Virgin’s delayed Boeing 737 MAX to miss start of Tokyo flights

Those Tokyo flights will still go ahead, but they’ll launch on a decade-old Boeing 737.

By David Flynn, May 11 2023
Virgin’s delayed Boeing 737 MAX to miss start of Tokyo flights

Virgin Australia’s first Boeing 737 MAX won’t arrive in time for the launch of the new Cairns-Tokyo route, with the airline confirming a widely-rumoured delay for the next-gen jet.

However, those direct flights between Cairns and Tokyo Haneda will still go ahead on 28 June 2023, only with a decade-old Boeing 737-700 in place of the factory-fresh MAX.

This will be one of two 737-700s fitted with the same business class seats as Virgin’s workhorse Boeing 737-800 fleet, the main difference being that the -700 version has the longer range needed for this route.

“Due to an issue related to a Boeing supplier, there will be a short delay in the delivery of our first Boeing 737-8 aircraft,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said in a statement issued today.

“As a result of the delay, we will operate our Cairns-Haneda (Tokyo) service using our existing Boeing 737-700 aircraft for a short period, starting from the inaugural flight on 28 June 2023.”

A statement released by Boeing says the delay stems from a “non-standard manufacturing process”, but  adds “this is not an immediate safety of flight issue and the in-service fleet can continue operating safely.”

“However, the issue will likely affect a significant number of undelivered 737 MAX aeroplanes both in production and in storage.” 

Virgin expects the delayed delivery of the 737 MAX will be measured “in weeks, not months” - although as of May 10, the airline’s schedule (which is of course subject to change) shows the 737 MAX moving onto Cairns-Tokyo as of August 9 2023, which should be treated as an indicative placeholder rather than a firm and final date.

The airline says once the MAX makes its long journey from Boeing’s assembly centre at Renton, south of Seattle, to Virgin’s Brisbane hangars, it will be slotted into the Cairns-Tokyo route following the usual round of routine regulatory approvals.

As previously reported, the Boeing 737 MAX will also see the debut of new business and economy class seating and herald another chapter in the airline’s return from collapse in early 2020 under new owners Bain Capital.

Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 MAX delivery schedule

  • The first 737 MAX in Virgin Australia livery is now likely to arrive in July-August
  • the airline has previously said two more 737 MAX jets were scheduled to arrive in the July-October quarter
  • the remaining five aircraft from the 737 MAX 8 order were then slated to arrive “from Q4 2023”

That timetable will see Virgin with a four-strong 737 MAX fleet by the end of 2023.

In addiiton to Cairns-Tokyo, Virgin is pencilling in a growing series of domestic and short-range international routes for its MAX fleet, ranging from the Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane triangle and east-west services to Perth to overseas hops to Bali and Fiji.

“It will do a great job for us transcontinental (and) it’ll do a great job for us in more traditional short-haul international routes,” Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has previously remarked. 

Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 MAX business, economy class

Each of Virgin’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets will be crowned by a new business class seat – although this is tipped to be the same design that’s being trialled on two of the airline’s Boeing 737-800s already darting around Virgin’s domestic network. 

Is this the business class seat we'll see on Virgin's Boeing 737 MAX?
Is this the business class seat we'll see on Virgin's Boeing 737 MAX?

Hrdlicka is full of praise for the comfortable and well-appointed seats, which add a leg-rest and storage pocket lacking in the current business class, as well as AC/USB power outlets and a handy holder for tablet and smartphones.

The AC and USB sockets are easily accessed beneath the armrest.
The AC and USB sockets are easily accessed beneath the armrest.

“Our customers love them, and our crew love them too,” Hrdlicka has previously told Executive Traveller, adding the airline remains on a growth trajectory “and the MAX 8 is a modern fuel-efficient replacement” for its workhorse 737-800s.

The new concept economy seat offers a little extra legroom thanks to a slightly slimmer profile, with a fold-out device holder for the passenger’s tablet or smartphone and a handy USB port nearby (although this isn’t active in the seats Virgin is already flying).

Virgin Australia's 'new concept' Boeing 737 economy seats.
Virgin Australia's 'new concept' Boeing 737 economy seats.

And Hrdlicka has no qualms about flying on the MAX, saying the exhaustive testing following two fatal crashes and a global grounding makes it “probably the safest aircraft in the world today.”

