Apr 18

Qantas Vs Virgin Australia

While I was in Australia I had the opportunity to fly both Qantas and Virgin Australia domestically. I found both airlines to be very good, but extremely different.  When I booked my flights I paid cash for 2 on Virgin Australia and used miles for 2 on Qantas.  The reason I didn’t pay for Qantas – they cost more.  But, are they better?

The two airlines are difficult to compare because their pricing and products are surprisingly different.  For this post, I priced flights from Sydney to Brisbane on May 8, 2014.  Qantas’ Red Deal price was $145 Aus, and Virgin Australia’s Saver was $135 Aus.  I remember the price difference when I booked being wider, but flight prices are so dynamic that this is not an unreasonable sample.  So how do they fare?


Check In

I really liked Qantas’ check in experience at the airport.  It’s a totally animated system (with one or two employees around to assist) and although I hate to know that jobs are cut for this automation, Qantas made it a good experience.

The Planes and Environment

All Virgin airlines have modern planes with leather seats, mood lighting and in seat entertainment systems. Qantas had fabric seats, regular lights and no entertainment system. Qantas offered a slightly more “professional” feel, compared to Virgin Australia’s more hip feeling.

Virgin Australia

I’m fine without a TV on a short flight, I tend to read anyway.  But I do prefer leather seats.

Entertainment on Virgin Australia

I believe one of my planes on Virgin Australia was very new, it was one of the new Boeing 737’s, it’s nice to know you’re on a new plane, even if it really makes no difference.

Qantas

Qantas

Luggage

I had one free checked bag with each airline, and you would with the fake tickets I booked for this sample.

Food

I’m generally not fussed about food on a short flight, but I do enjoy a drink and a snack.  But Qantas clearly wins this category. When I flew Qantas I always had a meal, and this sample flight included a meal to. On top of that, the food was good! It was a pleasant and welcome surprise.  On virgin Australia though all I got was a drink choice of tea, water or coffee.  It was fine, but still disappointing – no soda, no juice, no crappy little bag of pretzels. It actually felt a little cheap that there was so little choice and no snack – kinda made the american airlines look generous…

My final feelings on the two airlines, I would happily fly either again.  Both provided a good experience and a safe flight.  Virgin Australia offered a nice plane and better environment, but Qantas has a more professional feeling to it and food.  With just a $10 difference, I think my choice might be dependent on a couple different factors – length of flight, if I was mid trip and wanted to avoid purchasing a meal, if I wanted to have a TV to watch (more likely on a longer flight).  Either way, neither will be a bad choice.

Jan 15

Virgin Australia International Business Class

I flew round trip in Virgin Australia Business Class in November, I’ll lump the two flights together for this review.

November 1, 2013 – VA Flight 8, Seat 2K

November 25, 2013 – VA Flight 7, Seat 1D

MEALS

By the time I boarded my outbound flight, it was 2:00 AM (5 AM at home) so I didn’t want to have a heavy meal.  Actually, I wanted to put on my provided PJ’s and go to bed.  But, I did think I should eat something first.  I had a salad and cheese plate, skipping the main course of the meal. Although I was one of the first people to finish my meal, I don’t think skipping a course helped me all that much.  I thought the food was good, but felt like the menu was either Australian or just a bit overly fancy (probably a little of both), so it didn’t excite me.

I love the salt and pepper shaker!

Cheese Plate

On my return flight I had a similar experience, but ate a lot more food.  Although I found the choices hit or miss, I found that will so many courses I was able to eat a very substantial meal.  Each Lunch or Dinner came with roles, a soup or salad, mean course, cheese plate or dessert (or both).  The menu’s are available online, though I’m pretty sure my menu changed since I had viewed it and boarded the flight.

Small salad

Breakfast cards are provided when you board the flight, you check what you want, if you want to be woken for it and hand it to the FA.  An hour to an hour and a half before landing breakfast service starts.  Breakfast choices were orange juice or smoothie, and coffee or tea for beverages.  There were also cereals, pastries and a hot main course.  On my flight out I had a french toast that was quite good, on the return I had some sort of sandwich that was not that good (it probably would have appealed to Australians more than Americans).  But I had eaten so much at that point that I was full anyway.

Cereal and fruit

Breakfast sandwich

French Toast

On my flight out I did not partake in any snacks, but since I was awake for most of the flight home I did have some chips, which came in a bowl and a cookie which was served on a plate. There is a bar in business class, it provided drinks during the flight outside of meal times and was a nice place to stretch your legs if you were awake during the flight.

