Onboard V Australia’s Boeing 777

This past Friday, Gadling got a special invitation to tour V Australia‘s new Boeing 777 jumbo jet, the aircraft that will soon fly routes between California and Australia on the world’s newest airline.
We’ll get to into all of the hobknobbery of the event in a forthcoming post, but for now, lets take a look through the aircraft.

Each Boeing 777-300 has three classes of service: Business, Premium Economy and Economy.

Like most other transpacific products, economy is fairly cramped with 3 x 3 x 3 seating (32″ of leg room and 6″ seat pitch,) cloth seats and rows upon rows of cattle. Sections are fairly compartmentalized among rows 20-25, 26-38 and 40-52, with each cabin separated by lavs and galleys respectively, so you can bet that the smaller sub-cabin is going to be quieter.

Exit rows have plenty of space, and if you’re going to pitch for a set, I would recommend row 26, because row 20 has bassinets and row 39 has a galley nearby.

Thankfully, each seat has an LCD running the Panasonic RED system with an additional USB port, so you can stay entertained with movies, games and music or charge your iPod. Bulkhead seats have video screens in the armrests. Contrary to other reports, however, there is no in-seat power. Alternatively, a flight attendant that we spoke with said that there is AC power in the rear galley, so you can always wander back and plug in.


Premium Economy is much more posh, with leather seats in a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration, so if you and a mate want some privacy you can book a window pair. LCD screens are a bit larger, seat pitch (9″) is more generous and leg room (38″) is more available, so your overall experience should be an order of magnitude better. There are only 5 rows of Premium Economy for a total of 30 seats, and each row is equipped with A/C power.

Finally, Business class is sectioned into two compartments with row 5 separated from rows 1-4 by the forward bar. The fully flat seats are in a standard 2 x 3 x 2 configuration and offer small privacy screens that you can raise between each. Given that each seat can recline fully, there is an astounding 77″ of leg room for each person, which means that you can basically play a small game of flag football with the space you have. Additionally, the front cabin offers bed turn down service, pajamas and the ability to eat your meals whenever you want, affording those who want to sleep or be left alone the flexibility to still have a hot meal.

Naturally, those up for a chat in Business class can also slip back to the front bar for a free beverage. Above the front bar there is a raised motif where one can look up at a (simulated) northern cross constellation — apparently the brass wanted a window up to the sky, but Boeing couldn’t fit that into the design.

Throughout the entire cabin, Virgin’s trademark “mood lighting” is prevalent, and even if you are off put by the pink and green seats, the purple and blue overhead lights can be remarkably calming. In some areas, a simulated starscape pattern also broods from the ceiling (pictured).

Overall, the best part about the aircraft is the clean, crisp aesthetic. Straight from the factory floor, this 777-300 has a solid, comfortable feel about it, and we’re sure that any transoceanic trip in this bird that’s in Premium Economy or Business will be outstanding. Coach might be comparable to the competition, but where V Australia could really excel is in the service. We’ll see how that performs in March.

Open Skies: In flight Economy

Looking at the economy configuration, you don’t immediately see many differences between the Open Skies product and any other transoceanic carrier.

But a closer look at the product reveals the perks. Seats are new, all-leather and surprisingly comfortable. With only about thirty seats in the cabin, there is a quieter, personal feel in the area, which means that if the baby three rows ahead of you starts crying it’s not going to reverberate as dramatically. The back of the plane, rows 18 – 14 make up the economy section with a hard bulkhead at the front, so if you’re concerned about legroom don’t sit in row 14.

Like other transoceanic carriers, both recline and legroom are limited in this section as well (I poked my head around the seat and decided not to recline into the dinner of the woman behind me), but such is the nature of coach.

Once airborne, an Archos 705 portable media player (many with the clear plastic still on the screen) chocked with 20 new releases and 42 TV shows including Ugly Betty, Family Guy and 30 Rock is dropped off. In addition, 66 musical artists with 777 titles are loaded as well as 10 simple interactive games. This In Flight Entertainment (IFE) is standard throughout the aircraft, although the headphones passed out in Economy and Prem + are a little flimsier than those given out in Biz.

Navigating the system is as simple as choosing French or English at startup and tapping what ever menu option you want on the screen. The entire system is refreshingly responsive, unlike many of the IFE that I have tested, which I partially believe is because the systems run independent from the aircraft. So when there’s a glitch in the server or row 10 isn’t working, the flight attendant doesn’t have to reboot the entire system. The bad part about this is that you don’t get integrated into the aircraft computer, so you don’t get GPS or network data, but the pros seem to outweigh these points.

In coach, these system strap to the back of the seat in front of you (or the bulkhead), while Prem + and Biz seats have dedicated arms and slots for the systems.

Meal service still has the same “chicken, pasta or fish” options with similar portions to other carriers. In spite of the portions, all meals are served on ceramic dishes with real flatware, so even if you aren’t eating better food you feel better about eating it. Food service is standard between Economy and Prem + as well, so you won’t be paying extra for that if you opt for second class tickets.

Continue onward to In flight: Prem + or skip ahead to

In flight: Biz
Transfer in from Orly
Return trip logistics
The final word


Open Skies: In flight Prem +

What you are paying for in Prem + is for comfort and leg room. The biggest difference between the Economy and Prem + cabins is the sheer volume of space alloted to each passenger. Seats in Prem + are much more pleasant at 20″ wide with a 140 degree recline and a 52″ seat pitch, resulting in four seats per row instead of six.

