Virgin Australia economy class: Complimentary food scrapped for domestic flights

Virgin Australia has scrapped free food in economy class, with passengers now only receiving complimentary water, tea or coffee on flights.

A statement on Virgin's website said the airline had "updated" its food and drink offering.

"Complimentary food will no longer be provided to guests who purchase our economy class fares. A variety of food and drinks will be available for purchase from our onboard menu."

Virgin said its research had found that economy class passengers would prefer to choose their own food and beverage from a for-purchase menu on domestic flights, rather than receive a pre-determined snack. 

The menu includes items such as Mr Lee's noodles ($7.50), Mainland cheese and crackers ($5) and Kettle chips ($5). Three wines are available for $12 a glass, while beers start at $9.

Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said the change to economy class was extending choice on board.

"By removing snacks that aren't valued by our guests we're able to structurally reduce airfares making it even cheaper to fly. We'll continue to offer complimentary tea, coffee and water on all flights and the opportunity for guests to purchase their favourite menu items at a reasonable price," she said.

The airline also unveiled a new business class menu, which sees the return of plated meals after their suspension last year due to COVID-19.  The airline came under fire for serving up instant noodles to business class passengers on domestic flights during this time.

The new meals will be served on crockery with glassware and cutlery. There will be three different options each at breakfast, lunch and dinner meal times. Dinner options for the launch are: a lamb and rosemary pie with a pumpkin and feta mash, accompanied by an antipasto plate with prosciutto, cheese and crackers and a chocolate cake for dessert; pumpkin and prosciutto salad served with cheese and biscuits; haloumi and quinoa salad with an antipasto plate of marinated vegetables, cheese and crackers and a chocolate cake. Menus will change on a bi-monthly basis. 

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Virgin has not employed the services of a celebrity chef for the latest business menu. The airline previously had Luke Mangan involved in developing its menus. 

The airline's general manager for product and customers, Sarah Adam, said the meals had been designed with altitude in mind. 

"It's well known that when you're high above the clouds you lose some sense of taste and smell so this was a really important factor in designing the new menu so our food not only looks great but tastes great in the air," she said.

Business class cabin crew had undergone retraining to enhance hospitality standards, the airline said. 

Virgin previously sold food in economy class, including alcoholic beverages, snacks and light meals. These were also ceased due to COVID-19 but complimentary snacks were still served.

Virgin said research showed 65 per cent of passengers did not feel meals were necessary on domestic flights.

The airline collapsed last year due to the downturn in travel caused by the pandemic. It was resurrected by investment firm Bain Capital after laying off thousands of staff, shutting down its budget carrier Tigerair, and cutting its domestic fleet from 84 planes to just 58.

Several of those planes were taken by Rex, which has used them to enter the competitive Sydney-Melbourne market and plans to launch flights to the Gold Coast and Canberra soon.

However, Hrdlicka told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald last week that the airline intends to increase its fleet with confidence returning to the domestic travel market after months of snap border closures and state lockdowns.

The airline's business class fares are now 20 per cent cheaper than prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, according to Virgin Australia. 

See also: Perks no more: Business travel may never come back

See also: It can't last: Airline change and cancellation fees will be back soon

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