This was an early start as I had booked the Virgin Limo service for 06.45.
The car arrived on time and we made our way out of Central London (I live in the West End) through suburbia- which seemed to go on forever- to Gatwick.
I really like Gatwick, but the only problem for me is getting there. For my trip it was hard to decide between using BD LHR-MAN-BGI in Business class, or VS Upper out of Gatwick. They were both around the same price, but in the end the chance to try the new Upper Class Suite on both legs was too tempting!
On the way out to Gatwick I had a call from the Clubhouse- I had left a message asking for a quick haircut before the flight. It was going to be tight, but I was booked in for 08.30.
We eventually got to Gatwick- which was busy as expected on the last Monday before Christmas. I can't think who designed the junction off the M23, but a free flowing junction like the one that was redone at Stansted is much needed during the morning rush.
One of the best reasons to fly VS is the limo service- which is excellent. The driver was friendly and was horrified at the thought of my even touching my luggage from the minute he arrived.
Drive thru check in is also fantastic. The driver had radioed ahead, so when we drew up, my boarding card was waiting with my pre-assigned seat- 9A- in the nose of the 747.
We were then taken around to the terminal to join the usual scrum- quite a busy scene at LGW that morning, but Fastrack through Security was quite quick. I haven't flown from the South Terminal for about 5 years, and I can't say that it had changed much. Annoyingly, the up escalator to the Clubhouse wasn't working, although the down one was. D'uh...
The Clubhouse was a welcome haven- decorated in very dramatic Virgin house colours. Unfortunately I was too late for my haircut, so I consoled myself with a glass of champagne and a bacon butty. In fact, everyone in the lounge- all jetting off to sunny places for Christmas- was in a party mood, and it was champagne all round. I really felt that my holiday was beginning, especially as the Virgin aircraft grouped around the satellite were in full view!
There is an excellent range of food offered in the Clubhouse, as well as a library and quiet area- and the toilets are really funky!
Soon the flight was called. Last time I took a VS flight, we had to get on a transit over to the satellite, but this time it was a long walk on several travelators. Boarding was quick- there was no queue at all at the gate.
I was about to find out what the UCS was really like....
I passed by the onboard bar and the first section of Upper Class (3 abreast seating and really not very nice looking) through to the quieter atmosphere of the front cabin.
Champagne was served immediately, and the crew seemed to be in a holiday mood also, all of which made for quite a festive atmosphere, not to mention Nat King Cole belting out Carols...
I was really keen to explore the seat, as I normally travel BA First on the route. Here are some pics...
I can't remember too much about the timings etc, but I think that we left almost on time. I had previously flown on Ladybird in February 1999 from LHR-JFK.
The cabin looked pretty funky, with some good lighting effects. There is less privacy than BA First, but of course, I should be comparing it with Club World, but I have never flown the new Club seats, so if anyone has any thoughts, I would be interested.
Before lunch we had a couple of drinks at the bar- which is very nicely done out- not too much space, but it almost feels like a bar on the ground, and everyone was getting in the holiday spirit- quite literally...
I felt sorry for the Premium Economy people on the main deck though, as their view was the bar, and the curtains were left open. Not very nice really, although for a daytime flight, PE looked very nice.
I was disappointed that I would miss my traditional Christmas lunch by being away, but not to worry- Virgin were offering a Christmas lunch on the flight- and it was excellent.
You can see from the photos that 2 people can eat face to face, like on BA First, but there is considerably less space for the person in the jump seat on VS, and to be honest, it was a bit uncomfortable.
I thought that the food was perhaps slightly better than BA First- the portions were certainly better. All washed down with some excellent wines.
The afternoon tea was very disappointing however- some really grim sandwiches and grotty scones. Not too impressed! Also, being an inveterate shopper, I was quite disappointed with the selection of duty free items in the Retail Therapy magazine.
As for the service, it seems that VS are really understaffed! The crew were smashing, but they really had to work hard to keep everyone fed and watered, and this was with UC being about 60% full. This is probably the major difference between VS and BA, although the VS crew were really nice and tried hard.
The entertainment was better than BA's, which is frankly antiquated compared to other airlines. Coming back they had the V Port system which blew me away!
Now for my thoughts on the seat- it is very comfortable and wide with lots of room to stretch out. I like the fact that the seat flips over to become a proper bed, but the alignment with the windows is a bit strange and takes some getting used to. It is a real struggle to see out of the window, and perhaps VS should employ osteopaths to help passengers who try this!