A generous armrest containing two brackets for your IFE system is between each pair of seats while a tray table and controls for recline, lumbar, leg rest and footrest extension are on the other side.

Another significant perk between Economy and Prem+ is the power port available between all Prem + seats. On an eight hour flight with a two hour battery, this can make the entire difference between getting a little and a lot of work done. It’s worth noting that this feature isn’t unique to Open Skies though; plenty of carriers offer in-seat power in their cabins (even coach) – it’s just that power only goes to the back of Prem + on this airline.

Continue onward to In flight: Biz

Transfer in from Orly
Return trip logistics
The final word


Open Skies: In flight Biz

The first thing that you notice when you reach the Biz seats is that all window seats face aft. Seats are laid out in a head-to-toe orientation so that they fit comfortably together and so that you can compartmentalize your seat easier. I chose a window because I like watching as the aircraft ascends out of New York City and because I don’t like the aisle traffic.

While your seat has to be in an “upright and locked position” during ascent, shortly after the flight, you can fold down an ottoman in front of you and prop your feet up. Later, this section comes in handy for your lie-flat bed. To your left is a control panel that adjusts over-shoulder-light, lumbar and recline, while under the seat is a little compartment in which you can stash your shoes. By your left hip is a 120V power outlet where you can plug your laptop (or a blender, if there is enough current) while the tray table is stowed in the arm rest to your right.

Together, the two facing chairs sort of form a yin-yang mirror image of each other. Luckily there is an accordion shade that you can draw between them in case you don’t want to stare at your fellow row mate. In my case, 2 B C and D were empty, so I left the shade down.

Once at a reasonable altitude, Christopher dropped off an amenity kit with socks and other toiletries as well as a pair of Sennheiser noise canceling head phones and my Archos 705 portable media player.

Not long after I figured out the IFE system, he stopped by again with my first course and a glass of wine, followed by Wendy, the purser, with a basket of at least four types of bread. I was still kind of full from pre-flight supper, but ate half of the vegetables while I took notes.

Since I was backwards facing the galley, all that I had to do to get my duck was glance up and smile, and one of the flight attendants came back with the next course. While I wasn’t entirely thrilled by the duck (in retrospect, who expects an airline duck to be superior), Christopher did come back with a New York cheesecake that was downright outstanding.

Fifteen minutes after finishing dessert, “I am Legend” came to a close on my video box so I decided to get ready for bed. At this point, it was already past three hours into my flight and I needed rest if I wanted to function the next day anyway.

A thick blanket and even thicker duvet were provided for my short nap, so once I returned from the lav I lowered the seat all of the way to the flat position, spread out the blanket and crawled under the duvet; in it’s lowest position, the bed mates with the ottoman to form a totally flat bed. Stretched out completely, the length of the bed was about 6’1, which is a bit of shame because I’m 6’3, but I was still impressed with the length – after all, it is on an airplane.

My primary problem with sleeping on transatlantic flights is on the earlier departures. Many people like to leave between 5 and 7 PM to get more time in the city the next day, but I find that one rarely gets sleep on these flights and the next day just becomes miserable. My personal preference is to leave in the 8-10PM window, sleep for several hours on the flight and attempt to have a normal day (albeit later) in Europe.

Needless to say, I got an hour or so of sleep before Wendy came over and poked me to let me know that breakfast was on the way. I hadn’t even slept enough to be groggy, so I obliged, pulled my seat up and got my things in order before a breakfast box with a ham and cheese sandwich, croissant, yogurt and fresh squeezed orange juice showed up. Still full from my two dinners, I nibbled on the yogurt and caught up on the FARC in the New York Times that I had sequestered from the BA lounge before we started our descent into Orly.

On arrival I find that I am surprisingly awake. I have always mused if jetlag was a virus of sorts, where increased exposure gives you better resistance to the disease – and sooner or later your body just automatically adapts. Perhaps the tiredness will set in later.

Continue onward to Transfer in from Orly or skip ahead to

Return trip logistics
The final word

Open Skies: Transfer in from Orly

Several people that I have spoken with have expressed concern that Open Skies doesn’t fly into Charles De Gaulle, the main airport in Paris. Is Orly further out and harder to get to than CDG?

No, it’s not. It actually might be closer. To transfer in from ORY, you can use several options which I’ll run through in order of risk/cost ratio – lowest risk, highest cost first.

Parisian cabs can be caught at the front of the airport, which is a short walk from the baggage claim. You can give your driver your hotel address and he’ll take you straight there, or, since you flew in on Open Skies you can call the concierge, give the phone to the driver and let them sort it out. Bear in mind that this will probably cost you over 50 Euro.

The Orly bus also picks you up at the front of the airport and will drop you off at various locations in downtown Paris. Since you’re getting in around rush hour, expect a bit of traffic and a 30 – 40 minute commute, but nothing spectacularly uncomfortable, time consuming or expensive. Tickets are around 10 Euro.

You can also connect to the commuter rail, or RER, via the Orlyval, ORY’s version of the Airtrain. That train will drop you off at RER B’s Antony station, which will take you about 15 minutes to get into the center of Paris. You can buy a ticket at the airport for about 9,20E that should connect you all of the way through, just keep your ticket handy because you have to swipe it on the way out.

Continue onward to Return trip logistics or skip ahead to

The final word