Airline review: Virgin Australia, Boeing 777 premium economy, Sydney to Los Angeles

THE PLANE

Boeing 777-300ER. Virgin Australia has five in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Los Angeles.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Velocity. According to the Freddie Awards (the Oscars of the frequent flyer world), Virgin Australia has had the best reward seat availability in the Middle East and Asia/Oceania region for the past six years.

CLASS

Premium economy, aisle seat 17G.

DURATION

Scheduled flight time: 13 hours 35 minutes. Our departure is delayed by 45 minutes and we arrive 50 minutes late.

FREQUENCY

Daily. The flight leaves at 9.30am and arrives at 6.05am the same day.

SEAT

Housed in an intimate, 24-seat curtained-off cabin, premium economy seats are a significant step up from economy. Configured in a 2-4-2 layout, they have 23 centimetres more pitch (104cm), eight centimetres more recline (23cm) and 2.5 centimetres more width (49.5cm). Each has a universal power socket, USB charging point and spacious storage in the seatback in front.

BAGGAGE

Two checked bags up to 32 kilograms each (compared to 23 kilograms in economy) plus one carry-on bag (up to seven kilograms) and a personal item such as a laptop or purse.

COMFORT

Thanks to the larger seat, everything is easier in premium economy. The person in front can recline without affecting your dining or viewing experience and it's possible to squeeze past someone without them having to get up. The biggest difference comes at night. Mood lighting coupled with an adjustable headrest, more recline and leg room plus a comfortable blanket and pillow all make sleep a more feasible proposition.

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ENTERTAINMENT

While the screen is a decent size (26.9 centimetres), it's less responsive than other touch-sensitive systems I've tried. There's a good rather than great selection of new releases plus an extensive back catalogue of films, TV, music and games all delivered through comfortable noise cancelling headphones. Wi-Fi isn't available on this flight but has been subsequently introduced.

SERVICE

Flawless. Premium economy has two dedicated cabin crew and both are friendly, attentive and fun. A welcome glass of sparkling wine sets the tone and it never falters during the duration of the flight (which is no mean feat on a 13.5-hour trip). A stylish Mandarina Duck amenity kit features Australian-made Hunter Lab products.

FOOD

Another marked improvement over economy. Dinner is ordered a la carte from a printed menu with two choices of starter, four choices of main plus dessert and cheese. Each course is served on a proper plate with proper cutlery and a white tablecloth. My potato salad with salmon starter is a little lacklustre but the main of spicy Moroccan lamb stew with sumac potatoes is one of the tastiest in-flight dishes I've eaten.

Drinks-wise, there's a choice of four reds, four whites and two dessert wines (all premium selections from the business class menu) plus Nespresso coffee and Madame Flavour teas. Additional snacks such as empanadas are served mid-flight plus there's a dedicated self-service pantry with drinks, chips and sweets. Breakfast is ordered in advance via a room service-style "wake-up" card. My mixed pepper and potato frittata with sauteed mushrooms is delicious and comes with a lovely big mug of tea.

ONE MORE THING

Premium economy passengers get priority check-in and boarding at Sydney and Los Angeles.

THE VERDICT

One of the best premium economy products out there. Every aspect of the experience is a noticeable upgrade from economy making it a compelling proposition on a flight of this length.

OUR RATING OUT OF 5

★★★★½

Tested by Rob McFarland, who travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia.

See also: Meet Virgin Australia's new plane, the 737 MAX

See also: Airline review: Qantas' new non-stop route to the US takes off

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