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VIRGIN AUSTRALIA: Heading for Tokyo with a B737MAX!

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA: Heading for Tokyo with a B737MAX!

From 28 June 2023, just before they would lose their landing/takeoff slots at Tokyo Haneda Airport, Virgin Australia has announced all year, daily Cairns-Tokyo flights.

It will be using some of its fleet of 4 (out of a total order of 8) new Boeing 737-8s – formerly known as ‘MAX’, scheduled to arrive in February 2023.

Cairns, its airport and the Queensland Government are bribing Virgin Australia through the Queensland Government’s Attracting Aviation Investment Fund, start the route – not an unusual form of exchange to secure routes these days.

The Flights

  • VA77 Cairns to Tokyo (Haneda) departing at 1:15 pm arriving Tokyo 8:00 pm – 7 hours 45 minutes
  • VA78 Tokyo to Cairns departing 9:45 pm arriving 6:15 pm (+1 day) – 7 hours 30 minutes
a row of seats in an airplane
Virgin Australia new 737 interiors

The Planes

Virgin Australia ditched all other aircraft besides its ‘domestic’ fleet of Boeing 737s when it went into administration before Bain Capital’s purchase. So those well-seated 777s previously servicing international destinations including the USA, all disappeared along with some A330s for shorter regional routes. Very wise from a fleet simplification point of view. However, that leaves it with limited reach, and Cairns to Tokyo is just about the limit for the distance a 737 MAX can fly. The route is the second longest, only beaten by South American airline GOL, which operates a 3,777-mile flight between Brasilia (BSB) Brazill and Orlando (MCO), Florida. Kind of Disneyland to Oscar Niemeyer land!

Although we don’t exactly know what the layout of these new jets will be, indications are that we are looking at 170 seats, 8 of which will be business recliners. I expect them to mirror the ‘new’ (refurbished) interiors of the 737s Virgin Australia is currently piloting around domestic routes, including several rows of ‘Economy X’ extra legroom seats.

The Price and Sale

Cairns/Tokyo is a smart route pair, given the number of Japanese tourists that used to travel on the route pre-pandemic. The only other airline that services the route non-stop is Jetstar charging around AU $850 return for a June departure. Qantas services the route indirectly via Brisbane, using an A330 on the international leg, with a much better Business Class product.

Looks like Virgin is slightly undercutting Jetstar on Economy prices by AU $50 to AU $100. Virgin Business comes in at a tad under AU $2,000 in July. If you are interested and don’t mind sitting up for both flights, then head over to the Virgin Australia Cairns/Tokyo flight sale, which ends in 7 days on 20 December. You can get ‘Lite’ fares (that’s seat only and hand luggage) for AU $699 return.

screens screenshot of a flight schedule
Business fare is AU $40 cheaper than an Economy Flex fare.

Look around for fare inconsistencies like the one above, where Business Class is cheaper than a ‘Flex’ fare. You’re looking at around AU $2,000 return in Business on Virgin Australia. Jetstar is running competitive pricing matching or, in some cases undercutting Virgin, depending on the amount of luggage you want to take and whether you want to earn Qantas status credits.

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

As the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission always says, competition lowers prices, and according to Google Flights, that is exactly what happens once Virgin enters the direct Cairns to Tokyo market in 2023.

Given that I try and fly in Business Class on any flight over 3 hours and definitely want a lay-flat bed for an overnight flight, I could be tempted to travel on a Virgin Australia daytime flight to Tokyo, but I would be looking at other options for the overnight return leg. 7+ hours in a domestic Business Class seat is doable but would be challenging for me. Call me ‘Petal’.

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