AirxLiban From Lebanon, joined Oct 2003, 4518 posts, RR: 53 Posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 5 days 6 hours ago) and read 14660 times:
Well, after having been unimpressed by Virgin's product on my way to London in July in Premium Economy on G-VBUS, I was hoping that I would least get an Odyssey equipped A340-300 to be able to see a better side of Virgin.
After all, G-VBUS is the oldest A340 in Virgin's fleet and it wasn't in spectacular condition on my way over.
Anyway, the day started off in Geneva. I checked in for my British Airways A319 flight to London, where I was going to transfer to Terminal 3 and hop on Virgin.
First problem: "No I'm sorry sir we can't possibly check your luggage onto Virgin Atlantic, we can only transfer luggage within British Airways or partner airlines."
This is the same bull I heard from the easyJet representative in Nice who told me she couldn't transfer my luggage, but that is fine at easyJet, I didn't expect them to offer low fares and transfer luggage to other carriers.
But with the world's favourite airline, this was a disgrace. My first thought was of BA dirty tricks campaign against Virgin in the early 1990s. Surely Lord King was chuckling at my inconvenience.
Anyway, obviously there was nothing that could be done about this so I said alright and agreed to pick up the bags at Heathrow.
I was traveling with 4 bags and 2 other people. Three of the bags weighed 30 kilos each, the other was simply a backpack.
After being delayed leaving Geneva due to air traffic control issues over Belgium, we finally pushed back and headed towards Heathrow.
Arrived at terminal 4 LHR at about...12:30 pm or so.
Went through customs, picked up the bags...took Heathrow Express to Terminal 3 and checked in at Virgin's Premium Economy line.
The check in agent for some reason wasn't able to tell me which aircraft it was, all he said was "I believe it to be an Airbus." Not much help, but what he failed to tell us is that the plane was delayed.
We were traveling on Virgin 24 LHR-LAX which is scheduled to leave Heathrow at 15:05. There was a delay until 16:40.
Went through passport control. This was only my second time departing Terminal 3 and the first since in over 10 years. On the previous occasion, I had taken an MEA 707 to Beirut in 1993.
I wasn't too impressed with Terminal 3. First of all, there wasn't a WH Smith. They have the world news or whatever, but on the 3rd day of August they didn't have the September edition of What Car? which upset me as I always buy about 5 or 6 magazines whenever passing through London.
Again, not a big deal.
Eventually, we went into the gate to check in.
From far away, I tried to squint out the tail of the 340. I thought it said "EA" at first would have implied G-VSEA, which is equipped with Odyssey.
As I got closer however, I looked again and saw "UN". The aircraft was G-VSUN, delivered to Virgin in April 1996 and boasting Arcadia as the entertainment system.
I figured that it wouldn't be quite as shabby as VBUS on the inside, considering that it was 3 years newer, but I did want to see a different side of Virgin. Fortunately, I did
For some odd reason which escapes me, Virgin upgraded my family to Upper Class from Premium Economy.
Don't quite know why...I think it has something to do with Premium Economy being overbooked. Anyway, I certainly didn't complain.
If they had told us earlier, I could have taken a quick trip to the Clubhouse. I recently finished reading Branson's autobiography and understand that the Grandfather clock from that Manor house/recording studio of his is now at Heathrow's Clubhouse.
Anyway, that was certainly nothing to complain about, beggars can't be choosers.
We boarded the plane and had a seat. I saw sitting in row 8K, the last row of Upper Class before Premium Economy.
I was quite impressed with the seat. It was comfortable, there was plenty of legroom, only the television was a little bit too low.
The F/A's were stunning. They came around several times serving lousy champagne, orange juice or water.
Then the pilot came on the PA and apologized for the delay, announcing that the plane scheduled to fly VS 23 today was no longer able to do it and so Virgin had had to wait for VSUN to arrive from Los Angeles, ironically, to operate the flight.
Then he announced that the thunderstorm which had been brewing at LHR had resulted in a 25 minute shutdown of the airport.
Of course, now planes were requesting landing and take off like crazy and we were 50th in line for take off.
It would be another 2 and a half hours before we would push back. In the meantime, people were complaining, so Virgin brought in some sandwiches for the economy and premium economy passengers.
They kept us happy with the drinks and nibbles.
