Flight test: Little touches make the difference

NINA KARNIKOWSKI
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2014
VIRGIN AUST

WORTH IT: Budget doesn't have to mean skimping on service. Virgin staff are setting a great example.

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VIRGIN AUSTRALIA

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Samoa.

THE PLANE

Boeing 737 800.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Velocity frequent flyer programme.

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END

My husband has purchased an exit-row seat in economy class for an extra $48; I have a standard ticket but Virgin staff sit me in his row and block out the seat between us. Due to weight restrictions on Virgin flights to Samoa, seats are routinely blocked out.

TIME IN THE AIR

Four hours and 50 minutes. We depart 30 minutes late but make up most of it in the air, touching down 10 minutes after our scheduled arrival.

BAGGAGE

Due to the weight restriction, pre-purchase of excess baggage is not available on flights to Samoa, but can be purchased at the airport. Regular Saver and Flexi fares are allowed one 23-kilogram bag, with Premium Economy and Business allowed two 32kg bags.

THE SEAT STUFF

Seats are in a three-three layout. Standard economy seats have a 79-centimetre seat pitch and are 43cm wide. I make the most of the extra room the exit row and that blocked seat give us, lying across all three seats and managing to get a few hours' sleep despite white knuckle-inducing turbulence during our red-eye flight.

COMFORT FACTOR

When it gets a little chilly on board we ask the flight attendant for a blanket. None are available, but he offers to turn the temperature up for us and 10 minutes later we are comfortable.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

It is $18 to purchase an iPad in-flight entertainment system, but for those with their own iPads and iPhones entertainment is free through Virgin's Wi-Fi in-flight entertainment system, launched in September. We are informed of this before take-off, so I quickly download the app and am able to stream The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (one of 33 films on offer, along with a good selection of TV and music) on my iPhone.

THE SERVICE

It is chirpy with a capital C. We realise we have left a sunhat at the gate five minutes before take-off - the pilot himself collects it and brings it to our seats. After take-off, a flight attendant offers to take our bags down from the overhead lockers for us. When I am short a pair of headphones, I tell the flight attendant, who happily gives me a pair, which I later see were $3 on the menu.

FEEDING TIME

We eat before we get on board and are glad we did. The available-for-purchase menu includes a selection of sandwiches and unhealthy snacks including Pringles, sweets, chocolate and biscuits, none of which appeal.

ONE MORE THING

Members of Virgin's Velocity frequent flyer programme who register and fly with the airline before June 30 will go in the draw to be upgraded to Space Class. The lucky winner will win a seat with Virgin Galactic.

THE VERDICT

Budget does not have to mean skimping on service. Virgin staff are setting a great example.

FREQUENCY

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Virgin runs two flights a week between Sydney and Samoa, and one Saturday flight a week between Brisbane and Samoa.

Nina Karnikowski flew courtesy of Samoa Tourism Authority.

- FFX Aus

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