Here is a trip report about my Thanksgiving trip to Düsseldorf, Germany. I went to the trip to visit my best friend and her significant other, who just moved there from NYC earlier this year, and also the $1067RT “Z”/Business class fare is too tempting to skip, especially I got to fly Virgin Atlantic’s upper class. From now on, I will save up $1000USD and will leave Thanksgiving open for cheap Z class cross the Atlantic Ocean. Just for your reference, NW also offers a BOS-AMS-DUS trip as well on J and its new A330-300, as well as AA code-shared via ZRH on Swiss, or via MAN on BA, and US via MAN or FRA. Hopefully more Z fares will be offered next Thanksgiving. Well back to topic, other than flying Virgin, I chose the connecting flight onto DUS based on times; so on the way over, I picked BA and return on LH, and chose them as they offered a time that fit my connection. I was actually fortunate to leave at least three to four hours of connection time. My outbound flight was delayed and the security line at LHR was pretty long at the flight connection center during early afternoon.
My impression about Virgin Atlantic was very hip and stylish. The cabin was so futuristic and I was lucky to got the UC suites on the return. It was a great seat and I was able to say that the UC suites were the best lie-flat J seats so far, compared to BA’s CW or CX’s J or SQ’s J. However, I will also say that it is not a first class suite and privacy is there, but seats are very crowded together in some ways. So don’t expect a F suite for a J class product. Anyway, I think NZ makes a very good decision in buying its new J seats modeled upon Virgin’s upper class suites. However, it will be nice for VS to give us a thicker pillow. Service and meal wise – I am very disappointed. The freedom menu is nice but there is a lack of real appetizers like BA or BMI, and the F/As are more stringent in offering you both cheese and dessert (or simply will not offer them unless asked), and I am slightly ticked off by more efforts in collecting empty glasses and cups, instead of asking if you want more tea or wine. I feel that Continental’s BF meal service is way more superior to Virgin’s Freedom menus, except Virgin’s main courses are more well-designed and better quality. Nevertheless, I like the breakfast card option and Virgin still offers a pretty drawn out breakfast if requested. As those who read my reports before possibly know that I am more onto the elaborate meal services, especially on daytime flights, I guess Virgin is just too casual. F/As are young and pretty (so my straight passengers are very happy), but the service is still pretty follow-the-book, and they also disappeared after meals. Here is my full report:
November 24, 2004
VS 12/CO 8232 BOS-LHR Lv1925 Arr0655+1 Airbus A340-300 G-VAIR Miss Kitty
Wow, the new Boston Logan’s terminal E was certainly nice, especially compared to the old warn down building a few years ago. Although you can still see the old décor once inside of the secured area, the new décor is nice and makes life a bit easier on this pretty busy travel date. There was not really a line when I went through custom at 4pm, considering the amount of International flights departing within two hours, and NW and Jetblue’s flights. Check in desks started around three and half hours prior to departure, and a Thai agent (Thailand origin I meant, but Thai Airways) checked me in, and she was polite and told me where NW lounge was, and my bags were tagged with upper class and transfer tag. There was no question about continuing onto BA to Düsseldorf.
Well NW Club was very busy especially due to weather in Midwest and rains & low clouds at Logan, with many delayed flights to DTW, and even NW flight to BOS was late about an hour. I think Alitalia also uses NW Club at Boston as well, but Virgin had one attendant sitting there and welcomed passengers, and nice sheet with all the flight information including aircraft registration and snooze zone area. Almost forgot… my flight was delayed two hours due to the inbound aircraft suffered a mechanical problem, so it did not arrive till 6:55pm. The agent notified everyone about the delay and my connection was safe (but I did not have enough time to take a shower at Heathrow as planned). Well WorldClub is World Club and this lounge has the same old tired décor, and not my favorite WC, especially I visited some of WC in NW network. It had a self-serving alcohol and non-alcoholic bars, as well as snacks such as fruits, cheese, crackers, pretzels, Atkin’s bars, Shortbread cookies, and Biscoff. And yes, Virgin put out a soup and cold buffet around 6pm. Today’s soup was a pumpkin & ginger soup. The cold antipasto buffet includes grilled salmon, potato risotto cakes, antipasto plates with cheese & cold cuts, red bliss potato salad, some kind of Brushetta and various breads – not too fancy, but sufficient for lounge food. However, if you are in a snooze zone, this buffet is not really a real dinner, so I recommend you grabbing a real dinner at the restaurant and food court at Terminal E. Somehow I feel that Virgin should not allow a snooze zone in Boston flights, since it was not serving a real hot dinner for those passengers, like other stations.
