Virgin Australia Adds Tokyo Flights… With 737 MAX!

Virgin Australia Adds Tokyo Flights… With 737 MAX!

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Virgin Australia will be launching one of the world’s longest Boeing 737 routes…

Virgin Australia will fly from Cairns to Tokyo

Virgin Australia has announced plans to launch a new daily flight between Cairns (CNS) and Tokyo Haneda (HND) as of June 28, 2023. The flight will operate with the following schedule:

VA77 Cairns to Tokyo departing 1:15PM arriving 8:00PM
VA78 Tokyo to Cairns departing 9:45PM arriving 6:15AM (+1 day)

The 3,627-mile flight is blocked at 7hr45min northbound and 7hr30min southbound. Virgin Australia will use a Boeing 737 MAX 8 for the route — the airline will take delivery of its first of these jets in early 2023, and has a total of eight 737 MAX 8s on order. Hopefully these planes are delivered on-time, or the airline won’t be able to operate this service.

Virgin Australia will fly from Cairns to Tokyo

While some details about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 interiors remain to be seen, the planes are expected to feature 170 seats, including eight business class seats and 162 economy class seats. These cabins will just have standard recliner seats in business class, similar to what you’ll find when traveling within the United States. There won’t be fully flat beds on these jets.

Why Virgin Australia is now launching Tokyo flights

Shortly after the start of the pandemic, Virgin Australia entered voluntary administration. As part of its reorganization, the airline decided to retire all of its Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, and thereby terminated all long haul routes.

Virgin Australia has been working on rebuilding its network, but has no plans to expand its fleet beyond 737s. As you’d imagine, that greatly limits the destinations that Virgin Australia can serve.

Virgin Australia’s new flight to Tokyo will be by far the carrier’s longest route, and will be one of the world’s longest Boeing 737 MAX routes. The route approaches the maximum range of the 737 MAX, and it’s just shy of the world’s longest 737 MAX route. That title currently belongs to GOL, which operates the 3,777-mile flight between Brasilia (BSB) and Orlando (MCO).

Presumably the whole reason Virgin Australia is operating this flight out of Cairns is because it’s the only city in Australia within range of Tokyo with the 737 MAX. So, why would Virgin Australia launch such an ambitious route all of a sudden?

Well, Virgin Australia had Tokyo Haneda slots pre-pandemic, when the airline still flew wide body jets. Slot usage requirements were suspended during the pandemic, and Virgin Australia is now in a “use it or lose it” situation — if Virgin Australia doesn’t start using its Tokyo Haneda slots in the first half of 2023, the airline will lose them. So Virgin Australia is starting this Tokyo service just a couple of days ahead of that deadline.

While I can appreciate not wanting to “throw away” valuable Haneda slots, one had to wonder what the long-term play is here. Does Virgin Australia think it can make this service work profitably with this kind of product, or is there a plan to acquire other types of planes in the next couple of years?

Virgin Australia’s old 777 long haul business class

Bottom line

Virgin Australia will be launching a daily flight between Cairns and Tokyo as of June 2023. This will be one of the world’s longest Boeing 737 MAX routes, as that’s the longest range aircraft that Virgin Australia has plans to operate. While this route might seem strange after Virgin Australia cut its long haul service, it seems the airline wants to preserve its Tokyo Haneda slots, and this is the only way to do that.

What do you make of Virgin Australia launching Tokyo Haneda flights?

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  1. Hugh Douglas Guest

    A 737 MAX is a no on any sector for a start, then a narrowbody single aisle 7.5 hour flight is a definite no way! Free up the slots so someone else operating better aircraft eg 787 or A330 can use them

  2. Lachie Guest

    This is more for the Japanese getting to North QLD because its very popular for them, but no the other way around

    1. Peter Guest

      Wrong, Wrong !!!
      It will work both ways to and from Cairns in Far North Queensland.
      I am one of a group of people who have already booked on the Virgin Australia service out of Cairns to Tokyo (Haneda) for July 2023 and other people are talking about using it. The VA service is very well priced and gets you closer to Tokyo than the Jetstar service to Narita.
      Qantas and JAL...

