Virgin Australia Adelaide to Denpasar Bali in Business Class
Virgin Australia operates the main premium product into Denpasar from Australia. Although a domestic narrow body hard product, the service from the crew makes up well for what is relatively very short international flight departing Australia. Good catering and sufficient inflight entertainment make for a comfortable ride to Bali. Adelaide is a good hour closer than the eastern Australian cities but its smaller market and different demographic on this route result in a price that is exceptionally good value.
A bit of drama leading up to this flight, skip ahead if you just want read about the flight. Like always my plans are in disarray. I was meant to be flying to Abu Dhabi and trying the Etihad First class suites a few days ago but now I’m just trying to get out of Australia. The island of Bali is the prominent international tourism destination for travellers from Australia and is served primarily by Jetstar & Virgin Australia from every major city. Definitely a tourist focused market so premium choices are highly limited. Jetstar operates a single class service so Virgin Australia is your best bet with a small business class offering. However be warned, they’re all operating a domestic product so expect to be stuck on a narrow body for an extended flight time.
Virgin Australia operates flights generally leaving during the day and returning from Denpasar Airport in the evening. Adelaide being closer the flight departs ADL around dinner time. Since ADL is a joint use domestic & international port, checkin was through the regular premium checkin. In this case that wasn’t the best as the staff member forgot to add my onward flight details and other advanced passenger information which would later cause trouble. Being a quiet time there were no queues either at check-in or general security. Virgin Australia operates a small lounge in Adelaide that has seen no changes whatsoever since time I used to reside in Australia and held platinum status with the airline. The lounge is available to business class pax and those holding elite memberships with a range of airlines, Etihad, Air Berlin, Singapore etc., along with some top tier Amex cards. Qantas and Virgin both operate lounges prior to immigration in ADL (there is an unused space available and SQ have a small offering). For international departures the Virgin lounge does however benefit from being directly opposite immigration / international departures.
Fortunately however I proceeded through early today. Because they had failed to ask me for onward travel information and similar at check in both immigration and the airline had flagged me. Immigration were as usual doing their fruitless best to determine if I had some convoluted oneway ticket to a politically unpalatable region which I could be detained for. The airline was wanting an onward flight or otherwise intending to refuse carriage. Of course as a last minute booking I had no plans beyond Bali although had flights leaving Singapore around to every other continent for the coming few months. End result I booked a flexi ticket online leaving Jakarta then phoned and cancelled it as soon as I was sitting onboard. Unwanted drama however I often travel with oneway tickets and have dealt with this. Airlines will follow immigration requirements by the letter which usually means an onward flight, or else they are held to blame if things go wrong. Extremely rarely will I be asked for such evidence when entering a country however.
Finally Getting out of Here
Priority boarding is offered with a separate lane. I was straight onboard and with only two rows of business class with Virgin Australia it isn’t hard to find your seat. Although it would be wonderful to have their widebody transcontinental A330 service offered, the demographic going to Bali is very budget leisure orientated. There were a high number of comments overheard as people passed through to their seats. I get it, I’m lucky in some perspectives to travel a lot, spending weeks of each year on a plane. For many this may be there once a year family holiday and there is a strong interest or novelty in business or ‘first’ class. Once everyone was it was just two others in the front row and myself in the second. I generally avoid the bulkhead in these situations so I can lay back and stretch out.
Since I had lowered my expectations I was happily surprised to find each passenger in business had a pillow, bottle of water, headphones and the Android tablet for entertainment awaiting them. Although a small touch, it made it feel welcoming.
Drinks were offered prior to take off, including water, juice and sparkling wine. The crew were quite insistent with the sparkling wine, refilling right from the start, a good sign it was to be a pleasant flight. Although appreciated, I felt somewhat unusual for an (sometimes overly safety conscious / by the book) Australian airline, as we were about to take off I was offered another refill and simply told to hold onto the glass.
Take off was swift as we turned north and followed the coastline. Before long the crew appeared again. More to drink and a little something to start off with.
Catering on this flight was better than expected. Like domestic narrow body services, no menus are given (on the VA Coast to Coast A330 product they are). Orders are taken verbally in advance, personalising the experience. So excuse me for forgetting what the choices were but they were all reminiscent of domestic meals and thankfully not their snacks. Similarly, meals are served on trays with sides of salad and a choice of bread. At this stage of the flight I enjoyed a duck salad and a chicken followed by roast chicken with vegetables.
Onboard entertainment is over wifi. In theory it is BYOD (bring your own device) and you are advised before take off to download the application from the appropriate appstore. Like domestic business class a preloaded Samsung Android tablet. Because I had recently purchased a Microsoft Surface and got a tax refund on departure, I realised the silliness of having all three tablet platforms in front of me. In reality after taking the photo I put them away and didn’t use the for the remainder of the flight.
It was about this stage I decided to nap. Although an evening flight my sleep was well out of sync with the timezone. I awoke an hour or so later and quickly appreciated how short this sector is, with a flight time of 5 hours 20 minutes. This is one of those situations where I wasn’t certain if I had missed a meal service. So an hour in prior to arrival I asked and was quickly offered the second meal service. I picked a large serving of black pepper beef with the usual sides. Although very tasty it was definitely more contemporary Australian Asian fusion if that can be considered a cuisine.
The crew did go the extra mile on this flight, possibly the good timing and forthcoming stay in Bali makes for a welcome change to the domestic rostering. Regardless they really made the product what it is and exceeded my expectations. There was one final surprise in store as we taxied to the gate. The two passengers in front and I were all given bottles of wine to take with us. I can’t remember how many flights I have taken but something similar has only occurred once before, but this was quite generous. Fortunately no customs restrictions. Of course I was curious, shelf price was AU$20-25.
Now I earlier mentioned value. The ADL-DPS route in business class was being sold at about half the cost of departing from Melbourne or Sydney, all non-promotional prices. It is also cheaper than flying from Adelaide to Sydney! Obviously the Adelaide demographic has a far weaker demand for the premium product on this sector, it is understandable and whether the route is pushed more towards Tiger in the future remains to be seen. For now it remains one of the cheapest ways to get to Asia in business class, particularly from southeast Australia. Alternatively reward tickets are very easy to get and significantly lower cost compared to Singapore or Jakarta.
Next it up it was time to visit Bali, a place I had been putting off for sometime. I just had to wait for company to arrive…