PJ’s and Amenity Kit

The provided pajama’s were a pants and long sleeve set and they are super comfortable and came in a cute little bag.  I was going to take them when I flew out, but I had so much crap getting off the plane that I didn’t bother.  I did take them on the flight home though, so I do have memorabilia. They are cotton so when I washed them they did shrink a bit, but they were a little big anyway.

The amenity kit was provided by Grown Alchemist and consisted of moisturizers, lip balm, a tooth brush, tooth paste, brush, pen, Q-tips, eye mask, and ear plugs.  Now that I’m home, I’m really enjoying the moisturizers! I think if I were to suggest one thing for these amenity kits (I’ve never seen this) it would be moist facial wipes.

Seats

Business class has lie flat seats, each seat came with a TV for the entertainment system, a tray table, Bose headphones, USB ports for each seat and a regular plug too.  I found the seats comfortable and primarily sat in a reclined position during the flights when I was awake. I will caution that when you take the tray table out your seat is stuck in it’s position until you put it back.  I didn’t end up in a bad position at any point, but I almost did.

You can see all the leg room and my pre-departure drink.

While I got changed into my PJ’s the FA turned down my bed for me and I was out like a light.  I slept somewhere between 7 and 10 hours on my outbound flight. I made the mistake of changing the time on my watch, but my phones still had LA time so I had trouble keeping track of the time.

The lie flat bed was fairly comfortable.  Even with the padding, I could feel the creases in the seat and it’s not terribly soft.  But then I was on a plane and I did manage to sleep at least 7 hours so it wasn’t that bad.  I would say it was a bit better than my business class seat on British Airways, but it’s been a few years since I flew that so I wouldn’t read too much into that.

Even the stars were out that night

Entertainment

My flights were outfitted with Virgin Australia’s Red system.  I know Red has won some awards and I’m certainly not going to complain about it.  I didn’t take advantage of it, but apparently you can connect a USB device and view some photos and documents on your screen.  I did however watch several movies, they had some great box office films from earlier in the year and a nice selection of TV shows.  Of course I’m a geek and watched some TED Talks.  All shows and movies are on demand and can be paused during the flight. I skipped on the games and the music, but they were also available.

Bathrooms

There were 3 bathrooms in business class, they were a touch bigger then you would find in a traditional coach cabin.  They had higher end soap, and cloth napkins as well as a fancier interior.  But the best thing about them was that with 3 of them for around 20 passengers they didn’t get gross!

Service

I was surprised to find the service a bit inconsistent. The service was good on my flights, but was only great on one.  During the whole trip I had 8 flights on Virgin Australia (both domestic and International), Delta, and Qantas.  All of these flights had good service with professional flight attendants, I have no complaints.  But when I think of these two International flights only one flight attendant stood out to me as providing excellent service.  It was my flight attendant on my flight home.  I wish I could remember her name, but she was warm, explained things and was very attentive.  She just had that finishing touch of recognizing a need before it was realized.  Overall I would say the FA’s on Virgin Australia were professional, but I would not describe them as the warmest in the skies. I did like their uniforms though.

Business Class Bar

Comparing it to my only other business class experience, British Airways, I thought it was a comparable, if not better product.  I paid for this with miles and for the difference in price compared to a coach, it was absolutely worth every mile I paid, and more.  It’s not worth the $16K it would have cost in cash, but that’s a topic for someone else.

Jan 08

Flying Through Adversity

The day I flew to Australia started like any other – waking up early from insomnia, traffic going to work, packing a suitcase…  Ok, it wasn’t totally normal, but not too crazy.

Work was crazy that day though, really crazy.  I love when god does that little thing just before a trip to make you really appreciate your trip. With all that craziness and running around that day I opted to shower before leaving for the airport, but right before that happened the news showed an incident at LAX.  It didn’t seem out of control or anything and I went to take quick shower. I was thinking ahead to the 6 hour flight, layover, then 14 hour flight, followed by a day in Brisbane before flying to Melbourne.

When I returned from my shower LAX was closed, there had been a shooting with multiple injuries.  The date was November 1, 2013 and incase you’re unaware of the incident, or just forgot, here is the story from CBS. As much as I thought that sucked for those in LAX, in particular the victims I was trying to reason with myself – would my flight to LAX be canceled or just late.  What would happen to my flight to Brisbane, the plane should have already landed in LAX that morning, so at least there was that.  This was not the most stressful flight I’ve ever flown, but it was definitely stressful.

With that I left several things behind in my office, including Rasputin, and went to the airport.  I’ll leave much of my antics of that day for another post, but I will say that I was able to get Rasputin before my flight took off.

