Flying in style on Branson's V Australia

When you're in bed, size does matter.

So said British billionaire Richard Branson when talking about the business class seats on his new airline, V Australia.

But for the lucky few sipping champagne in the pointy end of the plane, those extra few inches are not relished like they are down the back in cattle class.

For the contortionists in economy class, busy finding places for their arms and legs, the reality of an extra few inches can move them to spontaneous joyful outbursts.

"It's awesome," says a woman with an emotion-choked voice outside the economy class bathroom on the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney.

"There is so much space."

She is still gushing with compliments as she enters the bathroom, which buzzes with music and distracts with a Where's Wally style wallpaper that hides Australian icons such as koalas in the detail.

Branson's ploy, to attract passengers by boasting the widest seats of any carrier flying from Australia to Los Angeles, appears to be working.

V Australia is also attempting to lure customers by laying claim to its own contemporary version of the national identity, challenging Qantas' more classic appeal as the Spirit of Australia.

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On board the full-service airline you can feast on vegemite and lamingtons and in business class you shake your salt and pepper out of a miniature version of the Opera House and make trips to the bathroom wearing complementary thongs.

V Australia's plane is a new B777-300ER (extended range) aircraft from the US manufacturer Boeing and carries 360 passengers in a three class configuration: economy, premium economy and business.

Although the model is not new, having been in service since 1998, it is the first to be delivered to an Australian carrier.

Qantas has chosen to put its new 450-seat A380 super jumbo on the Sydney to LA route, the biggest commercial aircraft in the world from the European plane maker Airbus.

On my return flight from LA to Sydney I sit in one of the 40 business class seats that transform into a fully horizontal bed.

The business class cabin has an opulent gold colour scheme, an inflight bar, a women's only toilet and a roof that twinkles with a night sky that features the Southern Cross.

You can order off the menu or snap your fingers whenever you like and choose from a selection of gourmet foods and Australian wines.

When you're ready for some shut eye one of the crew comes around to transform your chair into a 1.95 metre long bed with a duvet, pillow, set of pyjamas and a Bulgari amenities kit.

Next to me in business class is an older Australian lady who has been to LA to attend the Oscars.

"I have been flying with Qantas for 30 years and I thought I would try something different," she tells me.

"It's very interesting. I can't wait to bring my husband."

On my way over on the inaugural flight on February 27 from Sydney to LA I travel in one of the 32 premium economy purple leather seats and sit next to a man who exports mayonnaise from the US to Australia.

His call bell is as busy as a strobe light as he beckons the stunning cabin crew to his side to fulfil his stomach's every desire - from potato crisps to gin and tonics and after-dinner liqueurs.

"Great service and good food," he says as he plugs in his computer to his personal workstation.

Moving down towards the tail of the plane, V Australia's economy cabin has a three-three-three seat plan and has a funky retro look with bright coloured red and green chairs.

The cabin boasts mood lighting, a self service snack station and the latest on-demand touch screen entertainment systems that overflow with hundreds of movies, CDs and games and a seat-to-seat chat function that lets you drop an electronic note to a fellow passenger.

The entire layout and fit out of the plane, with its cheerful colour scheme, bars in business class and premium economy and groovy music on takeoff and landing, promotes a social atmosphere reminiscent of a time when it was rude to not to say hello to your fellow passenger when taking your seat.

IF YOU GO:

V Australia flies direct from Sydney and Brisbane to LA. It will start services from Melbourne in September.

The writer was a guest of V Australia.

AAP

23-03-09 0501

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