We were eager to escape Sydney for the Christmas break, so decided on heading to Bali with family.
Booking only a few weeks out from departure, business class airfares were getting on the high side – so when we spotted a $1200 one way airfare on Virgin Australia, we booked immediately. The only catch was a connection in Brisbane on VA943, though for the price, the connection was worth it.
VA4137 is one of Virgin Australia’s new flights as the airline ramps up it’s presence on Bali routes, possibly in response to Jetstar’s shiny new 787 dreamliner which has been deployed on flights to this popular holiday destination.
Once we arrived in the Queensland capital, connecting between the domestic the international terminals was reasonably painless thanks to the convenient Skytrain – we also had the option of the transfer bus (Virgin had provided us with transfer tickets for either mode of transport). We had already received our boarding passes for the Bali flight when we checked in at Sydney, so all we had to do was to clear customs/immigration and make our way to the lounge.
Virgin Australia passengers are welcome to use the Air New Zealand Koru Club lounge – a somewhat spartan facility by international lounge standards but better than nothing. The lounge has limited views over a carpark, so no tarmac views for the aircraft spotters amongst us. It had a decent capacity with enough seating for those sharing the lounge with us on the day.
The food and beverage options were on par with other Koru Club lounges with a good selection of kiwi beer and wine on offer. I used the computer / printer facilities to print out a receipt so I could claim a tax refund from TRS. The lounge is in close proximity to the convenient smoking balcony for those keen for one last hit of nicotine before their flight.
Boarding & Departure
Boarding was called in the lounge about 30 minutes prior to departure. We made our way to the gate and thankfully we were entitled to priority boarding – beneficial as it appeared that this would be a full flight. We were warmly greeted by a flight attendant and shown to our seats 1A/1C.
It really didn’t feel like we were about to head off on a international 6.10 hour flight to Asia as the crew went about their business in the same fashion as a normal Sydney-Melbourne weekday run. The only difference being a rather sad looking amenity pack that was waiting for us when we arrived at our seats. The crew handed out either a water or a mocktail as the aircraft was prepped for take-off.
After a short roll down the runway we were up into the Brisbane sky, flying over Moreton Bay and banking right towards central Queensland. We would continue on this trajectory for the rest of the flight, making slight detours when encountering inclement weather.
The flight attendant looking after business class quickly put up a small rope separating business and economy cabins. She later came past and introduced herself and went through the lunch options for the flight. Slightly odd having lunch considering the 3:45pm departure… however she mentioned that we could choose to have our meal at a later time when we were feeling more hungry. There was only one meal service on the flight.
Samsung Galaxy tablets were handed out but disappointingly there were very limited choices (say a dozen movies, the same number of very average TV episodes, some poorly chosen music videos and the usual audio music options). The aircraft thankfully was equipped with the latest inflight streaming entertainment system, but oddly we couldn’t use this service on the galaxy tabs, we needed to use our own devices with preloaded software.
I found it strange that the Virgin Australia supplied devices could not use the streaming service. Thankfully I had downloaded the streaming software on my iPad – the options were more plentiful and there were some good recent movies to watch.
We had a few rounds of drinks as the vastness of the Australian outback passed beneath us. The flight attendant prepped the lunch service about two hours into the flight (being more of a dinner service by that time).
First course was a very tasty cauliflower soup – absolutely delicious and reminded me of the same soup I had at Emirates Wolgan Valley some years earlier. Main course was slow-cooked beef and this was also very tender and disappeared in a flash of an eye. Dessert comprised of a strange addition of a cocoa pops / rocky road concoction – reminiscient od something you’d find at a school fair. The meal portion sizes were on the small side, but about right for what was a lunch service.
Having been watered and fed, the cabin fell quiet as passengers became immersed in their iDevices. Unfortunately, six hours is a very long time to spend in a 737 and before long, the cabin grew restless.
The long flight…
The passengers in 1D/1F rotated between giving each other massages and performing exotic yoga poses – one of them sat on the floor and she remained on the floor for the rest of the flight. Bizarre, but a good use of space considering the limited leg room available in Row 1. The drinks kept flowing and the cabin then grew rowdy as most of the eight passengers in the business cabin starting chatting with one another – mostly bitching about the lack of footrests and the crappy alcohol selection (which by the way was very economy-esque, think Johnny Walker Red and Beefeater Gin – come on VA!).
People grew restless by about the fourth hour. People were standing up and laughing among themselves as the time slowed to a glacial pace. When would this flight end? The crew kept the drinks flowing, noting the restlessness of the cabin – therefore we remained lubricated and out of trouble. The camaraderie in the business cabin grew as the hours passed, I glanced back to the economy cabin I could see that the passengers there too were getting restless with people standing in the aisle chatting with their friends and family. Everyone was clearly getting into the holiday spirit.
I felt like an age before we hit the Northern Territory coast – and when we did, it arrived with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen from an aircraft.
About an hour later we descended into stormy Balinese airspace. The weather was hot and humid according to the pilot, with a big thunderstorm holding up the airport and leading to congestion on the tarmac. There would be delays.
The cabin was prepped for landing and we made our rocky approach and landing into Ngurah Rai International Airport. Due to the congestion, the aircraft had a bit of difficulty reaching it’s bay and when it did, we were told that we would be departing via busses which would take us to the terminal.
Thankfully, the airport has been renovated and the arrival process was more civilized than on previous visits – and there was air-conditioning! We had pre-booked a VIP express arrivals service meaning we skipped most of the lines – totally worth the $25 USD. This unfortunately didn’t help us with the 30 min wait for luggage however, no doubt caused by the aforementioned airport congestion. Once bags were in our possession, we made our way out to the chaotic arrivals hall where we waited for our driver.
Overall, the flight was a bit bare boned and Virgin Australia is clearly still finding it’s feet when it comes to delivering a top business class product. This was probably the most social business class flight i’ve ever been on, with cabin crew popping by for a chat every now and again which was a nice touch. The crew however were fantastic. The pricing was definitely a hit with us, the food was nice but on the small side, and the beverage selections left us wanting. The seating was uncomfortable, especially without foot rests and the proximity of the row 1 seats to the bulkhead. First world problems I hear you say… and yes I tend to agree.
Would I fly Virgin Australia on this route again? It’s hard to say. I might be tempted to fly Garuda direct from Sydney if the price is right if only for comparison purposes. Thanks for the flight VA!