If any domestic service calls for a slight upgrade, it’s the coast-to-coast flight from Sydney to Perth. While not exactly a gruelling long-haul, the five hour service is testing enough that a little bit of extra comfort goes a long way. We tested Virgin Australia’s Economy X product on the service to see if the bump in experience was worth it.
Carrier: Virgin Australia
Route: Sydney to Perth (VA 559)
Class: Economy X
Seat: 28D (aisle seat in the centre of a 2-4-2 layout)
Aircraft Type: A330-200
On time Around 5 minutes late taking off but on-time arrival.
Check-in and Baggage
Virgin Australia’s check-in at Sydney’s Domestic Terminal has always been quick and easy in my experience. There are more than enough self-service terminals for those who forgot to do it online, and the bag drop lines move at a nice pace. It was business as usual here, and while Economy X passengers get no priority check-in unless its on longer journeys (like to L.A), Virgin staff are efficient enough that it doesn’t really matter. Those running late for their flight should take note that Virgin Australia usually has a bag-drop desk or two dedicated to closing flights, which significantly takes the stress off (I should know, I used it).
Seeing as Economy X is an add-on product from regular economy tickets, you won’t get a bump in baggage allowance. It’s the same old 23kg check-in and 7kg cabin baggage which should be more than enough for a short trip to Perth.
Gate and Departure
The flight was departing from Gate 45, which is your left after you come down from security check and straight to the very end. It takes around 7-8 minutes on foot so it’s fine for those running late. Although any Economy X passenger at the gate on time can enjoy access to the Priority Boarding queue. That’s two benefits that get you through Sydney Domestic’s sometimes frustrating pre-flight queues with very little waiting.
As an Economy X passenger you also get Priority Screening, which is access to the faster of several security lines. Again, this is a nice addition for those running late, but for Sydney it’s largely useless. Sydney Airport doesn’t have a fast-track security line, but they do exist in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Gold Coast.
Virgin Australia’s upgraded A330 have been well-reviewed across the board. They’re clean, wide-bodied beauties with a uniformly excellent design for both its 20 award-winning Business Blass seats (which we reviewed here) and 255 Economy Class and Economy X seats. If we’re separating Economy X then only 8 seats are dedicated to the product, all located in exit row 28.
Economy X passengers benefit from Preferred Overhead Lockers shared with the seat directly next to them, which frequent flyers would know can significantly speed up the process when you land, seeing as you’re guaranteed not to run into any situation where you’d need to place your cabin baggage in a locker a few rows back. Just make sure you assert yourself if you find that someone has taken up that spot, it might not be clearly enforced, but the staff will know that you have that benefit.
My seat was 28D, an exit row and aisle seat with no floor storage for take-off or landing. Again, this makes the fact that you have someone keeping the overhead free for your bag very valuable on sold out flights.
Economy X Seat
Like all other seats in the aircraft, these have laptop power for anyone who is lacking a device with solid battery to last the five hour flight. It’s a bulkhead seat, so the lavatory is directly in front of you, which may or may not be preferable for some. The wall is far enough in front of you that you still get the promised extra legroom, plus once in the air you can occasionally stretch your left leg completely given the aisle is clear.
While Economy X promises an increase on leg room up to 40% on Bulkhead seats, it certainly didn’t feel that significant on VA559. Of course, that would depend on which flight you take. Still, there’s no seat in front of you so your knees aren’t at all squished – always a good thing.
In terms of comfort, there’s no noticeable difference. Virgin Australia’s Economy seats are quite decent when it comes to that anyway.
Tray table is located in the armrest, which slightly reduces seat width but not by much; it rests just above the knees which can be slightly uncomfortable for taller people. Your 9″ IFE screen also pops up from beneath you, which is a much better option than the more modern tablet system as you can still eat and watch TV at the same time.
There’s another shared screen positioned above the seats smack bang in the centre of the wall in front of you, primarily used to screen the safety video. Although throughout the flight is also displays route info, which is handy if you’re wondering how close you are to your destination.
As mentioned above, the 9″ IFE screen is efficient enough but isn’t too impressive. You’ll have enough time to watch up to two movies during the flight, and Virgin’s selection is amongst the best of Australia’s domestic airlines. The system itself can be clunky and slow to respond, but there’s a good mix of new and classic movies – most presented uncut – as well as a fair but modest pool of TV shows. You have a pair of flimsy headphones in front of you with a paltry max volume.
Food and Service
Aside from the occasional offering of drinks there is only one complimentary hot meal service throughout the flight. Choices for me were red braised chicken or vegetarian tortellini, both part of a revamped menu led by the airline’s executive chef Luke Mangan. I chose the latter, which for an Economy meal was satisfying and well prepared. A sizable Sticky Date pudding was served for dessert.
Announcing the options occurred at 1:54pm, which isn’t long after the seat belt sign is turned off. Meal was then received at around 2:05pm, and leftovers were collected at 2:24pm. The collection is fairly quick compared to other airlines, which is often one of my main concerns on flights (as petty as that may sound). The longer the crew take to clear your tray table, the longer you’re left awkwardly deciding how to move it all aside so you can get up and go to the lavatory.
The rest of the service was fine, with regular drink service and offers of water or juice. I find Virgin Australia crew always very friendly and willing to chat, not treating you as a time-waster if you have any questions or want some small-talk.
It’s important to reiterate that Economy X comes as an add-on to your Economy ticket. That means you can purchase this closer to the flight (pending availability) if you’d like the slight bump in experience compared to the squashy standard which is often a pain for those who want to work on the flight, because the person in front of you will always recline. The majority of domestic benefits on Economy X seem to be aimed at smoothening any kinks in the entire process, which is very welcome – breeze through security, breeze onto the flight, breeze off the flight, and enjoy extra legroom in between. That’s worth the affordable extra cost, which for Sydney to Perth would be around $59. That price is even lower when it comes to a route like Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne ($29). The highest Economy X price is around $149 for Australia to Los Angeles, and given the length of that flight and even more benefits for international Economy X (priority check-in and boarding; guaranteed first meal choice; noise-cancelling headphones).
If you’re a Velocity Platinum frequent flyers then take note that upgrading to Economy X is free, for both yourself and anyone on the booking. If not, then see if you have enough points to upgrade, because as long as you’re not going too out of pocket, and you want a stress-free flight with small but noticeable improvements, it’s well worth it.
Note that one of the most common flights from Perth back to Sydney is a red eye, so having that Economy X upgrade handy is pretty much essential for those who want to at least try and get some rest.
FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE
The writer travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia.