REVIEW: Virgin Australia Sydney to Ballina (Byron Bay)
Flight: VA 1141
Route: Sydney (SYD) – Ballina [Byron Bay] (BNK)
Date: Wednesday, 4 January 2023
Depart: 2:25 PM
Arrive: 3:40 PM
Duration: 1 hr 15 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 7B & 7C (Economy Class)
Cost: part of return ticket AU$470 (for 2 passengers, return).
Content of this Post:
Come Christmas holidays, certain Sydney-siders cannot resist the siren call of the most easterly town in Australia. I have been one of those Sydney-siders nearly every year for about the last 35.
It’s helped by good friends having a house there, for that whole period, and a significant cohort of my friends has moved there over the last few years.
Once I used to make the trip by train, but that is no longer possible. A long car drive was an exhausting alternative. Now, and for most of that 35 years, we fly there, usually on Virgin Australia, because they fly 737s, and not Dash 8’s as Qantas does. Before you chime in and say ‘what about Jetstar?’, it doesn’t get its nickname of ‘Shitstar’ for no reason.
I lucked out with one of Virgin Australia’s new interiors on the 737. It’s not a major overhaul, just apparently a tweaking with some good and bad points. Lets get the bad points over and done with. The regular economy seats are thin as, and hard as planks. After just over an hour in the seat my bum was numb.
On the flip side, these interiors have refreshed business class seats, and three rows of ‘Economy X’ seats which look like they have very good pitch (the distance between seats) at a documented 30+ inches they claim it to be 40% more leg room than economy. Economy pitch is pretty good too, maybe assisted by the elimination of seat back entertainment. The announced ‘device holder’ was not present. Maybe another loss due to cost cutting, or passenger feedback.
The most notable change is the elimination of the bulkhead dividing business from the rest of the cabin with its distinctive purple acrylic divider at eye level. These space hoggers have gone, and there is not even a partial divider falling from the ceiling of the plane, like on Qantas to separate the cabins.
With the bulkhead gone, so is that little magnetic ended barrier they used to divide the Business Class and Economy cabins during service periods, thus providing a physical barrier to those economy passengers bold enough to attempt to use the ‘business class’ toilets at the front of the plane.
As usual, in economy, there is nothing free, except water (which we got) and hot drinks, which weren’t served on this short flight. Everything else must be purchased from the large form laminated menu, and paid for by credit card.
This new more generously pitched economy area looks quite tempting. Virgin promises 40% more leg room, which if standard economy pitch is 30 inches (seems like more), makes it 42 inches. That doesn’t make sense given Business class pitch is only 37 inches. The discrepancy might be due to how Virgin defines ‘leg-room’. Anyway – it looks pretty generous, and makes the seat pitch way bigger than in economy on Qantas. Economy x occupies rows 3-5, and the exit rows 13 and 14 on their 737-800s, and row 10 on their 737-700s.
Someone please tell me. When did it become acceptable to play the audio on your device at top volume, without headphones in a crowded and confined space? The above gentleman played whatever he was watching at full blast for the duration of the flight, except when he was sleeping – which fortunately was for most of the flight.
Virgin Australia new interiors give passengers more space in Economy X, but remove the bulkhead defining business class, seat back entertainment and provide really hard new economy seats.
I applaud the introduction of Economy X, the seeming spaciousness of the seat pitch and the provision of streamed on-board entertainment, but am dismayed by the hard economy seats, the removal of the business bulkhead, and the dissapearance of seat back screens.
On the whole, I am not yet convinced this is a cabin upgrade. I’ll have to try Economy X and Business and tell you what that feels like.