Hinch Travel

V for Vision

I was tempted to say ‘Don’t fly V Australia to Los Angeles this year’. That is…unless you can afford to fly Business Class. Save a bit more and really treat yourself next year.  But that wouldn’t be very fair considering that on the flight I took Economy was almost full and the website reviews show some very happy campers.
 
And why wouldn’t they be? When you compare the prices, the seat width, the in-flight entertainment and the extra leg room on the new 777, with other airlines on the route.
 
But I was in Business Class for a virginal experience on the latest brave contender for the heavily-travelled trans-Pacific route. It was all they promised—and more.
 
V Australia is the latest weapon in the Richard Branson global arsenal with Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue, Virgin America and Pacific Blue. Soon they extend into the heavens with Virgin Galactic – where, for an expensive experience, you can emulate an astronaut and float in the stratosphere.
 
(Apparently Branson and his Mum are going to be on the maiden flight).
 
On our flight, direct from Melbourne to Los Angeles, we stayed closer to earth but I did notice the Southern Cross twinkling in the dome lights in the bar. Yep, in the bar, at 35,000 feet. Why not?
 
It only has four bar stools, and you are invited to help yourself to the wine and nibbles, but it is a real bar. And anyway, we did get to see the Milky Way and the real Southern Cross from our beds on the overnight flight home.
 
Yep, from our beds, at 35,000 feet. Why not?  I’ll get back to slumberland in a minute but I suspect there were some sleepless nights for the Virgin bean counters in the lead up to the launch of V Australia.
 
They were not only taking on the might of the Flying Kangaroo they jumped right into the midst of the Global Financial Crisis when ‘fly the friendly skies’ suddenly became fly the empty skies. Airline profits were evaporating like a Bernie Madoff victim’s retirement fund.
 
There was a brave celebration of the inaugural flight on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour in February 09 with Branson arriving, James Bond-style, by helicopter. A feature of the night: a phalanx of naked female statues painted in Australian and American flags. Then they moved and it turned out they weren’t statues but body-painted naked models.
 
And, speaking of people with little attire, there were cynics who thought Emperor Branson had no clothes when it came to starting a new airline on one of the longest, toughest routes which Qantas had monopolized for ever, albeit with Government protection.
 
Well, it’s working. And it should. It is a great concept. The Boeing 777 is a terrific super-wide, quiet and comfortable plane.
 
Business Class on V Australia is better than some of the First Class cabins I’ve flown in – and over fifty years in the media business I have flown about a million miles. That’s to the moon and back four times.
 
The big selling points on a trip that takes between 14 and 15 hours are the entertainment time-killers and the promise of sleep. Every seat has a touch TV screen with games, movies, and TV favourites.  Up and back I watched two good films.  Beautiful Kate, in which Brian Brown turned in a great performance, and Julie & Julia  with  Meryl Streep giving a now-expected extraordinary performance as  the first TV Superchef Julia Child.
 
Then came sleep. Mrs. Hinch  (Mrs. Nosebag in the Hungry Hinch restaurant adventures) has an acronym for a moniker these days:  SWIAR. She Who Is Always Right.
 
But she was wrong once on this trip. At 5ft 10 (and about 7ft in the current heels) she was skeptical of the claim that the seats turned into beds six feet long. And flat.
 
She had memories of other Business Class seats that supposedly turned into beds but actually became slightly elongated tilted racks that left you with that ‘sleeping on a hillside’ feeling.
 
She had also done the Economy scrunch too many times where a long-legged woman becomes a twisted limbed version of the Queen riding side saddle.
 
But on this flight the flight attendant pushed a button and the seat turned into a six-foot long flat bed. It’s then made up with a sheet and a blanket and it’s ‘goodnight’ for a good six or seven hours. 
 
There’s a privacy screen between the seats – if you don’t know the person in the next ‘bed’ or you’re not talking to your partner. And some of the sections have privacy curtains to shut out the rest of the plane. Like your own compartment on a train.
 
The crew have that Virgin trademark combination of efficiency and fun. Which can’t be easy for any airline crew after 14 hours in the air. And there are those small irreverent tokens reminding you that you are on Virgin.
 
Under your coffee cup is a small plate that says ‘Fancy that...a flying saucer’.  And the salt and pepper shakers are miniature Opera House sails.
 
I flew Melbourne to Los Angeles courtesy of V Australia but with no strings attached. If I’d found something I didn’t like about it or something that didn’t live up to the airline’s website promises then I would tell you.
 
I do believe the V Australia concept is a great one. Especially an extended Business Class. You can fly Australia-LA-Australia for less than $6000. Last time I looked, the Qantas Business Class return fare just to Honolulu was $8000. 
 
V Australia is now flying to Los Angeles from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane several times a week. And I reckon within five years –with extended range new Boeings --they’ll be flying Australia to New York direct in about 17-18 hours.
 
Brett Godfrey, the Virgin Blue CEO, from its birth in Australia, was, and justifiably is, a great believer in V Australia. He retires in mid-2010.  Not a bad victory V salute to go out on.
 
Footnote: Almost forgot. SWIAR was really impressed with one feature. A  Women’s Only toilet! Seems those men who have trouble hitting the target on the ground do a lot of messy pissing and missing at 35,000 feet.
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