Finally, at about 8pm, we took off and headed for Los Angeles.
Here are photos of the amenity pack:
First came the drinks. No nuts or chips though. I remember being offered warm cashew nuts the last time I flew Club World on BA, in June 2003.
That was alright. Next, dinner arrived.
The F/As set the tray table (as on BA) and then came around offering herb bread, garlic bread or french rolls. I had the garlic bread and it was warm and excellent.
Next came the first course. Choice of potato and leek soup with thyme, cajun chicken salad, or something else. I had the soup. My first experience of soup on an aircraft, but it was excellent.
Next was the main course.
I had the rack of lamb with mustard crust, served with vegetables and roasted potatoes. It was excellent, considering that I was on an aircraft. I considered taking the bones home for my dog.
Then was the dessert...praline ice cream with chocolate fudge drizzled on top....yummy.
No cheese at the end though.
I was planning on snatching the menu and taking it home but the F/A came and collected it at the end of the flight.
I figured Virgin was kind enough to upgrade me so I didn't take the menu...save them a few hundreths of a penny on printing.
Comparing to BA Club World which I had been flying on the LAX-LHR-LAX route the 15 years prior to this summer, I would say that the Virgin meal and service was equal to BA's.
One thing I did like about Virgin is that they didn't make the plastic cutlery so blatantly supermarket-ish. They looked like real utensils!
Then came the massage
A gorgeous young lady came round to offer me a massage, which I gladly accepted. She took me over to the front cabin and I sat down on the massage chair next to the bar and enjoyed a face and scalp massage.
I still can't get over how beautiful she was, maybe it was the two glasses of champagne and the wine at the meal, but I have never seen anyone like her working on an airplane. Her favourite city is Shanghai.
Anyway, then I went to sleep.
The J2000 seat or whatever it is called is a funny thing. It doesn't go completely flat because it has a crack in it.
Essentially it is completely flat with some separations for the seat cushion, back cushion and legrest. However the major problem is that it tilts down and is quite low. I reckon it to be slighlty better than the cradle seat...only that the cradle seat had the impression of being wider. Maybe I've gained weight since the last time I experienced it, don't know...
Anyway what does need to be said is that for 10 years ago the Virgin Upper Class was loads better than BA's cradle seat predecessor (sorry if i've spelled it wrong).
Before landing, I had a "smaller bite" according to the menu. Lots of options, but I ended up with a grilled ham cheese and mustard sandwich and a cup of tea. A perfect meal for the end of the flight.
Touch down at LAX at about 10:40pm, about 4 hours late but all was well thankfully.
The next problem was that Terminal 2 customs had closed so we were bused over to Tom Bradley to go through passport control.
Overall, I am extremely impressed with this old Upper Class product especially considering that it is 10 years old.
The only thing I didn't like about Virgin was having to listen to Kylie Minogue while taxiing to the terminal.
I am extremely grateful to Virgin for upgrading me. I really enjoyed the flight despite the delay and was very very impressed with the service on board and the attitude of the F/As.
Will I fly Virgin again? Certainly...but if it PE, I will try to get on the 747 or 346.
How much better or worse than Virgin is in comparison is not really an issue for me. The thing that I will not fork over my money to British Airways with pleasure whereas I would with Virgin.
I would only fly with BA again with miles...I have plenty of those so I might well use them soon.
Here is what I consider to be Virgin and BA's advantages and disadvantages
+Dedicated premium economy checkin and boarding
-Not able to combine miles
-Why can't i have socks on the inbound flight?
+744 with RB211s
+Quality of interior even across old aircraft
+Faster flight on 744 than 343 (Mach .85 vs .82)
-Service not as enjoyable
-Lack of innovation
-Fewer miles earned in WT+
-They won't check bags onto Virgin Atlantic...annoying but I'll bet that steals them some passengers that are connecting to European destinations.
Alright, enough said. Looking forward to next Virgin experience.
Airchabum From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2001, 769 posts, RR: 10
Reply 2, posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 5 days 6 hours ago) and read 14428 times:
Great report AirxLiban
Re your pro's and con's....
* I always enjoy the taxying music, although I've never had Kylie Minogue before (if you'll pardon the expression! )
* I'm surprised you didn't get any socks on both sectors...I'm sure I always have.
