Richard Branson Celebrates Virgin Australia’s Haneda Permission

Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Airlines Group, celebrated in true Virgin style his Australian airline’s win of one of two Tokyo Haneda slots by creating the world’s largest sushi train.

Virgin Australia
Sir Richard Branson rides the world’s biggest sushi train at Brisbane airport. Photo: Simple Flying

What are the details?

Virgin Australia and Qantas operate head to head on many routes, such as Los Angeles, Hong Kong and domestically throughout Australia. Originally only Qantas, ANA and Japan Airlines operated direct routes between Australia and Japan, but when two new Tokyo Haneda slots came up for grabs, Virgin Australia made its move.

The airline proposed that instead of giving both slots to Qantas, who would simply operate yet another two daily services between Australia and Japan from Sydney and Melbourne, they would operate a daily flight direct from Brisbane.

Vigin Australia A330-200
Virgin Australia will use an Airbus A330-200 for the new route. Photo: Virgin Australia

The benefits are three-fold. First, this will be the first flight to connect the two airports together (Qantas operates to Tokyo’s Narita airport), it will open up connectivity to a whole new market for both Japanese and Australian tourists and will also introduce competition into the route in a massive win for customers.

Virgin Australia Group Managing Director and CEO Paul Scurrah said to Media,

“I’m delighted to be announcing our new flights to Japan and bringing our competitive airfares and award-winning service to this market for the very first time. This announcement is a real milestone both for Virgin Australia and Queensland, as we become the first airline to connect Brisbane to the closest and most convenient airport in Tokyo.”

Flights are expected to go on sale from next month, for flights from March 2020 onwards. This new service will bring around 100,000 new seats to the market (competitively priced against Qantas’ monopoly) each way each year. The Tokyo bound flight will be during the morning and the return flight will be overnight.

Virgin Australia celebrates its new Japan route. Photo: Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons.

How did Virgin Australia celebrate?

Of course, it wouldn’t be Virgin without the trademark coolness that they bring to all their events.

To celebrate, Virgin Australia actually turned their baggage carousel at Brisbane airport into the world’s biggest sushi train. Then the media were surprised by the appearance of Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, who entered the baggage hall with much fanfare and the roaring of trumpets.

“I’m thrilled Virgin Australia will fly from Brisbane to Japan from March next year. Tokyo is a wonderful destination and it’s about time travelers between these two cities got to experience the fantastic Virgin Australia awarding winning service” mentioned Sir Richard Branson

“I’ve been lucky enough to visit Japan many times and I know Virgin Australia is going to be welcomed there with open arms. Aussie travelers are also in for a real treat although I don’t think giant sushi has made it onto the onboard menu just yet!” 

The event ended with a tease that this was only the beginning and that the airline had many more surprises in store for the commencement of their Japan service, and for those passengers choosing to fly to Japan.

Richard took a moment to speak to the press. Photo: Simple Flying

What does this mean for passengers?

The introduction of this new service is rather groundbreaking for the Australian / Japanese market. Gert-Jan de Graaff, Chief Executive Officer Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC), mentioned to press,

“The granting of a Haneda slot for Australia presented a genuine ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ for Brisbane to ensure that Queensland was connected with both of Tokyo’s airports.

“The allocation of this slot to Brisbane Airport’s home carrier, Virgin Australia, has confirmed Brisbane as a premier hub for Queensland and Australia, and we have no doubt the services will be hugely popular, further strengthening ties between Queensland and Japan.”

Better yet, Virgin Australia has partnered up with ANA to provide code sharing on this route. Passengers flying onwards from Japan will be able to book through the ANA network via Tokyo and access all over Japan and the greater region. Japanese tourists will also now be able to use the Virgin Australia network to complete a countrywide trip of the land down under.

Virgin Australia Group’s new reciprocal codeshare and frequent flyer partnership with All Nippon Airways (ANA) will provide guests traveling outbound from Australian access to 1,800 return flights to 38 points in Japan. All Nippon Airways (ANA) is Japan’s largest airline and has received a 5 Star rating from Skytrax every year since 2013. – Virgin Australia Press Release

But this new service does come at a cost. Virgin Australia will be reducing its Hong Kong to Melbourne frequencies and moving its A330 aircraft to this new route. The move is a loss for passengers who relied on these extra flights, but a good business move by the Australian airline who has seen numbers fall on Hong Kong-bound journeys thanks to the unrest in the city-state.

What is like onboard the Virgin A330?

The Virgin Australia A330 is not actually the biggest aircraft in the Virgin fleet with the airline operating a longer Boeing 777 aircraft on its profitable Los Angeles route.

Virgin Australia has an outstanding business class product on its A330-200s. Photo: Virgin Australia.

As such, the Virgin Australia A330-200 only has two classes onboard, skipping the premium economy found on their eastbound flights. Business class, known as ‘The Business’, features a flatbed with 60 inches of pitch in a cabin with a 1-2-1 configuration (comparatively, Qantas offers a 73-inch pitch business class seat on their A330, a review of which you can find here). Economy has 31 inches of pitch in a passenger preferred 2-4-2 configuration.

For a review of the Economy experience, you can check out this review here.

What do you think? Will you be flying on the new Virgin Australia route to Japan? Let us know in the comments.