Boeing 777-300, which seats 339 passengers (278 in Economy, 24 in Premium and 37 in "The Business").
Sydney to Abu Dhabi.
NOTE: Virgin Australia longer flies this route, but the same aircraft is used on flights from Australia to the US
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Velocity Frequent Flyer, which is free to join.
Economy, aisle seat 22H.
13 hours, 28 minutes. The final door closes right on time, and we land 30 minutes early.
Virgin Australia, code-sharing with Etihad Airways, flies direct to Abu Dhabi every day except Sunday.
The seat configuration is 3-3-3 and there's plenty of headroom on this new plane; the only downside is that the reading lights shine diagonally from a great height, easily blocked by fidgeting neighbours. And is it just me or are aircraft seats getting thinner and harder on long-haul flights? Mine seems barely two inches thick. It's also 18.5 inches (47 centimetres) wide, reclines six inches (15 centimetres) and has a pitch of 32 inches (81 centimetres). There's a USB charging port, a bendy headrest and a mesh pocket that is a bit skimpy for a long-haul flight; it barely copes with a book, let alone a water bottle.
Economy passengers are allowed two checked bags weighing up to 23 kilograms each (three if you're a Silver, Gold or Platinum Velocity member) and one carry-on bag not exceeding 7 kilograms.
Waiting for me on my seat is a blanket, a pillow, a small bottle of water and a ziplock plastic "amenity kit" containing an eye mask, earplugs, a pen (for those immigration forms) and, mysteriously, two Virgin-red cardboard bookmarks saying "Good read". There's also a pair of over-ear headphones that seem to have escaped from Premium Economy, they're so good.
One of the best things about flying with Virgin is its entertainment system: not just the selection of movies (more than 200 on this flight, plus TV series), but the fact that you can start watching something as soon as you find your seat. It's nice to see Virgin, like Qantas, showcasing Australian movies; there are 11 classic Aussie flicks in the Velocity Picks category. There are also some very Aussie ebooks from the likes of Michael Clarke, Jimmy Barnes and Pete Evans. I barely have time to flick through the Voyeur magazine.
There are two meals: "Movie dinner service" (love the name) and supper two hours before landing. Dinner options are beef Bolognese with penne, Thai red curry chicken and vegetarian mash with couscous and coriander. I receive the latter for my pre-ordered vegetarian meal and it's delicious, with a bread roll and butter. For supper, my vegetarian option is vegie patties with baked beans, roasted pumpkin plus a fruit salad and a packet of nuts. Between meals, there's a self-serve station stocked with packets of chips, jugs of water and juice. Flight attendants also hand out snack packs – the vegetarian one contains a nectarine, a packet of cashews and pretzels and a piece of chocolate cake – and frozen Weis bars for dessert.
Perhaps because this trip had started with a domestic flight, from Ballina in northern NSW to Sydney, I hadn't been able to check in online and expected to have to collect my luggage and check in for my international flights in Sydney. To my surprise and delight, the Virgin check-in guy at Ballina regional airport says he can check me in for all three of my flights (Ballina to Sydney to Abu Dhabi to Casablanca); he even gives me a pass for a free transfer from the domestic to international terminal in Sydney. Now that's service.
ONE MORE THING
Virgin's new safety video, launched last December, says more about its new partnership with Supercars than safety and seeing an experienced Virgin Australia captain looking nervous while doing a lap of the Bathurst track in the passenger seat doesn't inspire much confidence.
Safety video aside, this is a dream flight thanks to excellent service from check-in to arrival and great entertainment. (And yes, my luggage did make it to Casablanca all the way from Ballina.)
Tested by Louise Southerden, who flew courtesy of Intrepid Travel.
Our score out of five: ★★★★½
See also: The best business class seats revealed
More airline reviews:
Singapore Airlines: Business class doesn't get any better
American Airlines: Service is efficient, but rather brusque
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