There is not a lot of privacy in the nose. You can see in one of the photos that lots of seats directly face mine, but this is not such a problem unless you are totally paranoid...
The seat does tend to have a mind of its own, however. It is easy to recline the seat without meaning to, as the buttons are at the side and incredibly sensitive. Also the table pops out of its own accord a lot. On the way back there was a letter from R. Branson apologising for the poor reading light, and promising a redesign.
I had a wonderful sleep on the way down. Here are some photos at bedtime...
Regarding the amenity kits, I was quite impressed with the Oswald Boateng bags- everyone got a silver key ring with "Happy Xmas 2004" on it, and yes folks, I got my comb- which obviously made my Christmas!
Soon we were on final approach into BGI and I got excited at the thought of my holiday stretching out in front of me.
We had a strech limo from our house back to the airport. Imagine the disappointment of everyone at check in, expecting some A list celeb to get out, when it was just a pair of nobodies...
Grantley Adams airport is still being renovated. Although the departure lounge is now complete, check in is being updated and it is quite a stressful experience, especially at tea time rush hour.
There was someone at the Upper Class counter being checked in, and as soon as an Economy counter was free, we were immediately directed there. The check in agent was very nice and friendly. As she had not tagged our bags with Upper Class tags, I did my usual and commented that Upper Class tags never seem to make a difference (they do!) and that our bags always take ages. She then immediately tagged them with Upper Class tags. Never fails!
There was no space to move and lots of sunburnt, harrassed looking Brits heading home. There were lots of flights leaving- in addition to mine, BD to MAN (a330 in Star Alliance colours!), BA to LGW, US to PHL, AC to Toronto, Monarch and Britannia flights and 2 Condor flights to Frankfurt.
VS uses the Club Caribbean lounge- it is always packed to the rafters (although the BA one is even worse- truly the pits- my broom cupboard at home is more spacious!) So we gave up and went to the departure lounge- which was also packed with so many charters leaving.
Boarding was soon called and we were so eager to leave the nightmare of the airport that we were the first to board. This time the flight would be full- in fact it was announced that there was only 1 economy seat free that night.
Meanwhile a Cargolux 741 had arrived.
As usual the champagne was flowing, but the crew seemed genuinely harrassed and even overwhelmed. Not sure what is going on inside VS...
Darkness fell and we pushed back, following a Condor 767 to FRA, and followed by the BA 777 also to LGW.
This time I was in 7A- quite cosy in the nose, but not for claustrophobes...
There were no menus loaded on the flight, and not all wines were loaded either. The menu for Upper Class was announced over the PA, but we didn't hear it too well, so everyone was asking the crew to repeat it- which made them even more stressed out! I had toad in the hole, which was excellent.
I already mentioned that the IFE was amazing. Obviously, this was an LHR-based aircraft. Both VS and BA treat LGW as second class...
After being woken for a hearty breakfast, we were soon touching down at a damp and dark Gatwick at the end of a great trip. Our bags actually came off first, which is a record. In no time we were being whisked back home, courtesy of the Virgin Limo service.
All in all, I was impressed with VS UCS. I think that they offer excellent value for money. Not as polished as BA First perhaps, and both flights seemed under-staffed, but I certainly would go with VS again. They certainly offer value for money. The cabin design is very innovative. I would say that the BA First seat is better for sitting, but that the VS bed is better for getting some shuteye.
The front section is much nicer than the rear section. Upstairs looked pretty nice too; the front section is Upper Class and the rear section is Premium Economy.
I may even try BMI at some point, as I can then go from LHR, and it sounds like changing in MAN is quite seamless.
My next flight is LGW-BGI on Feb 7th in BA First. Then BGI-SXM on Bwee- can't wait to go there! Then Anguilla-ANU-BGI on LIAT/Bwee, then back to the UK in BA First again.
Thanks for reading. I wanted to give users a flavour of what the UCS is really like, and to let regular posters know that I got my comb in the end!
SQno1 From United Kingdom, joined Sep 2004, 687 posts, RR: 1
Reply 3, posted (9 years 8 months 3 weeks 4 days 19 hours ago) and read 11971 times:
Great Trip Report!
I would certainly like to try the upper class suite one day. But if I paid a high price I certinaly would be unimpressed with a roast dinner and sandwiches. I thought buisness/ first class was always about fine foods, presentation and wines. Im sure ill will be on it one day, but i am a student!