      Wrong, Wrong !!!
      It will work both ways to and from Cairns in Far North Queensland.
      I am one of a group of people who have already booked on the Virgin Australia service out of Cairns to Tokyo (Haneda) for July 2023 and other people are talking about using it. The VA service is very well priced and gets you closer to Tokyo than the Jetstar service to Narita.
      Qantas and JAL originally had 5 flights daily from Cairns to Japan including 2 flights daily to Tokyo (Narita). However, since Jetstar took over the service it has deteriorated with just 2 flights daily to Japan and even some of those have been moved to the Gold Coast route since it was created. Jetstar don't have enough long distance planes to handle all the longer distance routes on which they wish to operate. All I can say is good on Virgin Australia.

  3. Tp Guest

    I'm like others, no way am I flying on a Max.

  4. Frazzle Guest

    As someone who's flown Virgin since the age of 15 (I'm about to turn 30), it's good to see them getting back into Long Haul International, and I hope this is a sign of things to come.

    However, while I'm looking forward to seeing 737 MAX fly with Virgin Oz, I'm finding myself skeptical of its proposed use for Cairns to Tokyo-Haneda. No details have been released on the cabin that will be installed on...

    As someone who's flown Virgin since the age of 15 (I'm about to turn 30), it's good to see them getting back into Long Haul International, and I hope this is a sign of things to come.

    However, while I'm looking forward to seeing 737 MAX fly with Virgin Oz, I'm finding myself skeptical of its proposed use for Cairns to Tokyo-Haneda. No details have been released on the cabin that will be installed on MAX, or what amenities will be available, including IFE or Onboard Wi-fi. While refinements in cabin air quality are one thing, A lack of higher level amenities and IFE/Wi-fi will be a bad call if you ask me. More so, if the seat design and arrangement remains the same as the Short Haul International and domestic fleets, I can't see it being a comfortable experience for those in Economy (and maybe even in Business if lie-flat seats are not being used).

    Unless Virgin ups its game with IFE/Wi-fi offerings or brings Wide-bodies back, it's effectively offering a second-rate product on a brand new aircraft against QF and JQ and their older wide-bodies, which have proper IFEs on Tokyo flights that don't require a passenger-BYO phone/tablet to act as the host device as per the current offering from Virgin.

    And don't ask me why, but I was kinda hoping Virgin was announcing the return of Wide-bodies with the commencement of these flights. Obviously, I was wrong. :(

    1. platy Guest

      @ Frazzie

      All good, but also:

      Surely, we can assume for now that the biz seats will at least be similar to JQ biz (i.e. premium economy standard).

      The biz fares reflect this at about AUD2000 return, which is cheaper than JQ at AUD2500.

      True biz class originating CNS via BNE /SYD etc would be close to AUD8000.

      According to a review just published in Executive Traveller there was no WiFi on Qantas biz...

      @ Frazzie

      All good, but also:

      Surely, we can assume for now that the biz seats will at least be similar to JQ biz (i.e. premium economy standard).

      The biz fares reflect this at about AUD2000 return, which is cheaper than JQ at AUD2500.

      True biz class originating CNS via BNE /SYD etc would be close to AUD8000.

      According to a review just published in Executive Traveller there was no WiFi on Qantas biz class international A330 services into SE Asia.

      On some QF flights on 737s (thus presumably some transcon's) there is no IFE unless you bring your own tablet / laptop.

      Don't forget that the VA 737s offer economy X with extended legroom for those festering in economy.

      Don't forget that if you travel economy to connect in SYD you'll already have about 3 hours of travel each way going in the wrong direction (almost half the journey time CNS-HND) and on QF you then a 10 hour flight SYD-HND, which runs overnight in both directions - thus 26 hours in economy rather than 14 hours, including 20 hours of red eye rather than 7 hours.

      These flights are probably intended to influx Japanese tourists to FNQ.

      That all said, in the good old days, when those full service 747s and 767s flew several times per day between CNS and Japan, some in the tourist industry in CNS noted the importance of a sophisticated product - QF messed with that when they changed over to a SYD centric model and left the local market with economy only options.

      FWIW QF also nixed the full service 767s that used to fly the CNS-DRW-SIN route.

      I don't think those in the airlines and local travel industry bodies have worked out you need the full service product to attract tourism across the marketplace - certainly the local tourism advocacy bodies appear to be woefully ineffective and it's disappointing to see taxpayers money being splashed around, if the local tourism industry isn't "in touch" with the market they are seeking to attract.

