the carpets once every week/fortnight and (iii) wiping down the seats with a spray of some sort every other day

2. having a free water option

thanks again for replying

Toni said...


Are your categories really appropriate for a LCC? Meeting expectations on a LCC should be getting you there safely and on time. Anything more is a bonus.

The way your survey is set up, I'm not sure any LCC could hope to get a favorable score. There's not much 'experience' on LCC's.

Streaming pay TV is a good option which has worked well on Continental which uses Direct TV. Not so good as you say for international if out of range but at least the airline doesn't have to update content.

Tim Hughes said...

@Toni - you are absolutely right that I should not judge LCCs directly against biz class on a full carrier. I try in my reviews to balance cost and expectations. If you look back on reviews you will see some economy class seats reviewed better than biz class for that reason. But in the case of Pac Blue there are things that are not excusable at the price or could be done differently while still being an LCC. They are
1. cleanliness
2. Water
3. The incline of the head rest
4. Timing of the food

A fix to those four would have dramatically improved the flight without increasing the cost

Adam said...

Hi Tim,
If Virgin Blue has obtained a license to serve alcohol, which I presume they have, then by NSW law (not too sure if it applies in other states) they have to provide free water.

The legislation can be read a number of ways such as an aircraft is not a venue or that they do provide water and its in one of those little taps next to the toilets etc.

Jetstar international abides by this law by handing everyone a bottle of water upon boarding. You can choose to drink it all then or ration it over the flight but they have abided by the law.

I remember this same argument in the AFF Forum about 2 years back and the consensus was that if you serve alcohol then you have to serve or make available free drinking water at the same time.

Tim Hughes said...

@adam - great comment - thanks

Freight Audit said...

Very nice article. I enjoy reading it.. Keep it up..