Airline review: Virgin Australia economy, Melbourne-Brisbane-Gladstone, for Heron Island

 THE ROUTE

Melbourne to Gladstone, via Brisbane. Gladstone is the jumping off point to Heron Island, which you can reach by ferry (two hours) or by seaplane and chopper (25 to 30 minutes). An easy bus service connects passengers to the ferry port.

THE AIRCRAFT

Boeing 737-800 to Brisbane. Virgin codeshare with Alliance Airlines' Fokker 70 for the ongoing trip to Gladstone.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Virgin Velocity points are earned across both flights.

CLASS

Economy

DURATION

2 hours 10 mins, and then 1 hour 10 mins to Gladstone. The trip is 4 hours 35 mins total.

FREQUENCY

There are three flights that will connect to Gladstone from Brisbane daily. The early flight is very early (6am), however it prevents an overnight stay in Gladstone. Connecting trips to Heron via air are subject to weather and tide, and the ferry leaves at 11am and 2pm. There are no ferries on Tuesday and Thursday.

CHECKING IN

You can check in online 48 hours before departure and up to 45 minutes prior to. Checking in is a breeze at tiny Gladstone Airport.

THE SEAT

On Alliance, the seat pitch is 32 inches (81cm), with five astride in rows of three and two. It feels a little cramped but the flights are short and far from full, so I have a row to myself. Unfortunately this row – occupying seat 16G – has no window, so avoid if you want a view. The emergency exit row 11 has greater legroom at no extra charge.

On the Virgin trip up from Melbourne to Brisbane, seat pitch is a little smaller at 30 inches (76cm) and width is 17 inches (43cm). The usual charges apply for Economy X seats with extra legroom.

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BAGGAGE

One seven-kilogram carry-on plus one personal item and 23 kilograms checked.

COMFORT

I was in a bog-standard economy aisle seat, which is absolutely fine for the two-hour flight, while on the Fokker, where there was a little more room, I had three seats to myself.

ENTERTAINMENT

On Virgin's flight to Brisbane, you can download its entertainment app, which has ample movies, TV shows and music to keep you amused for two hours. What's even better is you can now access Wi-Fi on-board for free, and the speed is faster than what I was expecting. Time flies. The short hop to Gladstone has no entertainment, so BYO. And that's when a window comes in handy.

SERVICE

Across the board is excellent. Pleasant and efficient. Virgin rarely fail in this department.

FOOD

Falling in between breakfast and lunch, Virgin offer a protein ball and a soft or hot drink. Alliance provide a small muffin and a cup of water. This in both instances is fine. It might be worth noting that coming back in the afternoon on a weekend, Virgin do not offer "happy hour" drinks, if you're feeling down about returning to civilisation.

ONE MORE THING

If you had an early start in Melbourne and skipped breakfast, or if you're returning from Heron via tiny Gladstone airport, Virgin's outstanding and relatively new lounge at Brisbane Airport is worth saving your appetite for if you're stuck at the airport a few hours. Bright and spacious with ample recharging spaces, it has fresh food with a sandwich station, salads, cheese, several hot meals, an excellent wine selection, a huge coffee station, plus great bathrooms with showers.

THE VERDICT

With flawless connections to and from Heron, this is an excellent service to begin and end an island holiday.

The writer was a guest of Virgin Australia; virginaustralia.com.au

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