* Terminal 3...yes it's a bloody nightmare, as are the other central terminals at LHR. Let's hope that when T5 is finished the BAA will actually make some proper improvements to the old terminals (JFK have the right idea) instead of just doing continuous tart-up jobs on them. Sadly they can't just shut the place down for a few years and then re-open it when it's up to scratch.
* To defend BA, I'm sure VS wouldn't check a bag through if you were connecting onto a BA flight either. I don't connect very often but would only expect to have baggage through-checked if I was flying on the same airline or alliance.
Airdolomiti From Germany, joined May 2003, 694 posts, RR: 9
Reply 5, posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 5 days 4 hours ago) and read 14321 times:
Very nice report, I would love to try Virgin one day. Sadly BA have switched VCE services to LGW, so there is only one VCE-LHR flight nowadays, with BMI, which arrives in LHR in the late afternoon...so LHR is not an option anymore for trips to America! It would be ideal when VS start flying to SYD however.
I am not surprised that BA wouldn't interline your baggage with VS, given their reciprocal feelings Just for the records, however, when I flew back from New Zealand two years ago, the check-in agent checked my luggage all the way through from Auckland to Venice, even though I was flying on 3 different airlines and 3 different alliances (NZ AKL-SYD, CX SYD-HKG-CDG, AZ CDG-VCE), and not even on the same ticket Don't know if he did it out of compassion or something (I was travelling alone at age 16 after all), but I sure did appreciate it.
Malb777 From Australia, joined Jul 2004, 462 posts, RR: 1
Reply 7, posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 14225 times:
Why should British Airways transfer you luggage to Virgin? they are after all competion on the route you ultimately flew on, wise up they aint gunna do you any favours . You want seamless travel fly the same airline or put up with it
thank god i was not born a bird. this type of flying is much better
Leezyjet From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2001, 4042 posts, RR: 53
Reply 9, posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 4 days 23 hours ago) and read 14164 times:
It is possible for BA to through check your bags, and any other airline that has a CRS can do it (although maybe not lo-co's). Just that the agent couldn't be bothered as it means doing a few more check-in entries to generate the bag tag, or maybe they were being anal and following the new "rules" to the letter, but I used to through tag peoples bags between airlines all the time when I worked on check-in - but times change !!.
I know that some airlines won't do it if you are on separate tickets as the 1st airline then takes responsiblity for your luggage to get to the connecting flight and if it is less than MCT then they become liable.
"No cheese at the end though"
There is loads of differant cheeses loaded, but you have to order it like the rest of the meal or they will assume you don't want it.
"Overall, I am extremely impressed with this old Upper Class product especially considering that it is 10 years old."
It isn't 10 years old. It is about 4-5 years old - hence the name J-2000 as it came out just before the milennium, and on the A343's it is only about 3 years old, as when I first joined VS the A343's still had the old old J seats !!!.
Glad you enjoyed the flight.
Persnonally I find the "lazy z" position to be most comfortable on the J-2000 seats.
"She Rolls, 45 knots, 90, 135, nose comes up to 20 degrees, she's airborne - She flies, Concorde Flies"
StevenUhl777 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 11, posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 4 days 17 hours ago) and read 14059 times:
Excellent job, thanks for the taking the time to write all that and include those great pictures!
One day, I would like to try both VS and BA to LHR. The f/a's are GORGEOUS on VS...I once saw a large group at T3 in 1996, WOW...incredible. I think they were all blondes. Hellllloooooo....mile high club!!
BA380 From United Kingdom, joined May 2004, 1466 posts, RR: 8
Reply 12, posted (10 years 4 months 2 weeks 4 days 14 hours ago) and read 13980 times:
really great report - thoroughly enjoyed it.
Good summary of the pros and cons of VS and BA. One thing I would add is panache vs consistency. On BA, if I order a gin and tonic, then I will get it very quickly, but it won't be served by a stunning lovely. If I order on G and T on VS, it will eventually arrive, but I may need to remind them, but it will be served by a lovely.... Basically, VS have more style, but BA are more consistent, in my experience. So it depends on what mood you are in as to which you prefer! I usually favour BA, partly because of abilty to collect miles sensibly, but sometimes VS is preferable...
