Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Take a Look Inside Virgin Australia’s New 777 Business Class

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen swung by LAX yesterday for an exclusive tour of Virgin Australia’s new business-class cabin aboard the 777-300ER. There, Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti and Tangerine design-firm Chief Creative Officer Matt Round gave a group of media an inside look at the plane and its new classes of service.

After a few lengthy delays due to some issues related to licensing the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats, Virgin Australia publicly unveiled its new international business class back in May and started flying a newly-refitted 777-300ER on its flagship route from Sydney to Los Angeles.

The airline has already refitted three of its 777-300ERs and will finish the other two by September 2016. At that point, Virgin Australia will fly its routes from Brisbane and Sydney to Los Angeles, and from Sydney to Abu Dhabi.

The airline will also refit its other long-range aircraft, namely six A330s, with the new business-class product, which will fly on Virgin’s routes within Asia and the Pacific as well as between Sydney and Perth.

A shot of the wing and tail as we waited on the tarmac.
A shot of the wing and tail as we waited on the tarmac.

To showcase one of the airline’s refitted planes, Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti gave a press conference for a group of media from the US and Australia out on the tarmac at LAX.

The press conference begins with an announcement by Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti.
The press conference began with an announcement by Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti.

There, he outlined the carrier’s process of putting the new classes of service on the planes, extolled the airline’s partnership with Delta and shared why he thinks the new business-class product is a game changer — Borghetti also let slip that the airline plans to begin rolling out Wi-Fi on its long-haul flights, followed by its domestic fleet, starting mid-2017. Then it was time to board the jet and have a look.

Up we go to have a look at the plane!
Up we go to have a look at the plane!

The first thing all passengers see after boarding is a flashy bar with four seats, a sculptural ceiling and frieze of Virgin’s buxom maidenhead opposite.

The first thing you see upon boarding is the four-seat bar.
The first thing you see upon boarding is the four-seat bar.

Business Class

The new business class on Virgin Australia’s 777-300ER has 37 seats (compared to the 33 in the old cabins) split into two cabins.

I tried to get into the cabin first to have a look at it without a ton of people.
I tried to get into the cabin first to have a look at it without a ton of people in the background.

You’ll find 24 seats in a larger front cabin and 13 seats in a smaller aft cabin between the bar and premium economy.

There is a smaller aft business-class cabin with just three rows.
There is a smaller aft business-class cabin with just three rows.

The new lie-flat seats are in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone configuration. The seats on the sides face out, while those in the middle are angled toward one another, with a sliding privacy divider.

Side seats face out.
Side seats face out.

While these seats may look similar to what you see on American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways, they’re designed by a different company, called Tangerine. They also look a bit more stylish, with black leather upholstery and purple mood lighting.

Those center dividers are great for privacy.
Those center dividers are great for privacy, too.

Tangerine’s Matt Round explained that he and his team put passenger privacy first and foremost, saying, “People want a space that’s their own. That’s the top of their wish list.” To that end, they envisioned those sliding dividers and played around with a lot of different fabrics and laminates “to try to get away from that manufactured look and give the cabin more of a human feel,” explained Round.

The center seats are angled inward but have a privacy divider.
The center seats are angled inward but have a privacy divider between them.

The seats recline to fully flat beds measuring 80 inches long and are 21 inches wide with the armrest up, or 28 inches wide with it down.

We didn't get to see a fully turned-down bed, but the first row side seat was fully reclined.
We didn’t get to see a fully turned-down bed, but the first row side seat was fully reclined.

Each seat comes with an 18-inch ‘Red’ Panasonic XE2 IFE touchscreen, the largest on any route between the US and Australia — the A330s have 16-inch screens.

The IFE screens are 18 inches.
The IFE screens are 18 inches.

Some of the other fun features include a tablet holder designed specially for the airline.

These seats have cubbies specially designed for tablets.
These seats have cubbies specially designed for tablets.

The table folds out and slides back and forth so you can get more comfortable while eating or working.

A look at the table when fully extended.
A look at the table when fully extended.

A few different cubbies hide the IFE controls.

One of the side cubbies with a control and power ports.
One of the side cubbies with a control and power ports.

There’s also a side console with a universal power port, a USB port and a touchscreen seat control panel.

The touchscreen seat controls.
The touchscreen seat controls.

We did not get to see a fully turned-down bed, but the airline has incorporated new customized triple-layer seat cushions and what it calls its new “Deep Sleep” turndown service with memory-foam mattress toppers, cotton pillows and duvets.

The head of the seat when in full-flat recline.
The head of the seat when in full-flat recline.

What most impressed me was that the foot “cubby” was actually pretty huge (I apologize for not being able to get a better picture of it, but it went back a ways and was quite dark!), a real plus over the usually tight spaces these kinds of seats tend to feature.

An unusually spacious foot cubby.
An unusually spacious foot cubby.

Business-class passengers will enjoy restaurant-style service with new menus created by the airline’s chef partner, Luke Mangan, and new flatware and linens created for the airline.

