Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Flight: VS 005
Route: London (LHR) to Miami (MIA)
Aircraft: Airbus A340-600 (G-VNAP “Sleeping Beauty”; airborne 2005)
Scheduled departure time
Jun 16, 11:15
Scheduled arrival time
Jun 16, 15:45
I had already checked in for today's flight using Virgin Atlantic's online check-in service, so I entered Terminal 3 and went straight to Bag Drop. My luggage was checked and I was given my boarding pass. My pre-assigned seat number (window seat 39K) had been honoured. I think within ten minutes of entering the terminal I was all set to go through security. Very swift service.
I had breakfast at Starbucks and started dreaming of Miami Beach. Except it wouldn't be a dream for long! This was my first time flying Virgin and my expectations were reasonably high, because of the airline's high-profile reputation.
The boarding process was probably the smoothest I have experienced of any long-haul flight I have been on. I quickly took some photos of my beautiful aircraft, aptly named Sleeping Beauty, and helped myself to a complimentary newspaper and magazine.
The aircraft itself had a very welcoming cabin: clean, airy, modern, with chrome air vents. A nice touch is the contrasting seat colours. I was in a red seat; others were settling into grey ones. Another nice touch is the large amenity kit, complete with all the usual things like toothbrush, toothpaste, branded pen, etc. The captain introduced himself and reassured us that if we encounter any turbu9lence en route, it's perfectly normal for the aircraft and its wings to bounce around a lot!
We pushed back from the gate several minutes early and the aircraft's four massive Rolls Royce engines spooled into life. With flaps set, we made our way slowly to runway 9R. There was a slight queue for take-off, but we were soon in position. I pitied the poor folks in the Continental 757 next in line having to cross the pond in such confined, noisy conditions. Having been there and done that myself, I can personally tell you it's not a pleasant experience. I accept 757s from the United States have their role flying into the UK's smaller regional airports, but London Heathrow?!
We were soon airborne and skimming the houses in Hounslow, as we made almost immediate right turns to presumably avoid central London. Once heading west, I could start counting down the hours to Miami!
Cabin service started with a pre-lunch drink and pack of pretzels, followed by a complete lunch service. I chose the chicken with leek in cream sauce, which was pretty good. Shortly after lunch we were treated to an encore: a delicious choc ice!
My aircraft was fitted with the V:Port entertainment system, which meant I had a good choice of on-demand movies, TV shows, CD jukebox, interactive games and the interactive Skymap.
Before I knew it, we were soon descending towards Florida. The captain assured us he would do his best to avoid any thunderstorms in the area. The scattered clouds were certainly big and threatening! From what I could tell, we flew roughly downwind of Miami's runway 9. Following a steep left turn, we were established for final approach. We landed smoothly and rolled out without reverse thrust – over thirty minutes ahead of schedule.
Which brings me to my question to any technically-minded readers out there. When we vacated the runway and made our way to stand, the flaps weren't fully retracted but instead moved back to their take-off configuration. I ask why this is only because on every A330/A340 flight where I have landed at a very hot destination, the flaps have never been fully retracted. This has always been the case on my A330 flights into and out of Las Vegas. Any reason why?
Monday, June 28, 2010
Flight: VS 006
Route: Miami (MIA) to London (LHR)
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400 (G-VROC “Mustang Sally” w/ “No Way BA/AA” titles; airborne 2003, newest 747 in fleet)
Scheduled departure time
Jun 28, 19:25
Scheduled arrival time
Jun 29, 09:05
After an awesome vacation in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West, it's time to go home. But how lucky am I? An A340-600 outbound and a 747-400 inbound!
I boarded the aircraft and took to seat 47A. Despite the aircraft being less than two years older than my outbound A346, the cabin was much more dated. The -400 series has been around for two decades now, but I am surprised Boeing didn't modernize switches, air vents, restrooms, etc. for customers purchasing from them in 2003. It looked rather 1980s, except for the seats and PTVs. The A346 must certainly make a better impression for passengers.
Also, the air conditioning was noisy throughout the flight, and cabin staff had to speak in raised voices for people to hear them. This meant I had to strain to hear the captain's announcements. Having said all that, the seats were comfortable and clean, and I was on a 747 with the V:Port system.
This was my first flight on a 747 so I was pretty excited. We pushed back five minutes early and the cartoon safety information video commenced. Virgin takes safety very seriously: the video was paused when some passengers weren't paying attention and resumed only once they were.
Our route took us east out of Miami's runway 8R, then north-east over Miami Beach and onwards to Nova Scotia, where we then commenced our transatlantic crossing proper. The crew looked stressed throughout the flight, but did apologize several times that they were short-staffed.
Meal service was good and we were soon headed towards England. The crew are able to send text messages over the V:Port system which pop up on your screen. As the sun rose, they sent us the following message: “Good morning. We will be serving breakfast shortly.” Another one went something like: “We are one hour from London. Please use the restrooms now if you need to.” A nice personable touch, I thought.
I had a bagel and coffee for breakfast. There was a slight delay at Heathrow, which meant we had to circle for fifteen minutes or so. We eventually landed on 27L in drizzly rain and rolled out again without reverse thrust.
All in all, an enjoyable flight. The crew coped well with a full flight and understaffed conditions, and kept smiling throughout. I would recommend Virgin to anyone thinking of crossing the pond. Their service is certainly one of the best I've experienced.
I welcome your comments and questions.