A new weapon has been rolled out in the battle for business class travellers on the Australia-US route.
It's not a seat that converts into a fully-flat bed: all airlines flying this competitive corridor already tick that box. Nor is it the convenience of being able to step straight from your business class seat into the aisle, rather than awkwardly climbing over a slumbering seat mate: Virgin Australia, American Airlines and Delta Airlines all offer that through their 1-2-1 cabin layout.
The latest twist for high flyers is the inflight bar on Virgin Australia's upgraded Boeing 777-300ER jets, which run daily between Sydney and Los Angeles and alternate days on the Brisbane-LAX route (until another plane rolls out of the make-over hangar by the end of August).
The tended bar, where passengers can enjoy wines, beers, spirits and cocktails, brings a generous serve of jet-set glamour to the 14 hour trans-Pacific trek.
Cleverly flanking the Boeing's main entry/exit zone, where you can't put much else (and certainly not seats), the bar is part of an extensive overhaul that has arguably seen Virgin Australia snatch the crown for the best business class experience across the Pacific.
This includes a superb new seat that's wide, comfortable, well-appointed and stretches to just over two metres in bed mode, with an insanely large 18-inch video screen.
But it's the bar – which is exclusive to business class passengers – that really stands out.
It's not just about the drinks, although it's hard to go past a dram or two of 12-year-old Balvenie. The bar serves a range of snacks throughout the flight, and you can even take your breakfast there – an option which seemed popular with several passengers on my recent flight.
Up and about
The bar really comes into its own a few hours into the flight, as passengers stretch their legs and take the chance to socialise with colleagues and other business class travellers.
It's nice to get out of your seat, no matter how comfortable a cocoon it may be. Visiting the bar breaks up the usual 'sit, eat, movie and sleep' routine, gets your legs moving (not to mention your elbow), and also makes the flight seem much shorter.
I was curious to see how much noise made its way to business class passengers in the first row of seats past the bar. Fortunately, sound-deadening curtains cut the companionable chatter to a murmur, which then vanishes when you slip on the supplied noise-cancelling headphones to watch a movie or listen to some music.
As it happens, Virgin Australia is among only a handful of airlines to offer an inflight bar. The Branson-branded sibling Virgin Atlantic – which sadly no longer flies to Australia – also boasts sky-high cocktail bars across its Boeing 747, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A340 fleet.
The mile-high bar club
Apart from the Virgin twins, bars are the exclusive domain of the spacious Airbus A380 superjumbo. This includes the cocktail bar at the rear of Emirates' A380 upper deck; the bar/lounge area on Qatar Airways' superjumbo, with its sweeping sofa-style seating; and The Lobby nook on Etihad Airways' A380 with its semi-circular leather sofa, marquetry table and 32-inch screen with live TV.
Of course, inflight bars stretch back to those fondly-remembered days when flying was something special – albeit also something beyond the reach of most people.
Many airlines which flew the first Boeing 747 jumbo jet decked out the 'Queen of the Skies' with bars and lounges, most often in the plane's upstairs 'hump'.
This included the celebrated Captain Cook Lounge of the Qantas Boeing 747s, a 'restaurant in the sky' for Pan Am's first class flyers and a piano bar in the nose of American Airlines' jumbo fleet.
Click through the gallery above to see the current crop of inflight bar options, plus a flashback to some of the first inflight bars.
David Flynn travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Virgin Australia.
Have you visited an inflight bar when flying international business or first class? What did you think? Let us know in the Comments section.
Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.