Review: Virgin Australia Domestic – Sydney-Ballina Byron

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The domestic Australian airline market is pretty crowded and Virgin Australia has carved out a pretty decent reputation. It’s up against Qantas, Jetstar, Rex and newcomers like Bonza. Virgin Australia operates out of 3 main hubs: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, serving 32 destinations with a fleet of 106 aircraft, the majority of which are Boeing 737-800s.

The airline has been through some corporate chopping and changing since it was bought by Bain Capital in 2020, but seems to have settled into a steadier pattern recently as its major routes picked up speed after the pandemic.

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA VA1139

Boeing 737-800

Sydney to Ballina (SYD-BNK)

Seat: 6A (Economy)

Duration: 62m

Virgin Australia: Pricing

My route from Sydney to Ballina Byron Airport is served by Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin and one way fares can run as low as $40 AUD. Perhaps I was flying on a busy day, as I paid a base fare of $109 and opted to “upgrade” to seat selection (to guarantee a window seat) for $14. Total fare – $123AUD.

Virgin Australia: Baggage Rules

For my ticket, one piece of checked luggage was included as well as hand luggage of 7kg total. Personally, I think Australian carriers are overly attached to the idea of hand luggage weight (why is 7kg the optimal weight?). Qantas is the only outlier, permitting 10kg. But as I carry some technical equipment, that might just be me.

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Ground Experience – Sydney Domestic Terminal 2

My flight was a short one, from Sydney (Domestic Terminal 2) to Ballina Byron Airport. The terminal is home to most of the domestic Australian carriers, bar Qantas, which can be found in Terminal 3 (a short walk away). The train station is between the Terminals for ease of access.

You can check-in on your phone, but I chose to use one of the touchscreen check-in units at the airport as I needed a bag tag for my one piece of checked luggage. A member of staff was available at one side for people experiencing problems. The actual line for bag drop was pretty long. And this isn’t really a quick “bag drop and go” – a Virgin Australia check-in agent still checked identification and weighed my suitcase.

Security at the domestic terminal was slow and thorough – no complaints with that.

Sydney Terminal 2 – Airside Food & Shopping

There’s a heap of shops and restaurants to choose from in Terminal 2, after security. On the morning I was there, the biggest queue was at McDonalds for breakfast snacks and every coffee shop had a line-up too.

As I had some time to kill, I took a walk to a quieter part of the terminal and enjoyed my skinny flat white from Veloce. Service was efficient.

Boarding

Gate 44 was our boarding gate for the Sydney-Ballina route. This is a busy part of the terminal with fewer services directly at the gate, but there were plenty of seats.

Virgin Australia boards those needing assistance or time first, which is always the best thing. Passengers in business or status holders were invited forward and then boarding was opened to everyone. There were no crazy lines or the pushing you can get elsewhere: all very calm and considered.

On Board & In-flight service

The interior of this Boeing 737-800 was clean and fresh. Business class had these leather-style seats in a 2-2 configuration, in front of the purple perspex window (that was a first for me!). A small red velvet rope was used after takeoff to ensure plebs (people like me in Economy) didn’t come forward to use the facilities!

Virgin Australia: Passenger Comfort

Seat

Honestly, my regular window seat was perfectly comfortable with a 31 inch pitch and adequate width. I don’t see enough of a different here to warrant upgrading, unless you needed a meal or your job provides you with business class.

Toilet

There are two toilets to the rear of the aircraft and one to the front for business class. As a smaller short-range aircraft, the 737 loos are pretty tight.

Entertainment – IFE and Virgin Australia Wi-Fi

These Boeings have no in-flight entertainment/IFE screens. However, there was wi-fi on board. Thirty minutes of access was $9.95, or you could get access for the entire flight for $14.95.

Virgin Australia Menu – Food & Drink

Tea, coffee and water was provided for free. Don’t expect caffeine miracles: the coffee is perfectly fine but is maybe a 4/10.

When flying with all of the main Australian carriers, I priced the cost of a snack and drink. A Coke Zero (250ml) and small Pringles cost $4 and $5 respectively – a total of $9 AUD on Virgin Australia.

Virgin Australia – Air Conditioning

Aficionados of personal air will be glad to know that the Virgin fit-out includes personally-controlled air vents for your comfort.

The Flight

This was a short flight of just 62 minutes and was entirely smooth with excellent weather for the entire route. The Boeing 737 pushed back at 10.55, just 5 minutes behind schedule. Wheels were up at 11.01 and wheels down at 12.03, 2 minutes ahead of schedule.

Ballin Byron Gateway Airport: Arrivals

Disembarkation at Ballina Byron Airport was prompt. As the airport is so tiny, the ground staff was on standby with stairs. However, baggage did take 35 minutes from arrival to seeing my bag appear on the carousel. It appeared that just two people were unloading the aircraft and offloading bags on to the carousel. I didn’t envy them in the heat!

Virgin Australia: Final Impressions

This was a well-run flight from Virgin Australia with friendly and efficient staff on board. Although baggage took a while to appear at Byron, it was no big deal as I had to wait around for a while for a connecting bus to Byron Bay and nobody was in a major rush. Note that you can get a much cheaper deal by taking hand luggage only and booking ahead.

You can find more details on the best things to do in Byron Bay, and the hotel I used (Vali Byron) on my second blog, Trek Solo.

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I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

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