Plane-spotting includes Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-400 D-ABVD, Swiss’s Airbus A330 IQA, Aer Lingus’ A330 EI-ORD, Icelandair’s Boeing 757-300, and various BA’s Boeing 777s. BA suffered major delays this evening and all the LHR flights except 8:25pm suffered delays, so you could imagine the crowd and chaos at BA. Flights were overbooked and staffs were scrambled to protect connections for folks, and plus the usual Thanksgiving crowd did not help. Well boarding finally began at 8:13pm from gate 8A – the Virgin’s gate at Terminal E. I did not take many pictures, as the late boarding and J cabin was completely full, and I was having problems finding spaces for my bags. Virgin took away all the overhead bins in the middle rows and if you put bags in the space in front of you, your seat should not be able to recline to the full flat position, which was bad. I had this problem, and the F/As were not so helpful in helping folks with carryon. Nevertheless, everyone was trying to finish boarding ASAP and pre-takeoff beverages were offered, as well as sleep suits (only offered on overnight flights BTW). A bottled of Crystal Geyser water, headset, and menus were already placed at each individual seat. Door was closed at 8:43pm, and pushed back a few minutes later. However, due to weather, takeoff waits were longer than expected, even at these late hours. We took off from R/W15R at 9:17pm. Flying time was six hours and six minutes, and the routing took us over to Grand Maran Islands, as we climbed to 35,000feet, than passint Saint John, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, N of Gander, Atlantic Ocean, before climbing up to 37,000feet mid-flight. We did not reach any land, until Ireland – south of Shannon, Waterford, and then onto Cardiff and Bristol in the UK.
After seat belt sign was off, amenity kits were handed out, followed by first beverage service with choice of crisps and olives. And then meals were served – linen, tray with all the set up, bread, wines & water, more bread, soup or salad, entrée, dessert, and then tea/coffee with Biscoff cookies. I had the Thai prawn soup, which was delicious and authentic enough for me, and then the bread basket had ciabatta, wheat rolls, and nice garlic bread. For main course, I had the fish, which was a bit tough, but fine for me, and the chocolate dessert was delicious. Here is wine list (same for return), and full menus --
Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaique NV
Chablis 2002, Domaine Les Manants, Burgundy, France
Seifried Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Nelson, New Zealand
St Suprey Limited Edition, Dollarhide Ranch chardonnay 2000, Napa valley, California
Chateau Haut, beychevelle Gloria 1997, St Julien, Bordeaux, France
Cantaluna Pinot Noir 2002, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Blamoral Syrah 1999, Rosemount Estate, McLaren Vale, Australia
Seasonal Leaf Salad with poached Anjou pear, pecan nuts and balsamic basil vinaigrette
Thai Curry soup with shrimps served with a choice of warmed breads
Baked Cod Fillet served with chunky baked potato chips, sautéed broccoli and tomato, leek & potato sauce
Beef steak served with roasted new potatoes, green beans, carrot julienne and mustard sauce
Butternut squash Ravioli with grilled red peppers & zucchini and parsley cream sauce
Camembert – a creamy cheese with a bloomy rind and mild mushroom flavors
Roquefort – soft blue cheese made from sheep’s milk with a crumbly texture and an intense flavor
Double Diamond Irish Style Darby cheese traditional farmhouse cheese with a smooth buttery flavor
Cheeses are offered with assorted crackers and grapes
Chocolate Pyramid served with raspberry coulis
