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After a brief hiatus, Virgin Australia has resumed direct flights between Melbourne and Los Angeles (LAX), adding some serious choice and competition to the route dominated by Oneworld and Star Alliance carriers Qantas and United (respectively).

In summary, Virgin’s introduction of its refurbished B777-300ERs, with industry leading Business Class and Premium Economy, and its homage to 9-abreast in Economy Class, makes it incredibly hard to argue against. If you want to make the non-stop hop between Melbourne and LAX, the choice here is clear – its not even a close finish. Pick Virgin Australia.

Have a read below for a bit of detail on the choices flying between Melbourne and Los Angeles and make up your own mind.

Virgin Australia

On the B777-300ER…

Virgin’s return to the Melbourne-LAX route comes off the back of its recent refurbishment of its B777-300ER fleet – and it is probably one of the most notable refurbishments in recent history, for a couple of reasons. To start, Business Class has dispensed with the non-competitive 2-3-2 layout and moved to a 1-2-1 layout (to be expected, given almost every competitive airline globally now provides direct aisle access and lie-flat seats).

Most notable, however, is Virgin’s decision to retain the veritable and increasingly rare 9-abreast layout in Economy Class. This is a huge boon for passenger comfort, and elevates Virgin Australia’s position in global aviation standards substantially. An added benefit of the B777 9-abreast layout is a higher proportion of available seats are of the desirable window or aisle variety, relative to 10-abreast configurations.

Premium Economy is market leading. Set in a B777-standard 2-4-2 layout (19.5″ width), Virgin Australia’s leg room is industry leading: 41″. That’s over 7% more than the industry average, beating out traditional comfort leaders like Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific with ease (and leaving its competitors on this route in its wake).

Business Class is also close to top of class, with extra width, extra bed length and what appears to be a very swish bar. Passengers are also given pyjamas, making Virgin Australia part of a very small cadre of airlines providing such in Business Class. (Special note: if pyjamas in Business Class is your primary concern, you’re spoiled for choice on this route).

VA business class

Virgin Australia’s new “The Business” Business Class. Credit: Virgin Australia

The only negative to report is the relative scarcity of the B777-300ER in Virgin Australia’s fleet – there are only 5, meaning the opportunity to experience the new product is limited to a handful of routes. This will also restrict the frequency of the Melbourne to LAX flights to 5 days a week, versus Qantas’ double-daily frequency.

Finally, Virgin Australia is not part of any formal alliance, although its numerous partnerships somewhat negate that – especially for those wedded to Star Alliance. Spurning alliances in preference for partnerships is a path a lot of airlines are heading down.

Qantas

On the B787-9…

Qantas will be taking delivery of the B787-9 in late 2017 and will deploy it first on the Melbourne to LAX route. The aircraft is claimed to be fitted out for the ultra-long-haul routes it will be plying, and features Qantas’ newest seats (and livery, for those who are interested).

new-qantas-livery-1000a

The B787 is being used for ultra long-haul routes. Credit: Qantas

Business Class is the highest offering on the aircraft, and is a huge improvement on the A380 seat. In a 1-2-1 layout, all passengers have direct aisle access. However, layout plans suggest a very low toilet to passenger ratio in this cabin. It would be worth praying all your fellow passengers have strong constitutions. Like Virgin, those in business receive pyjamas.

Premium Economy has undergone a somewhat evolutionary redesign, with large improvements over the existing cabin. Passengers will have industry-standard 38″ knee room, and excellent 20.5″ width – putting Qantas up there with the leaders in Premium Economy. A variety of new seating positions also make this a very attractive seat.

Here’s where Qantas’ logic gets rather confusing, however. With a cabin fit-out designed ostensibly for only the longest of flights, Qantas has kitted out the B787 with the smallest Economy Class seats in its mainline fleet, both domestic and international, and 8% less width than competitors on this route.

I’ve been through this in a previous blog, however in summary: with a 3-3-3 Economy Class layout, Qantas uses the same layout as its low-cost brand Jetstar, with the maximum usable width possible on the B787 being 17″. This should be avoided. Pitch is 32″ which puts Qantas in line with the industry standard for long-haul flights (and not above, contrary to claims made by CEO Alan Joyce).

Qantas B787 Economy

Economy Class will be very tight. Credit: Qantas

On the A380…

The Qantas flagship aircraft, the A380 is kitted out with all 4 classes. Qantas’ A380s will be undergoing a mid-life refresh beginning this year, however there hasn’t been any confirmation as to what precise form their cabins will take. We do know that Economy Class, Premium Economy and Business Class will somewhat reflect those found on the B787.

If you wish to fly First Class, this will be your only option (it is, however, a fantastic option and overall represents one of the best all-round First Class experiences).

qantas first class

Qantas First Class is only available on the A380. Credit: Qantas

Business Class aboard the A380 is in a non-competitive 2-2-2 layout. The seat, however, is very comfortable and the central column of seats will scratch the direct-aisle-access itch. If you are travelling in Business Class, however, I would prioritise the B787. As always on Qantas, passengers also receive pyjamas – one of the very few to do so for Business Class globally.

Premium Economy has always been a strong suit of Qantas since the introduction of the A380. Whilst seat pitch is much lower than Virgin Australia’s (over 7% less space about the knees), amenities and seat comfort are commendable, if not a little aged.

Economy Class on the A380 is poor. Period. Despite the size of the A380 (and width of the cabin especially) Qantas has installed seats with 1″ less knee-room, and 1.5″ less space at the hips. Qantas does have great quality food, however quantity is constantly called out as being simply insufficient. The service is good and, importantly, sparkling wine is served.

United

On the B787…

The sole Star Alliance representative flying direct between Melbourne and LAX, United employs the B787 on this route. Business Class is kitted out in a 2-2-2 configuration, and whilst it currently has the new and commendable Polaris soft product (including improved bedding, catering and the like), this plane will not be seeing United’s new and improved Business Class seat any time soon.

Behind it is Economy Plus. For the uninitiated, it is worth pointing out that this is not equivalent to Premium Economy on other airlines: the seats are installed in a very-high density 3-3-3 layout, however they do allow for extra legroom (35″) which will make a large difference to passenger comfort. Service is comparable with that found in Economy Class.

Up the back is Economy Class. To avoid sounding like a broken record, I’ll keep this paragraph brief (see: Qantas B787). United has the same leg room as Qantas (32″ at the knee), and with the same, very high density 3-3-3 layout, the same hip-grinding width (17″). Oh joy.

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Posted by Tom

Tom is a consultant and founder of FlightMaestro.net, the online travel tool that rates, ranks and dissects every facet of in-flight passenger experience. All views expressed are his own.

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