Delays In Virgin Australia’s New Business Class?

Filed Under: Virgin Australia

Last September Virgin Australia announced a new business class product, which they’d progressively be installing throughout their longhaul fleet.

The new product looks fantastic, and is especially exciting for those of us looking to redeem miles, given that Virgin Australia is the single most generous airline when it comes to release saver level business class award space between the US mainland and Australia. It’s already a great use of Delta SkyMiles, and will only get better with the new product (assuming SkyMiles doesn’t further destroy the value of the program).


When the new product was first announced, Virgin Australia published the following timeline, which seemed super fast:

The suites will roll out to Virgin Australia’s Airbus A330 fleet in early 2015 with the first aircraft expected to be in service by March and the complete refit of the fleet to be finalised by August.

The roll out of the new Business Class product to the Boeing 777 fleet will commence from November 2015 and be complete by early 2016.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, but there appear to be some substantial delays when it comes to installing the new business class product on the A330 fleet, which is where the refresh was supposed to start.

Via John Walton at Runway Girl Network, Virgin Australia’s A330 new business class has suffered repeated certification failures, so there’s no exact timeline yet for when the new product will be in service.

The issue seems to arise from the fact that Virgin Australia has tried to make the business class cabin denser. Originally they were aiming to angle the seats 24 degrees away from the cabin (which is similar to what Qatar Airways has in their business class), but they tried to increase the angle to 30 degrees, meaning the seats would take up less space. Apparently that configuration is experiencing problems getting certified.

Qatar Airways business class, which is at a 24 degree angle

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on Virgin Australia’s 777 refurbishments, which were supposed to start later this year. I guess we’ll see whether they’re hoping to change the angles of those seats as well, which could lead to similar issues.

Hopefully the A330 delays don’t have a ripple effect on the 777 fleet, since those are the planes Virgin Australia uses for their Los Angeles flights.

Bottom line

Now we know why Virgin Australia’s new A330 business class product is delayed. While we don’t have further info on the 777 refurbishment yet, I wouldn’t count on the timeline necessarily sticking. Best case scenario all of Virgin Australia’s 777s will feature the new business class product by early next year. Worst case scenario, well, we’ll see!

(Tip of the hat to TravelinWilly)

  1. Is Virgin Atlantic a partner and can you redeem those miles on Virgin Australia? And if so, how? Thanks!

  2. Is this why I haven’t been able to find any business class award space to Australia lately?

  3. Btw in your specific case as a travel blogger if you pay your travel expenses with your company’s money then it should be tax-deductible, isn’t it?

  4. Hi Ben,
    In the meantime, in the past 1-2 weeks, Qantas has rolled out their new A330 business suites on most routes to Asia. I had logged online to check on a flight time change for a different flight and noticed that my Qantas seat assignment was gone. So I logged onto the Qantas website and noticed the seat map changed from the old 2x2x2 to 1x2x1.
    I checked a friend’s booking to a different destination and their flight has also been upgraded.

  5. @ nelson — That’s awesome! Looks like a great product, and a huge improvement over the old one.

  6. @ Ric — This shouldn’t have any impact on business class award space. When were you trying to book for?

  7. You don’t think there’s any chance that drastically cutting the size of the J cabin might reduce that fabled availability?

  8. @Ben & nelson

    The refurbished Qantas A330 Business seats are a very good improvement on the Skybed Mk I (or lesser) that used to be on the A332 & A333, and Qantas is expanding the product out past the Perth-SYD/MEL and SIN routes it first featured on (in addition to the odd short domestic leg).

    That said, it’s still very much luck if you get the old or the new product (and last minute changes for better or worse generally happen). Going off Qantas’ information (assuming they keep it up to date), less than 30% (5/17) of the A330-200 fleet has been refurbished, and 40% (4/10) of the A330-300 fleet has been refurbished. At this stage, it’s luck of the draw, but some routes have better chances than others (SIN-International; Perth-Domestic). Routes that refurbished aircraft will pop up on are:

    Sydney Melbourne
    Sydney Brisbane
    Sydney / Melbourne / Brisbane Perth
    Sydney / Melbourne / Brisbane Singapore
    Melbourne / Brisbane Hong Kong
    Sydney Bangkok
    Sydney Manila
    Sydney Jakarta
    Sydney Honolulu
    Sydney Shanghai

    Interestingly, the refurbished A330-200 aircraft – which were intended to operate domestic routes in Australia (as the Business cabin only has 1 toilet for 28 business passengers, therefore a bit too many crossed legs for 6 hour plus flights) – is turning up on International routings (which the refurbished A330-300 was earmarked for). The refurbished A330-300 has two toilets for the 28 business passengers, compared to the refurbished A330-200’s one.

