Virgin Australia: New Premium Economy on 777 Aircraft

Virgin Australia 777

Virgin Australia has posted details of the “major redesign” they’re doing on their Premium Economy product onboard their Boeing 777 aircraft….and it’s mostly good news for those passengers travelling trans-Pacific routes.

Features of the new Premium economy cabin:

  • 24 seats (“an exclusive and intimate cabin“)
  • Seat pitch of 41″ (“more legroom than any other Australian Airline“)

Virgin Australia New Premium Economy 777

  • Meals will be plated and will be accompanied by “a selection of wines from our Business Class cellar
  • A self-service larder with food and beverages

Virgin Australia New Premium Economy 777

  • Crew trained in Premium Service
  • Dedicated check-in, priority boarding and priority baggage
  • Bagage limits of up to 64kg (141lbs)

Virgin Australia Chief Customer Officer Mark Hassell said:

“We understand that Premium Economy guests want to arrive at their destination feeling refreshed and taken care of. We have therefore designed a more spacious and comfortable Premium Economy cabin and product, with a service that many other airlines reserve for their Business Class.”

A few things have caught my eye with this announcement:

Firstly, the cabin size: The big thing to note about these changes is that the Premium Economy cabin will be shrinking significantly. With just 24 seats the cabin may well be “intimate” but that’s because it’s losing 16 seats compared to its current incarnation. Whatever improvements are coming will be available to less passengers per flight and that’s not a good thing.

Business Class seats are priced out of the reach of the majority of the travelling public so Premium Economy is probably the best that a lot of people can hope for. Taking away 16 seats per flight will now make these seats a lot harder to book and, most probably, we can expect a price increase as well.

Next, the seats:

Virgin Australia New Premium Economy 777

I know that these are only artists’ renderings but they don’t look especially comfortable. They definitely look more “economy” than “business class” so perhaps we’re seeing a true hybrid – slightly improves economy seats with business class service?

Having said that, the seat pitch of 41″ is an increase of 3″ over their existing product and now matches the pitch of Air New Zealand’s premium economy on their 777-200 aircraft.  It is also just 1″ less than Air New Zealand’s 777-300 premium economy product.

It compares even more favourably to the current Qantas premium economy product which features seats with just 38″ pitch on all but their A380 long-haul aircraft.

For reference here are some other major airlines and their Premium Economy seat pitch:

  • Japan Airlines: 38″ – 42″ depending on aircraft.
  • ANA: 38″
  • British Airways: 38″
  • Cathay Pacific: 38″

Seating aside, the two features that I think will be the biggest improvements are to do with the food and drink offerings

The Virgin Australia press release says that “Guests will be able to choose different variations of their meals, with different garnishes, along with the time and speed of service.

The bolding is mine and highlights a point that I think is pretty important. Having the ability to set the time and speed of the food service can be the difference between getting to where you’re going refreshed and ready to go or turning up bleary eyed and needing a coffee!

Whenever I’m travelling on an overnight long haul business class flight I always ask the flight attendants to bring me the meal in one go and as soon as they have it ready. I’m not interested in fancy service or staggered courses – I want to have my meal and get to sleep as soon as possible. Having to wait to have your meal served to you along with the rest of your cabin can mean that you’re dining well over 2 hours after take-off – and that’s seriously eating into valuable sleeping time. Having this option in Premium Economy rather than just in Business Class or higher is a definite plus.

The second thing that I’m looking forward to having is the larder which, we’re told, “will be replenished throughout the flight, stocked with an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, light meal options and snacks”. Once again, this allows the passenger to snack, eat and drink at his or her convenience and can make a flight a lot more pleasant. The equivalent option on American Airlines’ 777-300s has saved me on numerous occasions, but they only have it for Business Class and above.

All of these improvements will be rolled out together with the new Business Class suites we’ve been promised later in the year.

Featured image courtesy of redlegsfan21 via flickr

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