Airline review: Air Vanuatu Boeing 737 business class, Port Vila to Melbourne

THE ROUTE

Port Vila to Melbourne on Air Vanuatu NF 8. Direct flights launched on June 18, 2019.

THE AIRCRAFT

Boeing 737-800.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

None, though some flight class bookings earn points on Qantas' frequent flyer program.

CLASS

Business. The front two rows (out of 29) are reserved for business class passengers on a 2-2 configuration. In economy, seating is 3-3.

DURATION

Advertisement

Scheduled as five hours, or 4.5 hours in the reverse direction. Boarding is surprisingly efficient, though we still manage to take off 10 minutes late. Arrival is, nevertheless, on time, despite air traffic control in Melbourne delaying our landing by 20 minutes.

FREQUENCY

Three times weekly, departing 4.15pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

CHECKING IN

Online check-in can be done up to 24 hours before flying. Check-in desks open three hours before the scheduled departure time and close 60 minutes prior to departure. I arrive 2.5 hours early and walk straight to the check-in counter through the priority line, where I'm handed a Business Lounge pass with my boarding pass. But even the economy queues are empty. I moved quickly and smoothly through security, immigrations and customs.

BAGGAGE

Business Class passengers have a 30kg check-in allowance, with two pieces not exceeding 7kg for carry-on. Since my bags contain mostly light, breathable clothing suited to Vanuatu's tropical climate, I'm comfortably under. Economy passengers can check in 23kg, with one 7kg carry-on bag.

THE SEAT

2D, aisle. International power outlets are located between the seats. No entertainment screens.

COMFORT

Seats, which recline halfway – there's barely time to sleep anyway – are four inches wider than those in economy. The seat's cushioning feels worn.

ENTERTAINMENT

After downloading Air Vanuatu's inflight entertainment app on my smart device before we'd left the tarmac, I discover a menu listing eight Hollywood movies, 13 TV episodes and five music selections. Alternatively, a pop-down screen displays repeat episodes of prank shows. I'd rather read my book.

SERVICE

Two ever-smiling stewardesses alternate between business and economy – probably understandable, given there are just eight business class seats. But it means they can be stretched when it comes to servicing business class passengers to the standard they might expect. Drinks are served from a decent selection before take-off, though I'm handed an orange juice instead of the apple juice I ordered. My neighbour suffers the same fate. Meals are delivered 75 minutes into the flight, with wine glasses topped up regularly.

FOOD

A smoked chicken entrée, accompanied by cucumber salad and curried mango dip is followed by a choice of barramundi or braised beef. I opt for the latter, with a fine Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon. Dessert is a sweet tiramisu with chocolate shavings, with a piece of Vanuatu's own Aelan Chocolate Makers artisanal dark chocolate pairing well with a strong Tanna Island coffee to finish off.

ONE MORE THING

Starting in June 2020, brand new Airbus A220 aircraft will replace the Boeings used now. The move promises wider seats with more leg-room, bigger windows and lower noise levels.

VERDICT

It's hardly the private suite that some airlines now provide in business class, the standard being closer to premium economy on other airlines. But do we really need such extravagances on short-haul flights, anyway?

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

3.5

Mark Daffey travelled courtesy of Air Vanuatu.

See also: Airport review: Don't expect a glitzy, modern airport at Port Vila

See also: Airline review: In this business class, economy passengers don't exist

Comments