      Sad to say that the established hotels are tired (Hilton, Pullman, Harbour Lights, Shangri-La) and many of the "better" restaurants struggle to offer a consistent product.

      A final point is that JQ has a tarnished record for reliability between CNS and NRT / HND. If VA can manage its operation effectively that can create a competitive advantage.

      FWIW being able to route through Tokyo is extremely effective way for FNQ folk to access Europe - as a FF-er I can now ride CNS-HND for 59,000 Velocity points or 45,000 United miles (one way) and pick up any number of options (usually I take BA first into LHR) with just about 18 hours of air travel, cutting 7 hours out of the flying time via BNE or SYD each way.

      The recently added SQ flights between CNS and SIN are similarly handy (although there is little redemption availability in biz).

      The utility of CNS to Japan is also enhanced by the current lack of CNS-HKG options.

  5. STEFFL Member

    737MAX . . . mo matter what model of that plane . . . you could try to pay me, i would NOT get on that plane!
    that's why it is getting tougher to find decent flights in the US from A-B . . . except DELTA as most airlines now use that old design plane from BOEING.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Unfortunately, DL just ordered a crap-ton of them as well. So have about 2more years before B6 and F9 more or less become your only stateside reprieve.

  6. Fed UP Guest

    Bring back the United GUM - Cairns flight please....

  7. DJTECH Guest

    I think you are missing the biggest element in starting this route. The Queensland Government (Cairns is part of Queensland) is subsidising the route in order to attract Japanese tourists. I think without the subsidy, the route would not have happened at all. Right now, they are competing on a route also served by Jetstar but to the less convenient Narita airport. Also, Virgin will have slightly better service offerings compared to Jetstar.

  8. EC Guest

    Yeah, this article feels a little light on analysis and moderately cynical. Look, I love a good premium product but I see no particular need for a longish route to have a fancy premium cabin just because it's long, especially if there isn't demand for it. Cairns is largely a tourist destination that's currently lacking great direct connections to other parts of Asia. I see no reason that VA need to adopt a special product...

    Yeah, this article feels a little light on analysis and moderately cynical. Look, I love a good premium product but I see no particular need for a longish route to have a fancy premium cabin just because it's long, especially if there isn't demand for it. Cairns is largely a tourist destination that's currently lacking great direct connections to other parts of Asia. I see no reason that VA need to adopt a special product or aircraft for a single route if they can be sufficiently profitable from the rest of the plane, as plenty have been (FI's product is not much better and they pair together many oddball cities). There's plenty of midhaul narrowbody flights like this across North America, South America, and the Atlantic that offer similar products and are a success.

  9. Sebastian Guest

    Correction re longest 737 MAX route: MEL-KUL on Batik Air is now the longest, used to operate via DPS but is now nonstop and about 150 miles longer than BSB-MCO. Currently in the air as I type this, 8:08h flight duration, 8:35h scheduled.

  10. Louis Guest

    Simple reason - "Slot Squatting"! Haneda is heavily slot-restricted, and Virgin Australia received a pair of HND slot back in 2019 (originally planned for BNE-HND). If they don't use the slot, they will lose it and the slot will allocated back to other airlines in Australia (i.e. Qantas). Virgin Australia definitely aren't happy to see Qantas getting HND slot for free this time. Without long haul fleet now, they only have a few options like CNS or DRW to choose.

  11. RF Diamond

    A narrowbody with only recliners? No thanks.

  12. Sarah Guest

    Batik Air Malaysia also use 737 max to operate KUL-MEL route which is much longer than this

  13. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Just to note that Boeing is for the most part delivering 737 MAX8s and 9s on time. The MAX 7 and 10 are the models that do not meet certification requirements now.

  14. Anon Guest

    If Virgin keep the fares low, this could work with Cairns based travellers going to Japan, especially with the connections ANA would provide to Europe and the US,

    However unless you’re a die hard Virgin fan, I don’t see people from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane flying on a 737 to Cairns only to then transfer to another 737 for a 7.5 hour flight.

    Melbourne and Brisbane have thrice weekly services to HND with...

    If Virgin keep the fares low, this could work with Cairns based travellers going to Japan, especially with the connections ANA would provide to Europe and the US,

    However unless you’re a die hard Virgin fan, I don’t see people from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane flying on a 737 to Cairns only to then transfer to another 737 for a 7.5 hour flight.

