It has been a tough six months for Virgin Australia. There has been broad public support to keep it in the air. But in recent weeks, that support and goodwill have eroded slightly as word leaks of costs getting reined in and frills being cut. Proving that you should never get between a passenger and their next meal, reductions to inflight catering at Virgin Australia are getting a significant amount of attention.
Virgin Australia loses its reputation for good business class food
After Virgin Australia’s collapse, the airline found new owners. Understandably, the new owners have a laser-like focus on the bottom line. That focus manifests in a lot of areas passengers don’t notice. But one thing they do notice are cuts to inflight catering.
It’s fair to say catering at Virgin Australia has fallen off a cliff this year.
For a while, catering cuts were attributed to health and safety concerns. But that argument wore thin as other airlines, including Qantas, began to step up their in-flight catering again. Soon, it became clear, the catering cuts at Virgin Australia were more about saving money. Despite this, Virgin Australia continues to say guests’ safety and well-being is behind the scaled back catering. A spokesperson told Simple Flying today;
“The safety and wellbeing of our guests is always our top priority, and we have a variety of safety measures throughout our customer journey to minimize risks associated with COVID-19, including reducing contact by offering a limited-service onboard temporarily.”
Instant noodles get everyone’s attention
Travelers who stalk frequent flyer forums had been highlighting the issue for some time. But it burst into the spotlight recently when mainstream media reported a disgruntled business class passenger posting pictures of their in-flight lunch – cheap instant noodles.
— boringaccountant (@ildiko42749502) October 13, 2020
The original social media post referenced lunch on a transcontinental flight, taking around five hours and costing approximately US$1800.
Virgin Australia’s new owners, Bain Capital, has torn up contracts with the airline’s previous caterer, Gate Gourmet. They’d also cut loose their former in-house celebrity consultant chef, Luke Mangan. Virgin Australia 2.0 was feeding its passengers from stored supplies.
A leaked internal memo surfaced on Executive Traveler’s Twitter feed. That memo instructed flight attendants to only offer one complimentary snack in business class and not to offer food at all in economy class unless specifically asked.
— Executive Traveller (@AusBT) October 11, 2020
Even worse, they’d run out of wine.
Since that low point, Virgin Australia has ordered in more drinks. They’ve also embraced the idea that’s there’s no such thing as bad publicity, using the noodle fiasco in a sales promotion last week.
Forget 2 minutes, how about 2 years? Future Flight credits have landed ✈️ You now have until 31/07/22 to book and up to 30/06/23 to travel. Increased credit flexibility? Now that’s everyone’s cup of noodles 😉 🍜
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) October 22, 2020
Chickpea mix rumored to be sticking around
Meanwhile, improved business class meals are due to commence in November. They still won’t be flash. The ubiquitous chickpea mix is rumored to feature heavily. This time around, Virgin Australia can’t even call it a Luke Mangan inspired chickpea mix.
“From this week, our business class guests will enjoy a selection of tea, coffee, wine, beer, and soft drinks onboard, and from next week they’ll also enjoy a more substantial food offering,” Virgin Australia’s spokesperson said.
“We are currently reviewing our onboard catering offer for the future, and are looking forward to developing a new experience to suit customer needs.”
Whether you need a full meal on a short 90 minute or two-hour flight is an open question. But on longer flights, particularly those Darwin and east-west runs, many passengers appreciate decent catering.
But the signs are Virgin Australia is heading downmarket. They wouldn’t use that term, of course. But however you phrase it, the good times and decent meals in the Virgin Australia business class cabin are probably over.
In the meantime, you can always BYO food.