Vanilla ice cream on its own or served with strawberry, black pepper & mint compote and chocolate fingers
Selection of breakfast cereals – Cornflakes, Weetabix, Fruit N’ Fibre, Special K
Cranberry & Walnut Pound Cake
Butter Croissants & Blueberry Muffins served with a selection of preserves
Seasonal Fresh Fruit served on its own or with natural yogurt and lime syrup
Bacon Roll served with either tomato ketchup or brown sauce
Smoked Salmon Frittata served with seared bacon, chicken & scallion sausage and mushroom ragout
Well Airbus A340-300 came with the first generation of lie-flat seats, and it went really close to the floor, and I was not a big fan of it. The video system was not on demand, but featured a nice variety of stuff. I had some wines with dinner, so I was able to sleep for two hours. Then I watched mainly comedies and dramas. About 1:30am Boston time, breakfast was served for those who requested it. I had a fruit bowl with yogurt – diced melon, cantaloupe, pineapples, grapes, blueberries and sliced bananas, a cranberry pound cake – not too good, and the hot entrée, which was surprisingly delicious and tasty. I actually found Virgin’s breakfast very good especially compared to the stringent afternoon tea service in the return flight. The fruits were fresh and the offerings were more than enough. Descent announcement were made at 2:46am Boston time, and of course, Virgin had to turn off all the entertainment system, collected headsets, and cleared the cabin even there was still forty minutes to go. I feel like it was too early, and the system could be on for another fifteen minutes. Then hot towels were passed out at 8:04am LHR time. We landed on R/W27L at 8:23am, and parked at gate 14 seven minutes later.
BA 938 LHR-DUS Lv1020 Arr1240 Airbus A320-200 G-EUUF Union flag
Well connections were relatively simple and the bus ride to terminal one/two was pleasant and I did not need to wait for a bus at all. The staffs were helpful and friendly, and then I headed to security, which involved no wait at 8am… I guess I missed the early morning rush, and the late morning rush was not here yet. I checked in with BA and was able to change my 5F (three abreast side) to 6A (two abreast side). The staff was friendly and I got my boarding minute within two minutes, and then I was off to visits to magazine shops, duty free, and Boots. Then I went to the Terraces, and there was a first class section, which I was invited to visit, but I was required to show my AA EXP card. The First lounge was pretty nice with a really elegant and stylish champagne bar, and there was a lounge menu, which featured some major breakfast savories, soup, sandwich, salad, dessert, and afternoon tea service. There was also a separate continental breakfast buffet – cereals, fruit, yogurts, and pastries, as well as beverage stations all over the lounge. There was a business center with four Internet connected computers. The lounge was nice, but unfortunately, I did not have time to hit the shower,
On my way to gate 39, I spotted my first LOT Polish’s Embraer EMB-170 SP-LDD, and also spotted Finnair’s A321 OH-LZD, and a number of BA and BMI’s Airbuses. I love Heathrow because there were so many planes to see. Boarding began at 9:56pm and liked most European airlines’ boarding – there was no priority boarding. Everyone just rushed to the gate at the same time and there was a passport check. Newspapers were available at the jetway, and F/As passed out hot towels after gate was closed at 10:15am. We pushed back right on schedule, and headed straight to R/W27R. Following a BA’s Boeing 747 G-CIVC, we took off at 10:28am. Flying time was an hour and a minute, and we climbed to 33,000feet. Our routing took us towards Amsterdam, and descent began after passing River Rhine.
