Virgin Australia – The Forrest Gump of Airlines

WTF is going on at Virgin Australia? Lovely staff, erratic product. For mine, VA is the Forrest Gump of airlines – as in, life’s like a box of chocolates “because you never know what you’re gonna get”.

 No wonder the carrier is a financial basket case unable to carve a profitable niche in a duopoly marketplace.

First thing to understand, despite its supposed move up the airline food chain, is that Virgin Australia is still a low cost carrier at heart.

That is despite the fact it also actually owns a low cost carrier, Tigerair Australia.

The industry collectively  thought Virgin bought Tigerair a  few years ago so it could run a clearly-defined dual carrier strategy like the Qantas Group does with Qantas (full service) and Jetstar (low cost, limited service).

But this hasn’t happened. Virgin still thinks and acts like a low cost carrier, sullying its core brand and confusing customers.

Case in point: I check in for my Bali flight and am charged $130 for a second piece of baggage despite my total weight for the two pieces (one of which is a surfboard) coming under the 23kg limit.

But how much my luggage weighs is irrelevant to Virgin pricing, which in this case could be termed gouging, despite the fact that, in aircraft load terms, weight is all that really matters.

I could have checked in a feather wrapped in a tissue as my second piece of luggage and it still would have cost $130. For the record the board and cover weighed about eight kilos.

At Qantas and many other airlines, on international flights you get 30kgs whether it’s one, two or three bags.

Next, the aircraft. It’s small, a Boeing 737-800. Centre aisle, three seats either side.

Seats are leather, pitch reasonable, but there’s no entertainment, not a screen to be seen.

A friendly flight attendant called James explains that if I’d downloaded the Virgin app prior to boarding I could access the carrier’s entertainment system through my phone but I hadn’t so I can’t.

The reason I hadn’t is because there was no pre-flight communique on what to expect. 

James said I could purchase onboard wi-fi and then download the app but he didn’t know how much that cost because no-one buys it.

Meanwhile, I discover that dinner is complimentary and comes with one free alcoholic beverage but after that you’ll have to pay for everything.

Good thing is, I’m in a window seat and there’s no-one in the other two.

I look around and see most people are in a similar situation unless they’re travelling in a group.

All up I’d say the aircraft is 30 per cent full, maybe 40 or 50 passengers tops.

I was supposed to fly Qantas but the company booking my flight couldn’t get on. It was full. Six weeks ago. Why?

That’s a question Virgin’s new management needs to be asking. 

I suspect the answer is that with rival airlines to Bali – Qantas, Jetstar and Garuda  – you know what you’re going to get.

Sure you’ll get slugged with extra charges at Jetstar but that’s expected, it’s a low-cost carrier.

Qantas and Garuda both offer  30kg luggage allowance, food, free pour alcohol if you want, excellent inflight entertainment with increasingly good screens, and generally friendly service.

At Virgin Australia you get the friendly service but the inclusions (apart from the hard and fast one piece luggage rule) vary on factors such as aircraft type, distance flown and length of journey.

In other words, when customers buy a ticket with Virgin Australia they don’t know what they’re going to get apart from a smiling face, but that’s not enough.

Consumers demand consistency from the brands they trust, which is most definitely not the case here.

It’s a major problem and and one reason why Virgin Australia is a very deep hole.

They’re also letting their staff down, who are doing great work but can’t defend the indefensible.

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13 thoughts on “Virgin Australia – The Forrest Gump of Airlines”

  1. Maybe do your research before stepping on board and not blame the airline for your lack of intelligence.

    1. I didn’t book the flight, a client did it for me, and I made the wrong assumption that luggage would be charged by weight not by piece based on the slick marketing of Virgin Australia, which depicts it as a full service carrier. It’s not however and the mistake is mine. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t write a story about Virgin price gouging on luggage and how poorly that aligns with its brand messaging. As I said, staff are great, product all over the place.

  2. Singapore airlines (arguably the worlds best airline) only have 20kg luggage restriction (1 bag!). Point is do your research. You didn’t buy the ticket but you are travelling so it’s up to you to find out what you can and can’t take. Entertainment is known too. All on their website. Go the US and you pay for all that stuff! Just another lazy passenger having a whinge.

    1. SIA has a 30kg weight limit on international, no restriction on number of bags. It has a 20kg limit on domestic flights, which I guess is regional short haul out of Singapore.

  3. How is receiving 23kg baggage allowance, food and beverage on board, and in-flight entertainment not a full service carrier offering? Perhaps do your research next time before you board.

    1. Full service international carriers do not charge for snacks and drinks or slug customers $130 for a second piece of check-in luggage despite the total weight being well within the guidelines. That is what low cost carriers do. The std weight limit for international flights is 30kg no restrictions on number of bags.

  4. As someone who works for Virgin and used to work for Qantas there are a few holes in your story. Virgin is relatively relaxed on luggage, Qantas on the other hand is strict and instructs its free to stand at the gate and offload ANY items that do not comply with weight limit or amount of bags….there are zero exceptions. Qantas has about 5 different types of inflight product, some WIFI…some screens…some both…some just have iPads in seat pockets. It is widely known that virgin offer internet on every aircraft and wifi entertainment. The service your referring to is wrong, meals and drinks are all complimentary the whole flight on Virgin, only extra snacks or premium spirits are charged for.

    Before you share your opinion perhaps remember that there are many people who can verify or disprove your statements. Oh and on a final note, Virgin Australia is a wonderful airline to work for, unlike Qantas who has designed EBAs and subsidiary contracts designed to pay crew less and less.

    1. Thanks for your perspective Alex. The fact remains I had to pay $130 because I had 2 pieces of luggage not one despite being within weight restrictions. That’s an inflexible rule. Staff were very nice, as I’ve said. I wanted a snack and had to pay for it, a beer was included in the deal I purchased. The meal was free, which I acknowledged. I was unaware passengers had to download an app for entertainment on my phone prior to boarding a six hour flight. I made assumptions which were not correct. My story is based on personal experience, what happened to me, and is factually correct. I’m not sure where the holes are you refer to. I thought that Virgin is a full-service carrier because of its marketing. I now know it is not.

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