    Melbourne and Brisbane have thrice weekly services to HND with Qantas which has a pretty decent business class product on the a330,

    Sydney also has 2 daily flights to HND with ANA who have a superior product, as well as Qantas and JALs daily flights to HND as well.

    1. Leigh Guest

      This route has always been about Japan originating passengers, so the ex-AU traffic is not as important nearly as much.

    2. Jason Guest

      This is about getting Japanese tourists to Australia. Period. Nothing to do about taking Australians over Japan to Europe or the US. There are better ways to accomplish that. Cairns is relatively small and doesn’t generate much US or Europe traffic. What a bizarre idea.

    3. HkCaGu Guest

      Yes, this is about Japanese tourists. When CO/CS flew GUM-CNS, it was all about connecting Japanese to Cairns.

    4. STEFFL Member

      TRUE!!! An CO 737 then was well booked when i flew them a couple times, so i guess the fare and the comfort of NOT needing to connect is valueable!

    5. platy Guest

      The United GUM-CNS was mightily subsidised by government in its latter days.

  15. JH Guest

    That’s an awfully long flight on a 737. First/Business will probably be comfortable, but there’s going to be a lot of miserable travelers sitting behind that curtain.

    1. glenn t Diamond

      Forget First JH, it's not on offer! Even the Business seat is 2nd rate being only a recliner. Fancy paying a Business fare HND-CNS for a full-on red-eye with a recliner? No, me neither! Might as well do Economy, or better still, fly someone else.

    2. platy Guest

      Except, glenn t, that the fares reflect the product at AUD2000 return, rather than AUD8000 (USD1400 versus USD5000).

  16. platy Guest

    Historically, Japan - Cairns was extremely popular: several 747s (QF and JAL) would be lined up at the small CNS Int terminal each morning. Tourists would visit the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, etc., and had the option of a round trip returning via BNE, SYD, MEL, etc.

    The 2007 GFC put a dent in all of that, Japanese investment in local real estate crashed, and QF turned to economy only "Australian...

    Historically, Japan - Cairns was extremely popular: several 747s (QF and JAL) would be lined up at the small CNS Int terminal each morning. Tourists would visit the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, etc., and had the option of a round trip returning via BNE, SYD, MEL, etc.

    The 2007 GFC put a dent in all of that, Japanese investment in local real estate crashed, and QF turned to economy only "Australian Airlines" (767s) before setting up the Jetstar 787 services to NRT and KIX from CNS.

    There may be some benefit to travellers being able to fly in / out of HND rather than NRT (which is serviced by Jetstar).

    Singapore Airlines already flies 737 MAX into both Cairns and Darwin direct to Singapore, although business class on those flights have the lie-flats (unless substituted with the recliner 737 800s): I flew DRW-SIN a few weeks ago and it was a most comfortable flight.

    For context, it has just been announced that QF plans DRW-SIN fights on E190s.

    Let's see what business class seats end up on the VA MAX !!! United miles should be redeemable for these flights...;)

  17. Creditcrunch Diamond

    A bit more information has been posted by the Virgin Australia media team, including limited sake fares and amenities offered on board;

    https://newsroom.virginaustralia.com/release/hello-tokyo-virgin-australia-launches-first-ever-cairns-haneda-japan-service-massive-699

  18. ryan Guest

    Yeah last time I was in Cairns it was surprising how many Japanese tourists there were. Just about every restaurant had a Japanese speaker on staff and menus in Japanese as well. So I don't think this is a throwaway route or just to hold a slot, there is (or was at least) considerable demand from JP->Cairns. Now how many people want to sit on a 737 overnight when there are flat bed options...

    1. Tony Guest

      the same people who fly jetstar to HNL when QF and HA are options. For the budget tourist who flies coach, there's not much difference between a Y seat on a 737 or 787.

  19. Steven E Guest

    I’m not sure even the Japanese would go for this unless the fares are super cheap- Jetstar has CNS/NRT & CNS/KIX sown up using their
    787’s, so not sure the most loyal VA customers would support this service on a 737 no what the config, imagine sitting in a centre seat for 7 hours - NO

    1. Tony Guest

      Jetstar doesnt have lie flat seating though? so the product wouldn't be any different

    2. Tom Guest

      I beg to differ, given the same seat the extra space for getting up and moving about, and better cabin pressure in 787 make it significantly better than 737 for such a long flight. I think you are very much in the minority thinking they are the same

    3. Leigh Guest

      95% of your standard leisure travelers know nothing about the differences between the 2 aircraft…so make no assumptions.