It was a short flight, so service began shortly after takeoff. For J class, there was a breakfast tray with a plate of fruit – sliced kiwi, pineapple, cantaloupes, and grapes, and a hot breakfast pannini with scrambled egg and bacon (I like BMI pannini better), and then a basket of raisin pastries to follow. There was also a quick refill on beverage orders. Well the meals were unimpressive – I guess I was expecting at least a hot breakfast or some kind of salad plate. I guess it was good to have a meal, but could not help to notice how European business meals were falling quality and quantity wise. Descent began at 11:02am and we landed on R/W23R at 12:29pm German time. We parked at gate B4 a few minutes later and noticed an interesting Boeing 737-800 with winglet owned by Euro-Cyprus 5B-DBV, as well as a quick glimpse of Aeroflot’s A319. Despite having a gate, we had to deplane through stairs and took a bus towards the passport control. Strange arrangement if you asked me. Nevertheless, bags came out in no time and Düsseldorf airport was very modern and I was impressed with the architect. The train station was well-connected and noticed that it was quite busy with many flights from Air Berlin, LTU, and various European airlines.
November 27, 2004
LH 4772 DUS-LHR Lv1100 Arr1125 CRJ-700 D-ACPN Operated Lufthansa City Line
My train from Bielefeld arrived at 10am and I had only fifty minutes to catch the flight. The business class line was pretty long and there was fifteen minutes wait, which was quite unacceptable for a business class line. Not all the counters were opened, too. Well, the agent had some problems with the interline check-in because the computer was not showing the Virgin’s flight number – only CO code-shared. Then I pointed out that the printed bag tag at her hand was showing VS 11. Then she apologized, but I told her that it was alright because all these code-share arrangements were confusing at the first place.
Then I bid goodbye to my friend and hurried through security. Fortunately, it was not TSA and everything went efficiently and I felt perfectly safe. The agent was friendly and directed me towards the gate. Since it was a London bound flight, I had an extra passport control to go through at the end of the A gates. When I made it to gate A78, boarding had already started. However, knowing that it was a CRJ flight, it would possibly wait for most passengers. I waited till last to board the bus. There was no priority boarding, as it was a small jet at the first place. Thankfully, it was a short ride to the CRJ at V53 and to my surprise, it was upgraded from CRJ-200 to CRJ-700, but I could tell most folks in J were not happy. The lack of space on CR7 was noticeable. I took many pictures of CR7, as it was not an everyday event that I would see a CR7 that up close. After another busload arrived, door was closed at 10:59am, and pushed back three minutes later. There was a line this morning for DUS’ R/W23L – BA’s 767-300 G-BZNA, Nouvelair’s A320, LTU’s A330-200 D-ALPD, AF’s A320-100 (no winglet) F-GFKD, and LTU’s A330-200 D-ALPA behind us. We took off at 11:17am. Flying time was an hour and five minutes, and our cruising attitude was 32,000feet.
Service was carried by two F/As, and moist towelette was passed out prior to takeoff. No time was wasted, and a cold meal was passed out immediately after seat belt sign was turned off at 11:22am. The cold meal consisted of three slices of air-dried beef or ham, a slice of pepperjack cheese, two slices of tandoori chicken, and some vegetable coleslaw, a side salad of marinated tomato, onion, and goat cheese salad, as well as warmed roll. It was pretty small and the quality was pretty poor. Warmed breads were appreciated, and then a beverage cart rolled out. A refill was done after the cart returned from Y. After we began our decent, the F/A passed out a basket of almonds, dark chocolate bar, and gummy bears – only for business class passengers. Anyway, there was the usual circling as we waited for our turns to land at R/W27L. After touching down at 11:22am (LHR was an hour behind from Germany), we arrived at gate 202 a few minutes later, as we passed by Virgin’s Boeing 747-400 G-VROC, Iceland Air’s Boeing 757-200 TF-FIP, Tarom’s Boeing 737-700 YR-BGF, Iberia’s A320s EU-HUL, EU-GRF, and IB’s A321 EU-IGK. Well connection was pretty much the same, but I had to go through security at T2 first, and the line was long beyond imagination. There was a forty minutes wait, and some of my fellow American passengers behaved rather poorly. There was a lady trying to seek a waiver to the priority security line because she had a 1pm flight. Sorry lady, it was only 11:30am, but the security guy was polite, yet affirmative. Then I took the bus to terminal three. Virgin did not have a separate upper class/premium economy check in line, but fortunately, the wait was not too bad. I was checked in within minutes and bags were traced, and boarding pass and lounge invitations were given too.
