Tomorrow Australia's newest airline, Bonza, will complete the first phase of its rollout, with flights on 27 routes to 17 destinations all launched, bookable and in full operation. In the space of just over three months, the airline that some senior industry figures said would never get off the ground has done so much more than that.

Bonza has introduced the Boeing 737 MAX 8 to the Australian public, making flying cheaper than a tank of petrol when airline fares had gone through the roof and connecting communities with nonstop flights that simply did not exist before it arrived. It is still the only Australian airline operating the 737 MAX, the quietest and most comfortable aircraft in the market and well worth a ride with fares starting at AU$49 ($33).

Bonza Inflight Service without carts
Photo: Bonza

With the PR, route launches and celebratory cakes about to end, for now, it's time to run an eye over what a Bonza flight is like from a passenger's perspective. Two weeks ago, I traveled with Bonza from Melbourne International Airport to the Queensland city of Bundaberg, located around 360 kilometers (226 miles) north of Brisbane. Here is my trip report.

Check-in and security

Bonza operates from both Melbourne Airport (MEL), sometimes referred to as Tullamarine, and Melbourne Avalon (AVV), giving people on both sides of the city a departure point within easy reach. Melbourne Airport is Bonza's second base and home to two of its Boeing 737 MAX 8s. It is the only capital city in the network, offering flights to nine destinations in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

The airport has four terminals, and Bonza is located in T4, which is also the home of Rex and some of Jetstar and Virgin Australia's flights. Check-in and bag drop is in a common user area which Bonza shares with Rex, and the combination of simple self-check units and helpful staff makes both a painless process. To test the system, I asked for assistance and one of the airport's ground-handling team quickly got me through the process and on my way.

Melbourne Airport T4 Security Doran-7831
Photo: Michael Doran Simple Flying

Bonza is a fully digital airline and everything is on the My Bonza app, although, again, to test the system, I turned up with a paper boarding pass which worked just as well as the electronic version on my phone. As a predominantly leisure carrier, part of Bonza's strategy is to operate at times when airports are not packed, which makes check-in and getting through security much quicker than flying at peak times.

Melbourne has upgraded its screening systems in T4 so laptops and aerosols can be left in cabin bags, but for some reason, belts have to be removed. It took around ten minutes from entering the terminal to get through the initial process and arrival at the gate.

Bonza MEL Bundaberg Doran-7862
Photo: Michael Doran Simple Flying

Bonza's gate is at the end of the terminal pier, and with no peak-hour crowding, it is a calm and inviting space. There was one passenger who arrived in a wheelchair and was quietly and very efficiently handled by the Bonza team, colloquially known as Bonza Legends, and without any fuss was able to board the aircraft. Boarding is done via stairs and, although the 737 was nearly full, it also happened without any undue delay.

The Bonza experience

One of the nice things about buying a new car is that unique smell, which is still there on the new 737-8s, with today's flight operated by Shiela, or VH-UJK. I was sitting mid-cabin and while this was not my first Bonza flight, it still surprises and delights me that I can sit in the seat and my knees don't touch the one in front. I have flown in all four of Bonza's fleet, and the sparkling condition of the relatively new aircraft, not to mention the lightness and airiness of the cabin, is a welcome change.

Bonza 737 MAX 8 Doran 6396
Photo: Michael Doran Simple Flying

The larger overhead bins do speed up the usual cabin bag bottleneck and that's a good thing because as a low-cost carrier Bonza charges for checked bags, so space for carry-on is important. This is a minor point, but announcements are made clearly and crisply, with the volume loud enough to catch everyone's attention - that helps to get the cabin settled and flight AB1003 away on time.

The seats also feature in-seat power with a USB point located at eye-level on the seatback, removing any fumbling around to connect the device. There is also a power outlet located at the base of the seat, which can keep laptops charged. While the MAX is a great aircraft, it is what Bonza is doing onboard that may be the absolute highlight of the experience.

Bonza 737 MAX Doran-6399
Photo: Michael Doran Simple Flying

Clearly, the airline is about disrupting the status quo, be that its point-to-point routes from regional ports, low-cost fares or book-on-the-app approach. For me, the biggest and best change is that there are no inflight catering carts at all, so the aisle never becomes an obstacle course of carts that race from one end to the other, blocking toilet access before disappearing behind the curtain.

