If you haven’t been to Australia, now is the time to start planning your trip thanks to last year’s historic Open Skies agreement, which allowed competition to go up against Qantas and United who once dominated this lucrative route. New service from V Australia and Delta (beginning in July) has slashed the notoriously high prices.
On Friday, I was invited to go out to LAX‘s Flight Path Learning Center and Museum to attend V Australia‘s coming out party. Fortunately, the wet skies cleared just in time for Sir Richard Branson and his posse (Australian celebrities Julian McMahon, Jason Clarke, Holly Valance and Kimberley Joseph) to walk out on the wing and christen the brand new 777-300ER (extended range) aircraft with bottles of champagne. After soaking hisfriends, Sir Richard then walked down the plane’s stairs raising both hands and waving the peace, I mean Virgin, sign.
IMPACT ON SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Los Angeles’ mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was on site to welcome Branson and his business. V Australia is expected to generate an annual economic impact of up to $872 million to Southern California and sustain as many as 4,340 jobs.
WALKING THE RED CARPET
Branson, dressed in his trademark blue jeans, began walking the red carpet and stopped halfway on for an impromptu photo opwith the beautiful USC cheerleaders and marching band. Iwas standing at the far end next to V Australia’s four young Australian ground crew interns who were so excited to meet their boss for the first time. He didn’t disappoint as he gave each one a kiss on the cheek.
LOS ANGELES TO AUSTRALIA $549 R/T
I took the un-journalistic approach and stood behind the podium, literally ending up a foot away from Sir Richard. When it was his turn to take the stage, he donned an Akubra and asked, “Recession? What recession?” The crowd laughed and he went on to say: “The way to get out of recessions is to try to expand out of recessions and create more jobs, bring airfares down and try to offer better quality of products.” He then announced that in addition to the planned Los Angeles/Sydney routes beginning February 27 and the Los Angeles/Brisbane flight (April 8), that V Australia will fly between Los Angeles and Melbourne, starting in September and between Sydney and Johannesburg at a date yet to be set. Passengers will also be able to buy around the world tickets using the Virgin brand.
Fares for the Melbourne flight were being advertised for a remarkable $549 return (without tax and fees). Beginning in less than two weeks, V Australia will fly three times a week between Los Angeles and Sydney. If the seats don’t get sold, you will see even lower prices. As Sir Richard said: “We will never go out with an empty seat so if we have an empty seat, we will slash the fare.”
As the press conference was taking place, the skies grew increasingly darker and the rain started up again. Sir Richard, the mayor and a small group of media were whisked to the plane for a tour. The aircraft was so new (they’d just brought it in from the Boeing plant in Seattle) that it still had cardboard protection over the carpeted aisles.
The first thing I noticed was the mood lighting and the stars on the ceiling. The plane has three classes; International Business Class which has 33 seats and features fully horizontal flat beds(six-foot-two long) and 77 inches (1.95 metres) of legroom. These seats are configured 2-3-2. Premium Economy has 40 seats with 38 inches (96.5cm) of legroom and a nine-inch (22.9-centimeter) recline. These seats are set up 2-3-2 while the 288 economy seat section is 3-3-3 and has 32 inches (81 centimeters) of legroom and a six-inch (a 15-centimeter) recline. All seats come with the same Virgin America entertainment system called RED. This one won’t have live TV but it has movies, popular TV shows, games, music and seat-to-seat chat on a 10.6-inch screen. There’s also a plug for laptop power and a USB slot.FYI: There are no power ports in economy.
MORE TO COME (HOPEFULLY)
I will write in full detail when (and if) I actually experience V Australia’s service and let you know how it really is. For now, start mapping out your itinerary and get your butt down to Australia. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world!