My friend has travelled at least 4 times on VS to MCO, and I ask him what he ate, and its always chicken and chips and bangers and mash. Only item I would love to eat in another country is YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS. HMMMM!
How much did you pay for your ticket anyway?
BA319-131 From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2001, 8561 posts, RR: 54
Reply 5, posted (9 years 8 months 3 weeks 4 days 18 hours ago) and read 11903 times:
Nice report and photo's.
I've not flown VS UC,only 'Y' - not to keen on spending large £ on VS,rather spend in on Oneworld and Star Alliance carriers for the points/mileage and better choice of destinations. Anyway, I always find the VS cabins rather,lets sat 'bright', I actually prefer the more somber tones of BA Club and US Envoy, it somehow feels more relaxing on the long haul.
I must say,i'd be rather upset if served those rather tired looking sandwiches.
Cambrian From United Kingdom, joined Sep 2003, 619 posts, RR: 5
Reply 6, posted (9 years 8 months 3 weeks 4 days 4 hours ago) and read 11446 times:
Thanks for the comments guys- I really wrote it on the hoof, and probably left a lot out, so I am glad that you liked it. I really wanted to read a detailed report about the UCS myself before I travelled, but there wasn't one on the site.
Great report! Good to hear from someone with BA First experience and how the VS compares.
Fbgdavidson- thanks for your email about Lisbon- I think that I will try it. I tried to reply to you but it kept bouncing back- probably due to my dodgy connection in Barbados.
Well spotted- the silver things are salt and pepper shakers- plane shaped on little legs. They have "Pinched from Virgin Atlantic" stamped on the bottom!
I am quite tempted to try out VS UCS at some point in lieu of BA Club World
I would say definitely try UCS over Club World. I have never flown the new Club, but in the 777 the cabin looks terrible! I really would not want to try it, to be honest.
On Virgin, for the Club World fare, you get the limo at both ends, drive thru check in at some airports, and your own space on board with more privacy. I think that all other aspects of the flight are comparable with Club World, but if you are on an aircraft with V Port, it will blow you away. It is fantastic and makes BA look bad in comparison.
VS have a triple miles promotion on at the moment, and you can use their miles on lots of other carriers, including bmi for short hops in Europe.
But if I paid a high price I certinaly would be unimpressed with a roast dinner and sandwiches
Maybe my photo doesn't convey it, but the hot meals were excellent and the wines were truly superb- I used to work in the wine trade, so I always pay attention to the wine.
The desserts were nothing special, and the sandwiches were execrable! But all in all I would say that the catering was comparable to BA First, especially on the Caribbean routes.
I was surprised that VS do not have dessert wines on offer, as that is one of the highlights of a BA First meal. My ticket was £2,899- bmi and BA Club World were almost exactly the same. I hope to try bmi one day, if they are still on the BGI route.
A340-600 I am the riff raff down the back
I am sure that you are not riff raff, and any airline that treats economy passengers as such does not deserve their custom. But I know what you mean!
BA319, I am not sure about BA Club World cabins being sombre- more like funereal, especially on their tired 767's! You were right, the sandwiches were a major disappointment. When I saw them, I almost thought that it was a joke. I didn't even eat them.
Fbgdavidson From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2004, 3713 posts, RR: 28
Reply 7, posted (9 years 8 months 3 weeks 4 days 2 hours ago) and read 11370 times:
I have never flown the new Club, but in the 777 the cabin looks terrible!
It is! Fortunately I can learn from the errors of my ways and on my IAD route can choose between 747 and 777. I'm not a great fan of the hospital ward factor, although I do really like upstairs in Club World. Alas this isn't an option on the BGI route.
My father is quite au fait with VS UC and particularly likes the car at both ends and drive thru check-in although he only takes VS when he can't get a seat at short notice on BA. He describes VS as a bit gimmicky. Admittedly BA's IFE does not an update and a half, although noise cancelling headphones are finally being installed in F. Shame by now everyone has their own pair!
Afraid I didn't get the email from you, although LIS is well worth a look if you fly BA F.
"My first job was selling doors, door to door, that's a tough job innit" - Bill Bailey
BA380 From United Kingdom, joined May 2004, 1466 posts, RR: 8
Reply 9, posted (9 years 8 months 3 weeks 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 10894 times:
what a great report. very entertaining.