VS 11/CO 8231 LHR-BOS Lv1430 Arr1655 Airbus A340-600 G-VGOA Indian Princess
Virgin Clubhouse at LHR was nice but unfortunately, the observation deck was closed. I would love to see the planes from the deck. There was a clubhouse menu with sushi, pasta, salad, soup, and sandwiches. There were two working stations, as well as a shoe-shining station and a salon, and various themed lounges. The clubhouse was quite busy, but the attendant was very courtesy and efficient. I ordered a sushi plate, which I will not recommend it to anyone, especially any sushi fans – rice were overcooked and the dishes were in the fridge too long. Anyway, the freshly squeezed orange juice was great, better than the OJ served on board. About plane-spotting, here was the list – AI’s 744 VT-ESO, AC’s 333 C-GFAF, Varig’s MD-11 PP-VQX, Air Canada’s B767-300 C-GHLK, C-FMXC, Kuwait’s Boeing 777 9K-AOB (heading to JFK), PK’s 743 AP-BFW, Biman Bangladesh’s A310-300 S2-ADK, Virgin’s A340-300 G-VELD, and Boeing 747-400 G-VBIG.
Boarding began at 1:30pm at gate 42, and the boarding was rather slow, as only one jetway was used. Despite there was separate boarding calls for upper class and row numbers, it was still rather chaotic. Soon, I entered the large upper class cabin on this Airbus A340-600. There was a small bar area with three stools on the aft section of upper class, and the seats were arranged in three abreast setting. If you are at 1 to 7K, you will face a wall, which was nice personally, and if you are at 8A and above, you will also face the wall, which was the back panel of middle seats. The upper class suites were very nice and comfortable to sit at. Yes, there was somewhat privacy, but you were really closed to your neighbor, with only a thin wall. I feel that there was too much plastic in this seat, such as the beverage table, and the meal table and side panel. Duvets and pillow were placed behind each seat, and a red silk pillow was at the seat itself. Menus and a bottle of water were already placed at the side panel next to your pillow, and then headset was at the magazine stowage bin on the side. Pre-takeoff beverage was offered and the F/A asked everyone if they knew about the seat – a pretty thorough introduction to the upper class suites. Well I think it was the best lie flat business class seat so far, and the seat could recline while on the sitting mode, and the conversion to the bed was rather easy with a simple touch. Virgin provided a sheet and a nice duvet and fluffy pillow. Once into the bed mood, the mattress was not too overly soft and it was quite nice, and the width was better than BA’s CW. However, it was still not a CX’s first suites, which were obviously wider and more privacy. I personally think it is unfair to compare a J seat with a F seat, so regular F passengers flying Virgin’s J, the seats were still not your SQ’s 747-400 suites, or Swiss’s F Ottoman suites. Upper class was quite full, as all window seats were filled, but middle seats only had about five seats occupied, but the back was quite full. Door was closed a few minutes late, as there was some paperwork to be completed. We pushed back at 2:44pm, and took off from R/W27L at 3:10pm. Flying time was six hours and fifty-three minutes, with an initial cruising attitude of 37,000feet, and after half way through the Atlantic Ocean, we climbed up to 38,000feet. We did not overfly any land till we get closer to Newfoundland, we flew pass Hampden, Summerside, N of Charlottetown, Moncton, Saint John, and Jonesport.