AeroFan From United States of America, joined Aug 2004, 1517 posts, RR: 2
Reply 13, posted (10 years 4 months 1 week 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 13436 times:
BA380,"... you are in as to which you prefer! I usually favour BA, partly because of ability to collect miles sensibly, but sometimes VS is preferable..."
BA380, what do you mean by collecting miles sensibly? I'm always amazed at the reasons people give for their allegiance.
Having flown VS in Upperclass from since 1997 (I do not plan to fly another carrier across the pond as long as I can fly VS' upperclass) - the FA's do ask you if you want desert or cheese. (I wish they would once again offer the ginger ice cream) It was awesome!
The agent at BA lied when you were told that they could not check your bags thru to your final destination. As far as I'm aware there is interlining of bags between the two carriers. I know that I have had mine checked thru by the JFK agents when connecting in LHR on BA
Some of BA's attendants are hags, but competent. This is to be expected as some of them have been at it for well over 25 years. VS' FAs tend to be young and very attractive. Service not as smack on as BA - to be expected since they do not have the experience that the BA's FAs have.
But I much prefer VS service attitude to BAs it is not as stodgy. There is an energy a style a panache to it, that BA does not have.
AirxLiban From Lebanon, joined Oct 2003, 4518 posts, RR: 53
Reply 14, posted (10 years 4 months 1 week 1 day 17 hours ago) and read 13387 times:
But I much prefer VS service attitude to BAs it is not as stodgy. There is an energy a style a panache to it, that BA does not have.
Agreed Aerofan. BA does serve but VS makes it more enjoyable.
Unfortunately I'll have to go BA again if I don't want to pay for my ticket but if I had to pay i would most certainly fly Virgin.
Seat comfort wise (comparing the J2000 seat, cradle seat and flat bed) i'd say its not really an issue, i can get plenty of rest on any of the above but for my purposes the only thing BA has going for it are the RB211s.
VSFullThrottle From United States of America, joined Jul 2004, 280 posts, RR: 4
Reply 22, posted (10 years 3 months 3 weeks 22 hours ago) and read 12246 times:
Great report AirxLiban, very interesting. I just experienced the J2000 seat myself and I never sleep on a/c but I slept for 4 hours in that seat. Cant wait until the Upper Class Suite heads my way...
Just to let you know it is BA that "say" they can't check bags through onto another carrier unless all the tickets you are holding are on BA stock (even if your connection flight is VS). VS still checks bags though to a heck of a lot of carriers including BA no matter what ticket stock they are on.....
As someone said this is just driving people away from BA, I look at it as BA cutting their nose of to spite their face....
BA380 From United Kingdom, joined May 2004, 1466 posts, RR: 8
Reply 23, posted (10 years 3 months 3 weeks 15 hours ago) and read 12177 times:
he reason I say collect miles sensibly is because if I consolidate all my flying with one airline, I max my miles, so I can have a free vacation every year, whereas if I split my flying, I cannot. I can't fly VS round Europe! Whereas BA is an option on pretty much any route I am likely to take.
Baw716 From United States of America, joined Nov 2003, 2028 posts, RR: 27
Reply 24, posted (10 years 3 months 2 weeks 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 12001 times:
Nice report. Excellent detail.
A couple of points:
The upper class product you experienced on VS is not ten years old. It was introduced in 1999 and was fully installed in the fleet in mid 2000. The J2000 seat was all the rage then, as it was THE first front facing bed seat. BA had introduced the existing BA club world seat a couple of years before, and it was SO popular that VS has to move quickly not to lost market share in their premium cabin.
The J2000 seat was very poorly designed and constructed. The principal complaint about the seat was that it was not horizontal, but sloped and very low, actually down to the floor. The seat pitch was not changed, so the feet actually went under the seat in front. This created a number of problems, principal among them was that underseat storage was nil. Secondly, because of the slope, people still developed swollen ankles and got poor sleep. Third, the seat had gaps (as you described), so people were sort in certain spots where the seat was separated. Fourth, there were many seats that did not work properly and go flat and the IFE was constantly breaking down (fatal in the upper cabin). Last, and perhaps the final straw, people who were sitting at the window could not get up from the seat in the flat position. They had to raise the seat completely upright and climb over the legs of the person on the aisle. Often, the height was an issue and people on the window were literally stuck in the seat when someone was sitting on the aisle.