The first weird thing that happened was while waiting on line to check my bag.  I’m standing there minding my own business when the girl behind me says, “You’re going to LAX, they just shot up the place.” (nervous) giggle, giggle.  I tried to say that I thought security would be tighter in LAX because of it, which I did believe.  She made some other nervous comment and then I was saved by a guy who wanted to check my luggage in.

The next weird thing, I did not hear one peep about the shooting once I was inside the airport.  Most airports seem to have CNN or some news type program on.  I didn’t happen to see many TV’s to start at Delta’s Terminal 3 at JFK and if they were on, they were not on the news.  It was nice not to have that extra bit to add to the stress, but it was also surreal that things were so calm.

My flight to LAX took off on time and our pilot did update us on any potential impact to our flight and what they were doing in response.  Many flights had been sent to other airports earlier in the day and although they were expecting an on time arrival they did give us additional fuel incase there were landing delays.  We were updated closer to landing time that we were going to land early, but would have a delay in getting a gate.  We could expect an hour wait for a gate, which later changed to a half hour wait, but was in reality just over an hour.  Apparently someone stole our gate then there was an accident with a luggage handler truck – you can’t make this stuff up!

I used that time waiting for a gate to chat with people on social media, but mostly to figure out what to do in LAX.  My Virgin Australia flight from LAX to Brisbane was supposed to take off from Terminal 3, which was where the shooting was.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen.  The lounge I had access to (Virgin America) was also in Terminal 3 and lets face it, if you want a lounge on any day, it’s a day like this.  I used social media to find out that my flight would go out of Tom Bradley International Terminal and got close to accurate information about where to check my bags for the flight. I say slightly accurate because the desk #’s were off by a few numbers so I had trouble find it.

I expected chaos and mayhem in LAX. It wasn’t that bad, but the check in desks at Tom Bradley were crazy!  Virgin Australia has 2 flights a day so they were trying to check in the people to Sydney first since that was the earlier flight, but they did check me in earlier, probably because I was in business class.  The poor girl had to hand write each ticket. I’m not exactly sure why, but I know they didn’t have the right equipment at Tom Bradley and had to do manual boarding checks instead of the usual electronic scan they do.  I’m assuming it’s part of some procedure they have for times like these.

The line for security wasn’t any worse than at Orlando’s airport, but there was certainly a long.  And no TSA Precheck line either (I’ll write about how much I love TSA Precheck another day).  I figured I should just be glad the airport was open.

Now that I was in the terminal I got a light meal and a drink before looking for my gate.  Apparently, when your airline does not normally fly out of Tom Bradley you end up with the furthest gate from civilization possible.  I think I walked 10 minutes, a solid 5 from the last real shop or food place.  It was a big room with some seats, gates and bathrooms.  I wanted to charge my iPhone, which was now dying, but outlets that weren’t being used were scarce.  Eventually the guy I was sitting next to left and I was able to charge enough to get me onto the flight.

I know it sounds all “first world problem” to worry about my phone being charged.  But, we were getting very little information in the terminal (I don’t think they had much to give). My flight that was supposed to take off at 11 PM didn’t board until 2 AM, and changed gates several times.  Being by myself, that was stressful.  I had also been up for 27 hours by the time I boarded the flight and was getting punchy.  At least with Facebook I was able to update my friends and family and just complain in general.  And actually some of my friends did help me track down information about my flight.

So what did I learn from this whole experience?

Social Media is your friend.  I know there are people who think Facebook will only get you into trouble and they don’t get Twitter.  That’s fine, you can think what you want.  But without Twitter it would have been much harder to figure out where to go at LAX for my flight.  Virgin Australia used Twitter to post updates on their operational changes and answered DM’s for those who needed assistance.  Try calling an airline when 500+ people want to know about your operational change during an incident.  All you want to know is what terminal to go to and you have to fight to talk to someone with the people who are afraid to fly and now they want a different seat and can they get a kosher meal at the last-minute.  Or whatever it is that people call about.

If you’re flying (or using any type of public transportation) charge your phone.  It seems so simple, but in times of “crisis” everyone wants a wall plug because they’re stuck waiting around a long time with little information and need information.  Even better, buy and extra battery pack before you go to the airport, they’re more expensive there and at times like these, your phone might be your lifeline to information and combating boredom.

As crazy as that day was, things went pretty smoothly.  I could complain about the lack of information, or the delays, but in the world of air travel, you have to expect them.  On a day like that, I was just happy to make it safely from point A to point B with minimal disruption.