Amenity kits were passed out after takeoff and no sleep suits were given out on daytime flights. Beverage service than began with a choice of Japanese rice crackers or dried fruit mix. Lunch was served course by course with same sequence at my outbound flight.
Marinated Chicken fillets served with mixed leaves, Mozzarella, tomato and pesto dressing
Cream of Broccoli & Stilton Soup served with a choice of warmed breads
Braised Lamb Shank and mashed potato with leeks served with roasted vegetables and mint gravy
Seared Salmon Fillet served with seafood linguine and blanched asparagus sauce
Vegetable & Ricotta Pastry served with orzo pasta and tomato cumin sauce
Blackstricks Blue – soft blue-veined cheese with a smooth flavour
Butler’s Secret – extra mature vegetarian Cheddar cheese with a firm texture
Somerset Camembert – a creamy cheese with a mild taste
Cheeses are offered with assorted crackers and garnish
Bread & Butter Pudding served with crème anglaise
Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream on its own or served with winter fruits poached in mulled wine
Food was average for lunch – the soup was fine and the breadbasket features white rolls, wholemeal rolls, and garlic ciabatta. The lamb entrée was fine, but it was a bit lukewarm, but the bread pudding rescued some points. Then there was a tea and coffee service, with chocolate covered nuts. It was an okay lunch, but for a daytime flight, the meal needs to be more elaborate – at least an additional appetizer course. For entertainment, there was an on demand function, but it took a while to get use to the control panel, and I did not understand why Virgin needs to shut their entertainment system down so early. If they wanted to collect the headsets, I was fine, but with the on demand system, the sky map function was not available before and after the system was turned on. Anyway, I think shutting down the system thirty minutes prior to landing was too early, fifteen minutes was about right especially headsets were only need to be collected. BTW, SKY News and a video guide was shown before the system was turned on, so the on demand system was not available till thirty minutes after the video guide & Sky News were shown. Ice cream was served mid-flight, and the bar was opened in the aft cabin. But the F/As made no effort to ask if folks want a quick beverage, and you were pretty much expected to get a drink at the bar. With water bottles, F/As were not doing enough rounds, except collecting glasses. Afternoon tea service was served at 8:20pm London local time – pretty basic with three pieces of sandwiches and some crisps, and then some mini pastries. The F/As did come around with the tray twice. However, the quality was too little, as it was a daytime flight. For Christ’s sake, how can there be not a scone service? For economy, I understand the cost cutting aspect, but for upper class, I fully expect a scone service with clotted cream and jam. Very disappointed! I can formally say that BMI has the best J food and afternoon tea service, after flying all three UK based international carriers. Here was the full transcript (also applied to VS 3) –
Sandwich selection of smoked salmon & cucumber, roasted vegetables & cream cheese and roast beef with mustard & watercress
Your choice from the cake stand – chocolate éclair, tiramisu cream cake, vanilla panna cotta, tartlet with raspberry & lime and pistachio financier
Descent began at 4:35pm and we landed at R/W22L at 5:03pm, and we had to travel quite a bit to get to E8A. We were parked between Air France’s A330-200 F-GZCG and Alitalia’s Boeing 767-300ER EI-CRM. Well immigration control was not bad, and the first bag arrived when we were walking towards the claim, but my bags came out last not on the carousel, but with the F/A bags. I found it to be rather unpleasant, as my bags were labeled with priority tags. I guess VS folks really hated Star Alliance folks. Well my experience with Virgin was rather average, although I liked the stylish cabin, upper suites, and the Clubhouse at LHR, I don’t know if I am willing to pay full fare to fly VS’ J. Compared to BMI, I still rank BMI number one UK premier airline, even without the fancy seats and sleep suits for overnight flight – food was better and carefully prepared, and the F/As were better trained and more personable. Well I hope you like my report – not too many exciting travels till Christmas. Picture links would be posted, once they were processed.