The battle to rule the domestic business class market has taken a dark and aromatic turn with Virgin Australia's announcement it will offer capsule coffee to its premium domestic customers.
Business Class passengers aboard its Airbus A330 services will be able to order five different coffees derived from three coffee blends courtesy of an alliance between Virgin and Nespresso.
Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti made the announcement on Monday as he showed off the airline's new domestic business class suite aboard an A330 parked at Sydney Airport.
The new battleground
The avid coffee fan says it's time his domestic customers "can get a decent cup of coffee on an aeroplane for a change". These will include the choice of cappuccino, espresso, macchiato, long black and ristretto.
Australians – and particular the inner-city denizens of Melbourne and Sydney who populate the airline's most trafficked route – take their coffee extremely seriously. As a result, Virgin and Nespresso took their collaboration into an altitude chamber to simulate the effects of high altitude on coffee.
Virgin's head chef Luke Mangan has spent years overcoming this sensory disconnect with the in-flight menus he develops.
"Together we have tackled how to best overcome the fact that we lose 30 per cent of our ability to taste in the sky," he says.
"Working with Nespresso will enable us to have an even more creative approach when it comes to developing coffee-inspired drinks and on-board treats."
Mangan, who trains all Virgin Australia cabin crew in food and drink service, has educated Business Class crew members in using the Nespresso equipment and general coffee knowledge.
And a seat to match
The coffee announcement twins with the unveiling of the Virgin business class suite, which will be rolled out across the airline's domestic A330 fleet.
Borghetti labelled the new seating the world's best for a domestic airline, headlined by the world's longest (80 inches, 203cm) and widest (28 inches, 71cm) fully lie-flat bed for domestic use.
The suite is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration that provides direct aisle access to all Business Class customers, and also includes a 16-inch seat-back touch-screen entertainment system.
The suite also includes a tablet device holder designed specifically for Virgin, plus USB and universal power sockets. Three types of lighting will cater to those who want to read or work.
Mangan says he has also done away with "trays and trolleys", with business customers able to select food from a menu that will be individually prepared and constructed to their request.
All planes in Virgin's A330 fleet will carry the new Business Class cabin. Flights are predominantly between east coast ports – Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – and Perth, although A330s will also appear from time to time on the Sydney-to-Melbourne run.