A sample menu item by Virgin Australia's partner chef, Luke Mangan.
A sample menu item by Virgin Australia’s partner chef, Luke Mangan.

Passengers are also treated to Juli Grbac pajamas and Mandarina Duck amenity kits featuring REN skincare products (though Borghetti also hinted that they might be tweaking these in the near future).

Premium Economy

Virgin Australia is also rolling out a new premium economy cabin that it will call simply “Premium” on the refitted aircraft.

A look at the airline's new, smaller premium economy cabin.
A look at the airline’s new, smaller, premium economy cabin.

The seats are laid out in three rows of 2-4-2 and are 19.5 inches wide, with 41 inches of legroom (compared to the old version’s 38 inches) and nine inches of recline.

Side seats in premium economy.
Side seats in premium economy.

Compared to the 40-seat premium economy cabins in the old configuration, this one has just 24 seats.

A demonstration of seat recline in premium economy.
A demonstration of seat recline in premium economy.

The IFE screens are also slightly larger than before, at 10.6 inches instead of 10 inches.

Premium economy screens are just 10.6 inches.
Premium economy screens are now 10.6 inches.

All these developments bring Virgin’s premium economy in line with that of Singapore Airlines, although Virgin’s seats are roomier and recline more, while Singapore’s have bigger IFE screens.

As Borghetti put it, the point was to “make Premium feel more like ‘business light’ than ‘economy plus,'” by incorporating elements like business-class-style service, roomier seats, similar textures and an overall enhanced experience.

Premium economy also has its own little snack bar for mid-flight noshing. Round explained that this was meant to reduce crew foot traffic in the cabin and keep it quieter on longer stretches of the flight.

The snack bar for premium economy passengers.
The snack bar for premium economy passengers.

Economy Space +

The plane also features Virgin’s new “Economy Space +” seats, which will soon officially be on sale for an additional $135-$165 AUD ($100-$125) each way.

Economy space + takes up the first five rows of economy.
Economy space + seats take up the first five rows of economy.

These 24 seats are located in the exit rows and first five rows of economy, and feature a few extra inches of legroom, dedicated overhead bins and a guaranteed meal of choice as well as dedicated crew members and the use of noise-cancelling headsets.

A shot of the side seats in economy space +
A shot of the side seats in economy space +.

Passengers purchasing these seats will also get priority check-in and boarding.

Seats have more legroom.
Seats have more legroom.

The IFE screens in economy space + measure just 10 inches.

The IFE screens in economy space + are 10 inches.
The IFE screens in economy space + are 10 inches.

Economy

The aircraft’s economy seats remain largely unchanged (there are 278 seats instead of 288), and are laid out in a 3-3-3 configuration.

Not much has changed in the economy cabin.
Not much has changed in the economy cabin.

How You Can Fly It

As I mentioned, Virgin Australia is already operating a 777-300ER on its flight from Sydney to Los Angeles (VA 1 on the outbound and VA 2 on the inbound). Once it gets its final two 777-300ERs refitted, the carrier will also be operating VA 7/8 to/from Brisbane with the aircraft as well. Always double check the seating chart of your flight on Virgin’s website to be sure you’re getting the new configuration — you’ll know it’s the new one because the business-class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration instead of 2-3-2.

If you want to book an award ticket, chances are you’ll be using Delta SkyMiles since it’s Virgin Australia’s main US partner. Delta requires 80,000 miles each way in business class from the US to Australia.

And now for the bad news: With the exception of a few dates next week, there is no award availability on Virgin Australia from LA to Sydney for the rest of the calendar that I could find. That’s right, not a single saver-level business-class award for the next 300 days.

There is extremely limited award availability.
There is extremely limited award availability.

But at least on those dates, there are some tickets, so if you can plan for a last-minute trip, you might just be in luck.

There are *some* awards available. They're just scarce.
There are *some* awards available. They’re just scarce.

You might also want to use Virgin America Elevate points to book since you need just 80,000 points round-trip from LA to Sydney in business class and the taxes and fees would cost you just $130. Virgin is also now a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you would need just 65,000 Starpoints for a round-trip ticket after factoring in the 5,000-point bonus on 20,000-point transfers. That can be an incredible use of points… if Virgin ends up releasing more award space!

Bottom Line

Overall, this refit represents a huge improvement on Virgin Australia’s old business class (you can read my review of it from a 2014 flight here). The seats are stylish, sleek, extremely roomy and comfortable. The IFE screens do feel really big, and all the cubbies and compartments make it easy to stow everything you need for the flight.

Borghetti posing with the flight attendants.
Borghetti posing with the flight attendants.

The cabin definitely ups the trans-Pacific competition another notch, better positioning Virgin to compete with newcomers to the routes between the US and Australia, like American Airlines. Hopefully it means we’ll also see new products from Qantas, and perhaps United’s new Polaris seats on these routes as well.

The new premium economy seats also represent a big step up, with an impressive amount of legroom and recline, while the economy space + seats are a nice option to have for passengers who want the extra legroom but don’t have the budget for a premium-cabin seat.

What do you think of Virgin Australia’s refitted 777-300ER?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit