REVIEW: Virgin Australia VA543 Sydney to Gold Coast

REVIEW: Virgin Australia VA543 Sydney - Gold Coast Economy Class
REVIEW: Virgin Australia VA543 Sydney – Gold Coast Economy Class

Dashing straight from work, I arrived at  Sydney Domestic Airports Terminal 2 for my 19:10 flight, with self printed boarding pass in hand, at 17:40 exactly an hour and a half prior to departure, half an hour earlier than the standard recommended time. With a silent sigh and roll of my eyes I could see the bag drop line for those who had also checked in online  was snaking way past the removable bollards and barriers, o.k  it was a Friday evening and a usually busy time. At 18.24, it finally became my turn to drop my bag off and after such I made my way through security into the food court of the terminal  for something to eat where there is a variety of food outlets from  expensive through to the latest $2 menu from that clown Ronald. The lines at each were just as horrendous and as it was now 18:48, not wanting to miss my flight and being the courteous freakyflier I am (I’d hate to have my name called for causing a delay!) I made my way to the departure gate, tummy rumbling.

Boarding via the rear stairs
Boarding via the rear stairs on flight VA543 – VH-VYC

Although the aircraft was parked at gate 34, boarding hadn’t yet started when I arrived at the boarding area. I am unsure as to the delay as the announcements were inaudible   When the flight did start boarding, around 19:15, it took place from both the front aerobridge and the rear stairs. As I was seated towards the back of the aircraft in seat 24D, I boarded through the latter.

Seatinjg and legroom on Virgin Australia 737-800 VH-VYY
Seating and legroom on Virgin Australia 737-800 VH-VYC

Upon boarding I was greeted by cabin crew member Olga, and found my seat at the rear, around 6 rows from the aft galley. There were a few things I noticed straight away, this was a magnificently spacious looking aircraft with Boeing’s Sky Interior design and lighting but no entertainment, AVOD (Audio Visual On Demand) via backseat T.V’s or even drop down screens…thats o.k, it was a short flight. It wasn’t long before the other passengers all found their seats, the flight was full and after the usual safety demonstrations and crosschecks we departed around 19:35.

View from seat 24D, note the larger oval windows on this 737-800
View from seat 24D, note the larger oval windows on this 737-800

Despite there being no inflight entertainment on this short sector, the cabin had a spacious feel with Boeing’s impressive Sky-Interior.  Based around some of the wining components of the 787 Dreamliner, the oval windows are larger and the design of the curved overhead bins and the inset LED lighting give the cabin a spacious feel. The lighting changed from white to hues of blues and purple during different stages of the flight.

Impressive Sky Interior lighting while waiting for the trolley to make its way back down the aisle a  second time
Impressive Sky Interior lighting while waiting for the trolley to make its way back down the aisle a second time

Straight after take off the flight attendants moved with a meal and drink trolley from the rear of the aircraft to the front of economy. The meal and drinks service is one of the more confusing aspects of this airlines products inflight and the experience I encountered was …well…you decide…. On Virgin Australia, if you are flying on a direct flight between the east and west coasts, food and beverages are included  for all passengers. If you are flying between capital cities between 1600 and 1800 on a weekday, beer wine and soft drinks are free. If you are travelling on a flexi fare a meal and drink is included. So on my flight from Sydney to the Gold Coast, a regional city, on a ‘saver’ fare meant food and drinks are available for purchase and only those on a ‘flexi’ fare had them included.(For more information on the Domestic meal services click here)

The inflight menu is located in the back of the 'Voyer' magazine
The inflight menu is located in the back of the ‘Voyer’ magazine

The trolley made its way down from the front to the rear with a passenger name list and crew members Olga and Craig ticked off the names of those on the flexi fare as they handed out a smallish hot meal, which from peering at the persons meal behind me, was (what looked like) a ravioli with pesto with a side of tiramisu. Still hungry, in fact ravenous, I studied the menu, located at the back of Virgin Australias ‘Voyeur’ inflight magazine and my mind wandered back to when I made the online booking – why didnt I buy the flexi fare?… Oh yes, the flexi fare was $249, my saver fare was less than $100! Eventually, the trolley’s made their way to the last row and then they headed way back up the front again this time filled with food for purchase.. With it now dark outside the larger windows and no entertainment whatsoever I watched the trolley crawl its way, row after row, down the aisle.

The food menu on Virgin Australia February 2012
The food menu on Virgin Australia February 2013

It was at row 23, the row in front of me, when I heard the passenger seated there ask for a chicken sandwich and wine, crew member Craig said “I was just speaking to your sister, I went to school with David” as he handed over the sandwich and wine. The passenger said “Oh…”as she extended her arm with credit card in hand. “Dont worry about it” Craig said refusing her payment. Next were the couple seated beside me, “2 chicken sandwiches, 1 white wine and one lemonade” The items were exchanged for their credit card which was zipped through the machine and returned with their receipt. Finally, 45 minutes into the flight it was my turn to utter “Chicken sandwich and a white wine please”. As the sandwich was slapped down on my tray table, my seat neighbour politely interrupted my exchange by trying to hand back his card and receipt stating “Sorry you’ve only charged me for 1 sandwich” to which Craig said “yeah don’t worry about it” as he handed me my wine retrieved my credit card from my hand and zipped it through his machine. $10 for my sandwich and $8 for the wine…hhhmm ok, that was the price I had agreed to pay when handing over my card but I suddenly became embarrassed, awash with the feeling I was the uninvited guest gatecrashing a party.

beverage menu on Virgin Australia February 2013
beverage menu on Virgin Australia February 2013

The sandwich came flat on a tray wrapped in plastic and was considerable in size, the wine a 187 ml bottle of Allegory was quite a decent variety and I poured about half of the bottle into the plastic cup provided. At that moment I felt the unmistakable slow of the engines and dip of the aircraft signifying our decent for landing. The cabin crew, now about 2 rows behind me packed up their trolleys and headed back to the galley.  within a few minutes they started with another trolley, from the back this time, to clear the rubbish. Then the usual ‘seat back upright and tray tables secure’ announcement was made. While munching on the first half of my sandwich and peering over past my seat mates to look out the window, I was dumbfounded to see the other half of my sandwich and half my wine in the bottle whisked away into the rubbish trolley as it whizzed past! “You hadnt finished that, had you?” the guy next to me quipped while finishing his own sandwich. “” I replied. I sat in silence in disbelief, hundred of reasoning thoughts running through my head.

Arrival at Collangatta (The Gold Coast) Airport
Arrival at The Gold Coast Airport, Coolangatta, Queensland

Upon landing, I did ask to speak to the Customer Service Manager on board, but as I was disembarking through the rear stairs and they were delayed I wasn’t able to….so, I exited the aircraft and made my way inside the terminal to find something to eat!

I have been deliberating over publishing this post since I took the flight in mid February as it sounds so very negative. However, it wasn’t negative for everyone onboard, (free drinks and food…) and perhaps I was just the unlucky one who not only paid full price but had it taken away half finished. But the best customer service is making the service equal, for all.

UPDATE: Virgin Australia have made an announcement that food and beverage will now be included for everyone regardless of fare types on all flights over 2hrs 45mins starting on selected flights from 24 April 2013. The first flights will be Bali and Phuket and expected to be rolled out to all other flights by the end of the year 🙂

Virgin Australia

One Comment Add yours

  1. Oh what an awkward situation! They should have been more discreet about it for the other people (although how I don’t know) but I can see why you felt awkward!

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