    I think it’s just an interim move (having A332s doing international routes), but nothing really has been said, so who knows.

  9. I’m looking forward to these new seats! I quite like Virgin Australia but the 777 seats definitely needed an updated layout and design to keep up with standards. On a cross country A330 flight I’d still be happy on the current seats to be honest. The longhaul flights needed this more.

  10. @ Kieran, yes that is why I was surprised that my flight was getting the new A330 because I didn’t think QF was refurbishing them that quickly.
    Up until 2 weeks ago, my flight was on the old product. I only realised I was on the new suites when a time change alert popped up on my phone for a different flight. I checked to see that I wasn’t going to miss any connections and that was when I noticed I lost my QF seat assignment.
    I suppose QF is very confident about the roll out if they have changed the seat map on my flight, I guess only time will tell when I set foot on board and see whether it is old or new product. I hope its the new suite, because now I’m excited that I’ll be trying the new product.

  11. @ James K. — The size of the business class cabin on the 777 is actually increasing, from 33 seats to 37 seats.

  12. @nelson Do you know if it’s the A330-300 or the A330-200 that’s popped up for you? You can check by looking at the seat map, if it’s all one Business cabin it’s the A333, if there is a split Business cabin it’s the A332.

    My feeling is that Qantas is shifting some refurbished A332s (which they have more of right now) to international services in order to get the new product out more widely (or perhaps it’s to cover taking A333s off-line for refurb, that can’t otherwise be covered by the remaining A333s). The A333 refurbs seem to move a little more slowly that A332 refurbs.

    Having flown the new product to Singapore, you’ll definitely appreciate it if it turns up at the gate for you. It’s more about moderating expectations for now, in order to avoid disappointment – I’ve had a few last minute changes myself (both for the good and the worse) so best taken with a grain of salt. I imagine that until the fleet is at least 75% refurbished it’ll be much like this.

    One positive for Virgin Australia is that, due to the smaller number of aircraft/routes involved, the turnover will be less disruptive.

  13. @James K

    In case you are trying to work out how the Business cabin gets more seats, it’s because they have slashed the premium economy cabin seats by almost half and trimmed economy seat numbers by a little, in order to provide the room required.

    VA’s Boeing 777 total seat count will drop from 361 to 339, as follows:
    * 37 business class (four more than today);
    * 24 premium economy (40 today); and
    * 278 economy (288 today).

  14. @kieran
    I checked my flight and it is the A330-300 for Sydney to Manila. I’ll try and check out Cathay’s new MNL lounge too when I leave MNL.
    Meanwhile my friend’s flight which is also showing the upgraded cabin, the seat map is for A330-200, 2 cabin split. That route is Sydney to Jakarta.
    I’m hoping I don’t get a plane swap, it would be cool to try a new product thats only a few months old.

  15. @nelson

    I hope you do get the refurbished A330-300, if only to make up for the PITA that is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL).

  16. As an update, VA have just confirmed that their domestic A330 fleet will be fully refitted by November 2015 (with availability beginning August 17). As reported by AusBT:

    “However, with Virgin Australia’s A330 fleet numbering only six jets compared to Qantas’ 18 red-tails, fleet, the upside for Virgin’s passengers is 100% consistency in seeing the new business class on all east-west services from November 2015, while Qantas’ A330 flights will be a mixed bag until late 2016.”

    Qantas is also redirecting some of it’s A330-200 fleet away from Perth services now (seems the slow down in the mining boom is the main reason) and looking to apply it elsewhere, so consistent A330 Coast to Coast services on Qantas seem unlikely going forward.

    The VA International 777 refurbished birds will start becoming available in November, with LAX services getting priority (consistency expected by end of December), with Abu Dhabi services following.

  17. did virgin Australia pull all reward space from delta? they had a decent amount of reward space going from lax-syd and now its all gone. whats the deal? thanks

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