It certainly seems that for LGW flights, UCS is better than CW. Whilst I thought BA F was great, CW out of LGW was a little disappointing. UCS sounds pretty impressive. And the free car thing is a great boon for personal travel as it would save me another £100. I will consider VS UCS for my next long-haul, certainly for a LGW flight.
Cambrian From United Kingdom, joined Sep 2003, 619 posts, RR: 5
Reply 12, posted (9 years 8 months 2 weeks 5 days 21 hours ago) and read 10324 times:
Yes, the check in area is still outside, and during peak hours is an absolute mess- just chaos really. The departure lounge is now finished and is an improvement, but the shops are rubbish and there are no flight information screens!
Flying back to BGI tomorrow in BA First.
BA have now located First check in away from the main terminal, and passengers are chauffered by car direct to the plane steps- looking forward to trying it, and that tells you something about how bad check in and lounges are at BGI at the moment.
Trintocan From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2000, 3240 posts, RR: 4
Reply 13, posted (9 years 8 months 2 weeks 5 days 19 hours ago) and read 10321 times:
Great trip report Cambrian! I myself would like to try VS to the Caribbean as they do TAB from LGW and I could fly there (or, actually, to BGI) and then connect to POS. The trouble is that to do so entails a delay in the journey and then the baggage allowances are not as generous on inter-island flights. BW is of course the only operator to POS from the UK (both LHR and MAN). I flew their First class on my last trip in December - I detailed it in my trip report here. From your report, though, VS sounds great.
Way to go VS! As for Barbados, yes I remember the check-in being out in the open. Quite a refreshing experience compared to the enclosed check-ins that are the norm elsewhere (including POS at its new terminal) but of course if there is rain, extreme heat or much crowding (or bits of all of the above) it becomes quite a hassle - TAB's check-in is similar but much smaller and gets very crowded and sticky at times.
Aussiestu From Australia, joined Mar 2001, 780 posts, RR: 1
Reply 14, posted (9 years 8 months 1 week 4 days 18 hours ago) and read 9865 times:
VS Upper Class actually does advertise that it is a First class product at Business class fares so you would have to rate it against First class when comparing. Loved the report but found the pictures really seemed to make the cabin look really cramped, am I right? And what is that thing at the front of the cabin? Did you sit at the bar and enjoy cocktails or stay seated?
I did hear that many VS flights are understaffed and so understand if the crews looked busy or stressed. I am sure that BGI is a money maker for VS as it is for BA and all the British charter companies. Did you use the Inflight Beauty therapy or is it true that they do not fly these Carribean routes?
I would bet that for the price of a comb you would prefer BA First? I think most of us would!
Cambrian From United Kingdom, joined Sep 2003, 619 posts, RR: 5
Reply 16, posted (9 years 8 months 1 week 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 9672 times:
Hi Trintocan, I really enjoyed reading your Bwee trip report. I am in Barbados at the moment and tomorrow I am taking BW414 to SXM and then going on to Anguilla. Then next week I flying back to BGI via ANU.
Needless to add, I can't wait!
Open air check in makes a nice change, but the renovations at the check in area at BGI right now make checking in a nightmare. I came down this time on BA and they now have off-airport check in for First passengers who are then driven to the plane steps. I am looking forward to trying that service on the way home and I will make a posting to let you know what it is like.
Aussiestu, you are correct- the cabin in the nose of the 747 is quite intimate to say the least. I did have a few drinks at the bar- I think that it is a nice touch, if purely for novelty's sake. There was no in flight beauty therapist- both BA and VS offer second class service out of LGW compared to their LHR product- one of my pet peeves. That thing at the front of the cabin is a fascia covered in fabric with some lights in it. On BA that is normally a wardrobe.
I just flew down in BA First, so I was making comparisons. VS offers an excellent service with the limo and drive thru check in. In fact the BA check in agent refused to put priority tags on my bag and was actually totally aggressive and sarcastic.
On board First feels more exclusive, but the catering is nothing to write home about (except for afternoon tea, which is usually outstanding); Virgin's was a joke. BA's IFE is actually pitiful in comparison with what VS has to offer these days- they really need to do something about that. BA really have taken their eye off the ball as far as First is concerned. As for the Club World cabin on the 777's, it is hideous!
BTW, I was speaking to some Bajan friends who were telling me that SAA has expressed an interest in using BGI as a stopping off point en route to the States.