After spending an exceedingly relaxing time in Queenstown, the time came for us to leave this gorgeous scenic town and return home to Sydney. We had booked flights with Virgin Australia not only because they were cheap (about $200 each) but because we have Platinum and Gold status with the carrier – this provides complimentary luggage, a good seating allocation at the front of the cabin and the ability to use the Air New Zealand ‘Koru Lounge’ before departure.
The Airport & Lounge
On arrival at the airport we made our way to the Virgin Australia ‘Premium’ check-in counter and we we’re seen to relatively quickly. We were fortunate to be assigned Row 3 which is coveted by Platinum frequent flyers as it is the first row of economy on the aircraft. We were also treated to a blocked middle seat which is an unpublished benefit of frequent flyer status (though this is only handed out occasionally when loads permit).
Once we paid our $25 departure tax we made a beeline for the Koru Lounge which is on Level 1 of the airport. It’s fairly small (in that there are roughly 20-30 seats) and the food and beverage offerings were… spartan… though this isn’t surprising for such a small airport. We made use of our time there by using the Wi-Fi and gazing over the sleepy tarmac.
Once boarding was called in the lounge we needed to run the Immigration and Security gauntlet as the Koru Lounge is located before the security check. On previous trips to Queenstown we had long waits due to the limited facilities for overseas flights at this small airport. On this occasion we got through quickly which was fortunate. We then had a cursory glance at the duty-free but it’s small in size and the difference in pricing with Sydney was negligible. I did however buy some unusual Absolut flavoured vodkas to add to my collection.
We then waited in the somewhat depressing departure hall that contained nothing more than a couple of magazine/book and food stalls to keep waiting passengers occupied – luckily we didn’t have to wait long before the flight was called. As we scanned our boarding passes and walked out onto the tarmac, we glanced up at the Remarkables mountain range once last time… it really is a beautiful sight to behold. As we entered the aircraft we were greeted by the Cabin Manager who directed us to our seats.
Virgin Australia are currently going through the motions of refitting their aircraft and among other things, change the branding from Virgin Blue to Virgin Australia. All Trans Tasman services are managed by Virgin Australia subsidiary Pacific Blue and these aircraft at this stage are not going to be refitted with Business Class and will remain with Premium Economy.
Our flight was on a refurbished aircraft with Premium Economy so luckily for us our seats were in Row 3 which was technically in Premium Economy. Thanks for the extra space Virgin Australia! Other than that, and the blocked middle seat, it was stock standard economy seating so it was nothing to rave home about. I didn’t try the recline function as the flight time was well under 3 hours.
Meals & Service
I do like the BOB (Buy On-Board) model as it allows for personal choice – Virgin Australia have a limited selection of Luke Mangan created light meals such as Meat Pies or Sandwiches, but other than this the other options are only snacks or drinks. Unfortunately the meat pie I received tasted lukewarm and had the most fatty, gristly meat cuts I had come across in a pie – I was most unimpressed – particularly as the pie cost me $10. The ginger beer I ordered was a nice soft landing from the week of indulgences now behind me.
In terms of the service on this flight, the crew on this flight were slightly…. uncoordinated. Ordering our meal and drinks was a marathon of patience for my partner and I. The young crew were clueless – the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. Luckily on most other Virgin Australia flights the crew have been the opposite, so my assumption is that this crew was rogue and I simply put it down to bad luck.
Entertainment? None to speak of. I had my MacBook Pro with me so I indulged in some episodes of my favourite television show, ‘Happy Endings’.
This was a flight of contrasts: the generosity of Virgin Australia in giving us row 3 and a blocked middle seat meant that we had space to move – the status we hold with the airline also gave us access to the Koru Lounge so that was great. The crew on the flight however were a poor combination and made the airline look amateurish which is such a shame, particularly for this Virgin supporter. The lack of in-flight entertainment isn’t the biggest issue but it’s somewhat unusual in this day in age for an airline to not have something for passengers. As the fares we bought for this flight were peanuts I didn’t walk away terribly disappointed. Virgin Australia will keep…