      We that follow the aviation sites know this…everyone else, not so much.

    4. Jason Guest

      This has nothing to do with "loyal Jetstar customers". This has everything to do with Japanese tourists coming to the beaches of this area of Australia, most of whom are just looking for the cheapest fare and who dont have loyalty to any Australian carrier. As others have mentioned, also, it's being subisidized by the local government, who want these tourists back. So nothing to do with any of the traditional things people think of here.

  20. pez Member

    Not impressed with Virgin Australia. They cancelled our flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne a few Sundays ago, emailing us in the middle of the night for an 8:30 am flight. They booked us on a flight the next day even though there were other options on other airlines (or via Brisbane, an hour away), and when we asked for help from the agent to book us on one of them, she said she couldn't...

    Not impressed with Virgin Australia. They cancelled our flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne a few Sundays ago, emailing us in the middle of the night for an 8:30 am flight. They booked us on a flight the next day even though there were other options on other airlines (or via Brisbane, an hour away), and when we asked for help from the agent to book us on one of them, she said she couldn't help. We had to pay 2x to get there same day on Qantas in economy what we'd originally paid for our cancelled business class flight. Though Qantas has yet to send us a receipt for that flight.

  21. Michael bell Guest

    Over 7 hours in a single aisle 737 I don’t think so

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      ....wait 'till you find out that you've just described a N.American transcon and/or flight to Hawaii, westbound in winter. :-/

  22. Mak Guest

    @Willem Japanese tourists go to Cairns -- at least they once did before Covid -- but they have little interest in Darwin.

    1. Sean M. Diamond

      Japanese were pretty interested in Darwin around 80 years ago though...

    2. Never In Doubt Guest

      Sean M. history lesson. For the win!

    3. Mark Guest

      Think that went right over most peoples heads !

    4. Leigh Guest

      That was very witty!

    5. RAM Guest

      But that was only for flyovers.

  23. Willem Guest

    Darwin would be a shorter route actually, surprised they're not considering that one. Darwin could also be better banked for onward connections potentially, given its more central location

    1. DaBluBoi Guest

      Furthermore, Jetstar already serves Cairns to NRT, whereas no airline is currently operating Darwin to Tokyo. Granted, the Virgin flight will be going to HND instead, which could be more convenient for some folks, though I imagine.it will be hard to compete against a well-established low cost airline in that corridor

    2. Bk Guest

      VA are being financially supported by the QLD government on this route which is why it’s flying out or CNS, not Darwin

    3. Jono Guest

      There’s better connections from BNE/SYD/MEL into CNS.

    4. platy Guest

      Getting to and from DRW from any of the major Australian cities is an absolute pain in the butt and generally incurs an overnight return leg of 4-5 hours on a 737 !!!

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Sean M. Diamond

Japanese were pretty interested in Darwin around 80 years ago though...

9
platy Guest

Historically, Japan - Cairns was extremely popular: several 747s (QF and JAL) would be lined up at the small CNS Int terminal each morning. Tourists would visit the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, etc., and had the option of a round trip returning via BNE, SYD, MEL, etc. The 2007 GFC put a dent in all of that, Japanese investment in local real estate crashed, and QF turned to economy only "Australian Airlines" (767s) before setting up the Jetstar 787 services to NRT and KIX from CNS. There may be some benefit to travellers being able to fly in / out of HND rather than NRT (which is serviced by Jetstar). Singapore Airlines already flies 737 MAX into both Cairns and Darwin direct to Singapore, although business class on those flights have the lie-flats (unless substituted with the recliner 737 800s): I flew DRW-SIN a few weeks ago and it was a most comfortable flight. For context, it has just been announced that QF plans DRW-SIN fights on E190s. Let's see what business class seats end up on the VA MAX !!! United miles should be redeemable for these flights...;)

3
Sebastian Guest

Correction re longest 737 MAX route: MEL-KUL on Batik Air is now the longest, used to operate via DPS but is now nonstop and about 150 miles longer than BSB-MCO. Currently in the air as I type this, 8:08h flight duration, 8:35h scheduled.

2
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