This month marks the one year anniversary of the debut of the Sydney to Hong Kong Route – the maiden flight of which we were very excited to be a part of. So how have Virgin’s flights to Hong Kong changed in that time? We started further south this time around, and flew Business Class on the route from Melbourne to Hong Kong to compare.
Airline: Virgin Australia
Route: Melbourne (MEL) to Hong Kong (HKG) (VA69)
Aircraft Type: A330
Seat: 4K (Business, Window)
Flight Time: 9 hours 30 Minutes
On time? Departed 30 minutes late and arrived about 15 minutes late.
Connecting in Melbourne from Sydney
In this particular instance, I actually connected to this service from Sydney. On the Sydney to Melbourne flight, I enjoyed free in flight wi-fi, as well as some great lounge food before my 7am departure. The quality of bread they use in the lounge has really picked up – and with omelettes and bacon ready for self service you really can make some excellent toasted sandwiches. During turbulence they offered caps for our teas and coffees which I thought was genius. It’s those little things that help make an airline truly great. A late arrival though made for a very tight connection – and in the end my bag was delayed onto Hong Kong until the next morning as a result.
Thankfully, the transfer from a domestic service is pretty easy at Melbourne airport as the domestic and international terminals are connected. Even running late it was an easy connection, especially with an express path pass (if you don’t have one due to a domestic transfer, just ask for one at the international ticket counter).
Melbourne’s Premium Lounge “The House”
Even with the delays in the arriving flight, I had a little bit of time to spare to enjoy “The House”, which is the Etihad Lounge that has been rebranded under the co-Virgin and Etihad banner, making it the first international Virgin lounge in Melbourne.
At breakfast time, they offer a la carte table service with coconut pancakes, a variety of options of poached eggs and omelettes. If you want to add extra items like beans and bacon, that’s available at self service. You can get yourself drinks and pastries, cereals and fruit & yogurt. At the heart of the lounge too are massive windows that make it both a bright space and a viewing platform for all of the arriving and departing flights.
Rather than doing big announcements, they just come and let you know, which is a preferred method to be honest. Though you might miss it if you’re in the bathroom! Still, there are screens everywhere to assist. I enjoyed a pastry or two and a cup of tea while I waited briefly for my flight.
The Business Seat
Boarding was completed quickly, and I was ushered straight into my business class “suite”. It looks like a pretty bare space when you first sit town – two pillows are sitting on your seat, but otherwise everything is hidden away. You’ll find a bottle of water and headphones in a compartment at the side of your seat, and USB/AC plugs are all hidden away too. A touch screen on your side allows you to move the seat around, and the stewardess offers a welcome drink and provides you with the amenities kit. The amenities kit comes with tissues, pen, “lip ammo”, eye mask, ear plugs, and dental kit. Menus are also provided with an a la carte menu for lunch and a wake up card for dinner so you can order your final meal before you go to sleep, and they can prepare accordingly. It’s all very comfortable, well designed and one of the best business class seats in the market.
Food & Drink Service
Menus have been designed to mix Chinese and Western options, and this has only been improved over the last year. A trout dish was promised when we went to the launch event for the Sydney route last year, and indeed it’s one of the a la carte options now. The trout is served with chilli bean sauce and steamed Jasmine rice.
Other options include a chicken with soba noodles, a braised lamb with pea purée and a caramelised root vegetable ravioli. There are also several starter choices like a beef wanton soup, meat and cheese plate and a pumpkin and eggplant salad. While dessert is a cheese plate, a meringue, or a couple of choices of Gundowring ice cream.
I started with the beef wantons, which were perfectly cooked and seasoned, in a beautiful broth.
A braised lamb with pea purée, pearl barley, radish and pea tendrils. An excellent take on a classic Australian dish by Luke Mangan.
And I finished things off with a raspberry ice cream. As for the light dinner served about an hour and a half before landing, there’s a vegetable slaw with miso, a sweet potato dip with nuts and flatbread, steak sandwich, green pea and mint arancinis or a dim sum sampler with pork bun, radish cake and sticky rice. This is served with a roll, fruit and an orange and frangipane tart for dessert. I had the dim sum sampler which was excellent, and came with soy sauce and chili sauce on the side.
Earlier in the flight, we were served olives with almonds in them and cookies, with our first drink and then garlic bread or bread roll with butter, and let’s not forget those Sydney opera house enthused salt and pepper shakers. It’s fair to say you’re well fed for the flight.
In Flight Entertainment
The massive 18 inch HD screens, along with the comfortable noise cancelling headphones makes your seat like a personal cinema. There was a great selection of films and TV shows on board – including entire seasons of popular series – which sees a growing improvement on the TV selection for the Virgin network. I dug into the second series of The Last Man on Earth for a lot of my flight, before jumping into Season 3 of Stranger Things on my phone. USB and AC plugs are hidden away for your easy use, and wi-fi is available for $10 for an hour or $25 for the whole flight.
Service and Comfort
Champagne and orange juice were served on arrival. Hot towels were served at the start and the end of the flight, and after the first meal service, they made beds on request (which spread out to an impressive 203cm) and provided pajamas. Even with it being a day flight, since I had to get up at 4am to make my initial flight in Sydney, I definitely took advantage of the bed and enjoyed quite a few hours of comfortable sleep. There was next to no turbulence on the flight, and it seemed like most of the business cabin took advantage on the sleep too. So it was a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. But if you needed a drink or a snack, they had ample options and the service to provide it was excellent.
On arrival in Hong Kong
As mentioned earlier in the article, sadly my bag didn’t make the tight connection that I did. This is a bit of a nightmare for any traveller, but never have I known someone’s bag not to show up eventually, and usually it will within 24 hours. My best advice is to have a photo of your bag on you so you can relay that to the ground staff – especially when their English mightn’t be perfect. There were a few things lost in translation, but the baggage support at the airport were very helpful.
It took some time to fill out the paperwork, and I made sure to take photos of all the paperwork. They provide a print out of the information too, so take a moment to spot any mistakes. You’ll need all the information provided to be accurate to ensure you get your bag. And sure enough I was able to collect it from the airport that morning (if I’d been staying in Hong Kong for more than a night they would have sent it to my hotel).
On the plus side, it did make the commute via public transport a bit earlier. And as we’ve talked about a lot in the past on this website, there are few easier airports than Hong Kong to get into the city, with a regular service to the city by train that’s fast and affordable (and has wi-fi)! It’s about A$37 round trip from the airport with airport express, or cheaper if it’s just going to be a day trip.
Looking back at our business class experience a year ago, the quality has definitely been maintained on the service. We gave it five stars then, and disregarding my own baggage issues, it maintains that score here. It’s a menu that changes seasonally so what I had a year ago was quite different to what I had today, and I was impressed by the quality of all the dishes. I also have to give mention to the much improved TV offerings on the in flight entertainment. When it comes to a business class experience, this remains the best I’ve experienced on the route.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
To book your next flight with Virgin Australia, head to virginaustralia.com.
The writer flew at his own expense with a Business Class upgrade provided by the airline.