By 2001, VS was in discussions with several seat makers to replace the seat and come up with a "leading edge" design. In 2003, they came to the market with the existing single seat mini cabin in the herringbone design. The design of the seat permitted a leather seat in the upright or recline position. For sleeping, the seat back was pulled forward and became a fabric flat horizontal bed that came to 72 inches in height by about 24 inches wide. This was a far better product than the J2000; however, I am hearing some complaints, especially from people traveling together. The seats are behind each other and the walls are high enough that it does not permit for having a conversation with your traveling companion.
The meal service was also upgraded, with the introduction of the Freedom Menu. This was a tremendous improvement in the meal service (considering that VS had a good meal service to begin with).
It will remain to be seen how this seat design will work long term. There are many flat seat designs in the market today and more to come. There are very few horizontally flat bed seats. Only VS and BA can claim to have a flat (horizontal) business class seat.
Now, with regard to your flight, I'd like to comment on your experience and offer a couple of tips for the future.
1) You were upgraded from Premium to Upper Class. Yes you were lucky; however, you were in the right plane at the right time. The 343 and now the 346 are configured with only 28 seats in W class. In upper class there are 40 and in the 346 there are 52-55 seats in J. On the 346, there are still only 28 W seats, no matter the configuration.
If you were on the 747, you most likely would not have been upgraded, as there are 36-40 W class seats upstairs on the -400 and about 28-36 J class seats in the current configurations. With fewer W seats on the 343 compared to J class, your chances of getting upgraded from W to J are quite good. On the 747, the opposite situation exists, W class almost never fills to capacity, so the number of upgrades is diminished, unless the aircraft is oversold in Economy and progressive upgrading becomes necessary.
2) With regard to your baggage check in debacle at GVA, if your intraeurope flight and your transatlantic flight are on the same ticket, if BA and VS have a baggage agreement (I would be very surprised if they did not, given they do have a ticketing agreement), the first carrier has an OBLIGATION to check the bag through to the final destination. The only exception to this rule are carrier specific security requirements which make interlining the bag very difficult at the connecting point (possible at heathrow).
If you had two separate tickets, one LAX-LHR-LAX and another LHR-GVA-LHR, then BA would not have an obligation to through check your bag. In fact, they should not through check your bag, since your contract of carriage with BA would only take you as far as LHR. That is where their responsibility ends. VS has the responsibility of carrying you from LHR to LAX. You would be required to pick up and re-claim your luggage at LHR.
Here is the real reason for the no check rule with separate tickets: Let's say that BA checks the bag through to SFO and your bag goes missing when it arrives. The delivering carrier at your final destination is responsible for the disposition of any claim arising from a lost or damaged bag. Since the bag was checked by BA and not VS, VS can claim that since the bag was not checked by them, they bear no responsibility for the loss. You could not go after BA, since BA was not the delivering carrier at your final destination. Hence, you are stuck...you cannot recover from either airline.
Reality is that carriers regularly check bags in the case of separate tickets even though they are not supposed to do so. Just remember in those cases, if the bag is lost, you have no right to recover damages. Most airlines will take the claim and some will even pay it for customer relations purposes. However, it is not a guarantee...
3) This is my opinion: VS has a better business class product than BA. Two reasons: Upper Class is VSs premium product. On BA, business is one of four classes on board and doing anything like VS in J class will kill their F class product. If the rumors are true about BA and they do away with F class, you should expect a dramatic improvement in the J class product on BA, since it will have to compete toe to toe with VS...and BA will give nothing away to VS, I can assure you of that.
4) Lastly, if you fly VS, keep flying the bus. The 343s will be replaced with the 346s, since VSs route net is, for the most part, long haul and high density. Hence, where the 747s are too big, the 346 can operate to the thinner markets with 100 less seats. It is possible that VS may keep some 343s for markets like Africa where the market size does not require more than a 200 seat bird. LHR-LAX is well within the range of the 346, and with the seating situation as it is on that aircraft (small w cabin, large J cabin), your chances of getting upgraded are much better. The more you fly VS, the more name recognition you will have with the airport staff (especially at LAX), so that will help you as well.
Thank you for your contribution to the forum. I hope that my reply adds additional value to yours, and together, we have given the forum members a very good understanding of the particulars of why your experience was the way that it was.
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998