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It's a digital cafe

On a Bonza aircraft, the meals, drinks and Budgie Smugglers are ordered and paid for on the Fly Boza app and then delivered, on a tray, by one of the Legends to your seat. And then, if you want something else or just more of the same, it's just a few clicks on the app and the process repeats. While not particularly tech-savvy I had no trouble placing an order for the Big Brekkie, which contains a cold-pressed orange juice, a Mamma Kaz banana bread waffle and a hot cheese and ham croissant.

I placed the order on the app at 10:23, and it arrived at my seat at 10:38, with AU$16.20 ($10.70) leaving my bank account just as quickly. Later on in the flight I ordered coffee which arrived in around 10 minutes, despite the 186-seat aircraft being close to full.

Bonza Brekkie
Photo: Michael Doran Simple Flying

Without the carts, the cabin is quieter, and the passengers can choose when and what they want to eat, which is pretty amazing when you remember you're on a low-cost carrier. The crew makes an announcement ahead of closing the service, rather like calling for last orders in a pub, and as they have collected the empties along the way, there is no rubbish cart collection at the end.

There is no doubt this is a revolutionary change in Australian aviation and that it places more pressure on the crew to keep up with the orders and deliver the service the system demands. I learned that the Legends at both ends of the plane can electronically see every order on their tablet and its status, so they can move through the aircraft to keep all the zones catered to and share the load.

Bonza Inflight Drinks
Photo: Michael Doran Simple Flying

The other notable part of the service is that Bonza has partnered with multiple local suppliers from their destinations, some of which are social enterprises, while several others donate a percentage of profits to charities. There are more than 40 products on the all-Aussie menu, which come from small and medium size boutique suppliers like craft breweries, wine and fruit juice makers, chocolate companies, food producers and cake bakers.

Bonza Bundaberg Victory Draught -33
Photo: Bonza

While there is plenty of choice, I would suggest that if the Snag In A Bag is on the menu, you order early, as this is fast becoming a legend in its own right. On my flight, Melbourne craft beer maker The Local Brewing Co launched their Victory Draught, a beer developed in partnership with A-League football team Melbourne Victory, also a member of the 777 Partners group of businesses.


Flight AB1003 arrived at Bundaberg airport (BDB) twelve minutes early at 12:16, after a 2:18 hour flight. Before Bonza's launch, there were no direct flights between Bundaberg and Melbourne and the only way to get there was via Sydney or Brisbane, an expensive and time-consuming option.

Bonza Bundaberg Doran
Photo: Michael Doran I Simple Flying

As the airport was serviced only by turboprop aircraft previously, the arrival of the 737 MAX grew a tidy crowd who lined up along the airport fence and from other vantage points to get a glimpse of the new plane. Getting off was quick and easy, although being a Bonza launch, there was plenty of purple-clad locals on hand to give a typically warm country welcome.

The Verdict

Bonza is unashamedly charting its own course with a very clear strategy of bringing air travel to the many, not just the few who can afford it. On many routes, it aims to replace long car trips - often the only way for families and friends to connect - and to bring low-cost, nonstop flights to regions that simply don't have them.

Bonza 737 MAX 8 takes off from Sunshine Coast
Photo: Bonza

My experience on this flight was first class, and while I was not 100% sure how well the no-cart service would work, I am now totally converted to this innovation. It is a delight to fly on the 737 MAX and the enthusiasm of the Bonza crew is infectious, which is something I have witnessed among passengers on other Bonza flights.

This week I flew on a competitor's 737-800 between Melbourne and Brisbane, which seemed a little old and tired by comparison, as did the cart service, which gave me one shot at a cold cup of coffee.

The challenge for Bonza and its team is to keep their standards up now that the hype surrounding the launches has passed and they get on with the grind of running an airline. What I can objectively say is that the product as it stands today is first class and well worth a try so that you can make your own mind up, Just remember to order that Snag In A Bag as soon as you board.

In the interests of complete disclosure I flew as an impartial guest of Bonza.

Have you flown with Bonza? Let us know about it in the comments.