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Test driving Virgin Australia

Photos by Deanne Scott.

My wife and I took a three-flight trip from Brisbane-Brisbane via Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin, which gave us the chance to look at the latest addition to the Virgin airport lounges in Alice Springs and Darwin as well as to explore the Red Centre and Top End.

We flew in Boeing 737 800 planes and all flights were comfortable and smooth – there was a surprise snack pack on the Darwin Brisbane route with a tasty hot snack and a chicken wrap, plus muffin and plenty of tea and coffee. It was almost a meal!

I must add that two of the legs of the journey were paid for with Virgin’s Velocity reward points and booking was absolutely painless; no shilly-shallying, no wait list or special seating, It was simply log in, book and chooses your seats: that was it.

I was very impressed with the simplicity of the reward booking system.

Then I received an email asking if I wanted to bid for an upgrade to business class on the Alice Springs to Darwin run. I have done this once before and won with a bid of $200. It was nice end to a spell in Melbourne in January.

The minimum offer this time was $185, but for a one hour 40 minutes flight I didn’t think it worth the extra. When we actually boarded the plane we found it half empty anyway. But I like the system.

My first experience of a Virgin Business lounge was in Melbourne and was extremely impressed with the ambience and service so was looking forward to checking out three others.

Brisbane in the morning was a copy of Melbourne, sparkling clean, bright and light with heaps of room with functional tables and chairs for eating and comfy armchairs for relaxing. The food on tap was breakfast oriented with hot beverages and cold drinks (the bars open at 11 am) cereals and milk, cold cuts and salad, several different styles of bread with conserves set next to the automatic toaster. There was also a hot sandwich press to create nice toasted sandwiches.

In Alice Springs we sampled the six-month old lounge. It was much smaller than the big city lounges but again it was light and bright with high ceiling and huge floor to ceiling windows. This time we were there at lunch time and the food was similar, with cold cuts a sandwich maker and fruit bowls as well.

It very much a help yourself room with a large fridge containing white wine, sparkling and several styles of beer and cider.

At the moment Virgin only has one flight a week from Alice to Darwin on a Thursday, so the lounge was hardly occupied, just half a dozen or so, so we shared a bottle of bubbly with another couple. It opens 90 minutes before departure time.

Interestingly when I checked the flight I planned to leave Alice on the Friday, and only Qantas was flying – with a charge of $439. I switched to the Thursday Virgin flight for $206 and surprise surprise: the Qantas cost was a hell of a lot cheaper than it is on its monopoly days. I can see competition heating up on that route in time.

The Darwin lounge has been open for more than a year, but it is still bright, light and immaculate. The food at our lunchtime visit was the same as the others, but this time the lounge was large and packed with fly-in, fly out workers. Despite this the space did not feel crowded and the acoustics were excellent so it was not noisy either.

It was also very well staffed; there was no waiting at the food counter or the bar and dirty dishes were cleared away almost instantly by a highly efficient and cheerful staff.

All the lounges had plenty of phone plug-in spots and free wifi but Darwin was particularly impressive with two large business centre, PC and printer and even a conference room.

I must say I was impressed by my entire Virgin experience.

Help yourself in the new lounge at Alice Springs,

Bright, clean and extensive: the lounge in Darwin

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