Airline review: Virgin Australia, economy class, Newcastle to Auckland

THE PLANE

Boeing 737-800, Virgin Australia's workhorse with a total of 80 across its domestic and short-haul fleet.

THE ROUTE

Newcastle to Auckland. This new route is Newcastle Airport's first international service in 16 years following a $1.6 million upgrade to its international arrivals and departure facilities. If you reside on the Central Coast, the Hunter or mid NSW north coast, you can now avoid the trek to Sydney (not to mention the shorter queues and cheaper parking) for trans-Tasman flights over the peak summer period.

CLASS

Economy, however I ask to be moved as my seat is windowless. The 176-seat aircraft has eight business-class seats in a 2x2 configuration; 168 in economy in a 3x3 configuration.

LOYALTY 

Velocity frequent flyer program.

DURATION

Flight time is listed as just under three hours but we take off before the scheduled departure time and land 40 minutes early.

FREQUENCY

Three seasonal flights a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) from  November 21, 2019 to  February 16, 2020.

THE SEAT

5F. After asking to move, I end up in an Economy X seat. The first three rows and over-wing exit rows of the 737-800 are dedicated Economy X with slightly more leg room (a minimum of three inches extra), offering a pitch of 34 inches (31 inches in standard economy). 

BAGGAGE

23 kilograms.

CHECK IN

A stress-free experience. There was a festive atmosphere in the boarding lounge as passengers enjoyed the novelty and ease of flying internationally from Newcastle (the inaugural service operated for the first time last year). Security and immigration procedures took all of five minutes.

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COMFORT

VA's 737s are the same aircraft type Virgin use to fly domestically and the comfort factor is fairly standard. As the flight is only about two thirds full, it's a relaxing and enjoyable flight.

SERVICE

Super friendly crew and the aircraft was spotless.

ENTERTAINMENT

A wireless inflight entertainment system requires that you BYO device (and headphones) and download the Virgin Entertainment app before flying. Once installed there's a good choice of new release films, documentaries and TV shows. This flight offers Virgin Australia's Wi-Fi (the only Australian airline to offer it on trans-Tasman flights). The first 15 minutes are complimentary and then you need to purchase a package ($7 an hour or around $13 for the entire flight). It works better than expected and I get quite a bit of work done.

FOOD

Passengers on trans-Tasman flights receive a complimentary meal, wine and beverages. I had the Malaysian chicken curry and a glass of sauvignon blanc. The meal was tasty but on the small side. I was still hungry and there was nothing hot to purchase additionally from the snack menu. However, a flight attendant offered me a second complimentary meal (vegetarian pasta) which was also good.

ONE MORE THING

Now's a great time to fly Virgin Australia to New Zealand as it steps up its game to fight the new Air New Zealand-Qantas alliance on the trans-Tasman route.

THE VERDICT

Everything about the flight was relaxed and fun. Here's hoping the service is extended beyond a seasonal offering.

RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★★

Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Virgin Australia.

See also: Airline review: 17 hours in Qantas economy class non-stop to London

See also: Airline review: This is the flight experience of a lifetime

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