Virgin 737 MAX vs Qantas A321neo

While the past two decades have seen Qantas and Virgin both flying the Boeing 737 as the backbone of their domestic inter-city networks, that all changes from the end of 2023, when Qantas will add the Airbus A220 – a game-changing jet capable of tackling inter-city as well as regional routes – with the Qantas Airbus A321XLR joining the fray from late 2024.

However, it appears the first Qantas A321XLRs won’t push that transformative envelope to include lie-flat beds in business class, with Qantas instead settling for an updated version of a premium economy-style recliner at the pointy end.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 155

Hardly surprising with the delays. Surely they would need to stop or run an auxiliary tank as well as the using the lighter weight of the -700, the longest range of any 737 before the Max was about 3000 miles

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 378

Or just block out a heap of economy seats

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 155

An extra 20% from that?

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 378

Stated max range is full cargo and full passengers. It's amazing how much extra range you can get when you don't take on additional cargo and block out a heap of seats. Also allows additional fuel to be onboarded up to the max take off weight.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 615

. . . . or, keep the middle seat vacant ?


09 Nov 2011

Total posts 32

Cancelling my VA flights for 30 June and rebooking with ANA, whilst I was more than happy with the ‘new’ J class seat for the 7.5hour flight, I’m not paying to be in one of the old 700’s. It’s a super cheap J class to Haneda but not cheap enough to make it worth it on old stock.

30 Aug 2019

Total posts 25

Where do you plan on crediting the points to? I have the same issue, but with the VA partnership not up and running, I'm thinking I'll credit to SQ.


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 897

I've already put a booking in on ANA, just hopefully I can retro the points and status credits when they come online.

As an old 747 pilot said to me """"""Sydney - Cairns - Tokyo""""

09 Sep 2020

Total posts 14

A really great airline that reasons of their own seem reluctant to bring back International Long Haul flights, and leaving it to United to do so. Had extremely good experiences with Virgin Australia long haul flights and sadly miss their 777ERs , a good aircraft and honestly miss the great attitude of the flight crews and "nothing is too hard" attitude and passenger focus that  they made the passengers feel at home and respected. One day we may see VA once more visiting the US but not in the foreseeable  future. Cairns -Haneda is a step in the right direction but can they at least think about US gateways. Sorry for my rant

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2012

Total posts 215

New aircraft not fitted with lie-flat Business seats? Unbelievable.


09 Mar 2016

Total posts 57

Close to $4000 (advance purchase) in VA’s business class MEL-HND with a stop in Cairns, no lounge anywhere. Never happening.

$9000 MEL-HND (advance purchase) in VA/NH business with terminal change in SYD.  You get NH.s mid-haul soft product which can be okay on the day flight but sucks on the red eye. Love NH but $9K is robbery.

$4300 or (advance purchase on SQ business) change in SIN (good lounges), the bed on the 77 and 350 is not great, more comfortable on the 78-10 but very narrow. Soft product impeccable, price about a thousand more than two years ago, but bearable.

Why would anyone pay more than like $1900 for a day bolt upright in a 737, no lounges, and Cairns? Not I. 

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 212

They seriously need to work on lounge access for international flights. Currently it is non existent. I will not travel with them until they provide reciprocal access. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 615

Nailed it, Big Fella, nailed it.  How this omission could so easily be dismissed/over looked is beyond me.  Even on the Bali run (perhaps VA's most profitable international sector?), Goldies and Plats are expected to suck-it-up and not complain.  Not any more.  

04 Dec 2017

Total posts 72

Who in their right mind would pay and sit in a 737 (in this case a model with a dubious legacy) that long. It's a major pass from me. Lot's of choice getting to Japan thankfully.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Nov 2020

Total posts 5

Bing 'Chat' says the distance from CNS to HND is 5,838 KM (7h 22 mins). And the 737-700 has a range over 6,000 KM. 

WRT other potential MAX routes — I'm hoping for PER to AKL direct (5,348 KM).  

PER/SYD/BNE/MEL to Singapore could be popular? 

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1189

VA has currently said it is not interested in restarting trunk routes to New Zealand so PER-AKL is probably unlikely.

I can't see VA trying routes into SIN in competition with Singapore Airlines with whom it codeshares.


10 Sep 2013

Total posts 3

This delay will not be weeks, expect the 737 Max in August or September

31 Jan 2013

Total posts 42

VA cannot call that Business Class, at least not on international routes. Even the new seats are Premium Economy at best. I would not want to be an excited but inexperienced first time J Class passenger hopping on board and looking for their lie flat suite 

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