Comorin From United States of America, joined May 2005, 4908 posts, RR: 16 Posted (8 years 4 months 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 9816 times:
J (9F) Nose Cabin 1-1 seating.
lv 21:45 ar 09:20
It was with some trepidation that I decided to try Virgin Upper Class after flying BA the last 15 years. I had a 500 tier point gap (Silver to Gold) that I could not close by the end of the year, so I though it would be a good time to try something different.
Landed up at EWR Terminal B, and check-in was quick and efficient. At JFK, BA's F and J are in a separate area so you do get a bit of special attention, at least in theory. After check-in, I ambled over to VS' lounge ('Clubhouse') , which interestingly, is located before security. The lounge was small and packed, and my antennae picked up an overwhelming presence of FFs dressed in suburban regalia. Not being JFK, there weren't any celebs lurking in the lounge.
The lounge was crowded, but unlike Terraces (BA's lounge), there was plenty of staff to ply you with food and drink. At Terraces, it's pretty much helping yourself like in a 60's Scandinavian Hotel. However, the Internet connections at Terraces were not - dare I say - dial-up, and there was plenty of space for multiple flight loads.
The flight was called, and we made our way through the TSA gauntlet to board. Boarding was like entering a 90's club - purple and red lights, a bar - all that was missing was a mirrored ball on the ceiling. After being welcomed, I found my way to my seat in the nose cabin (F in BA). No Flower Song, more like current Virgin playlist. The plane looked gleamingly new, with high-gloss fiberglass pods for seats. The seats were much more comfortable than CW, and I noted the airbag in the seat belt and the huge tray table. You also did not have to sit upright for take-off - interesting...
The staff was very friendly, but occasionally forgetful. I had been warned about this by my friends, and it was a trade off between chatty informality and the occasional slip up. Sure enough, drinks were dropped and occasionally forgotten but VS is such a right-brained experience anyway (except on flight deck, I hope). I was used to BA's CW welcome where you got your coat taken and offered a pre-take off drink almost before you hit your seat.
We took off on time, and as usual I wanted to look out of the window during the roll. So folks, the worst part of VS Upper Class is the horrid herringbone configuration of the seat. The window is behind you at eight o'clock, and unless you are Possessed, it was really hard to turn your neck around without getting a permanent crick. What's worse, I ended up with three pax in my line of sight throughout the flight, and it was hard not to avoid staring at them. Please BA, don't ever change to herringbone seating! I will gladly trip over my neighbor for the privacy afforded. Other than that, the seat made a really great and comfy bed - far better than BA CW.
Dinner was served, very impressive service as the tray table is huge. Proper napkin with buttonhole (my pet peeve with BA when they discontinued that), excellent salad, so-so lamb entree. Advice to BA and VS - stop trying to serve Beef or Lamb in the form of steak/chops - it just doesn't work! There was a reason why you had Lamb Navarin or Beef Short Ribs in ages past, so seriously, stop it! I think the tastiest food in the air is spiced food - BA had the best Biryanis and Kormas at one time, but you don't see much of it anymore. However, the wine - 2004 Chateau du Tour Grand Moulin was fantastic, especially as it was served in a decent size glass.
After dinner, I played around with the AVOD, quite impressive, but some work needs to be done in matching up pixels to source resolution -- images were not sharper than you see on a smaller screen.
Fell asleep bathed in Harem-like mood lighting, and it was nice to be able to lower the arm rest and roll around a bit. Soon it was time to land, and we set down at Heathrow on schedule. Went to wash up, and realized that VS does not give you an amenities kit - you have to ask if you need anything! - Like in Oliver Twist!! Anyway, I didn't have time try out VS' Arrivals lounge as I had to sprint to T4 for a flight to Amsterdam.
Arrived at T3 Heathrow in a chauffeured car service (big improvement over Carmel in NYC!) The chauffeur was dressed in a proper suit, and had worked as a trusted member of a rich family in London. The trip to Heathrow went by quickly as he described all the cars he had driven. Clearly a BMW man, he preferred the family Rolls over the Maybach, and the M5 as the ultimate personal car for tooling around incognito.
Checked in at VS, cleared security, bought some Duchy biscuits at the DZuty Free (straight from Windsor Castle!), and entered the VS Clubhouse Lounge. Wow! Was it a jaw-dropping experience! Clearly a must-see in London. It's huge, ultra-chic, with everything you could ask for, and everything the EWR lounge wasn't. There was a long, long bar, with real bartenders and staff, a cold food station, a brasserie, movie theatre, pool table, Bumble and Bumble hairdressing, a Spa and other wonders I must have missed. It certainly made BA's lounges look old and tattered. I didn't indulge too much, as I wanted to eat aboard - nothing like having dinner 35,000 feet over the Atlantic...
This time I was seated in 17A, not in the Nose Cabin, and it was 1-2-1 seating. Once again, I realized how much I detested the Herringbone seating pattern. No privacy at all, we were all gawking at each other - nowhere else to look at. I didn't get a pre-flight drink so had to walk up to the bar to get a glass of bubbly. The crew apologized for the oversight, and to make a point, I mentioned that I was a BA FF trying out VS
After several more serving items were dropped, everything was stowed away and we took off. I toyed around with the AVOD, and could still not get myself to watching 'An Inconvenient Truth'. Had Dinner (My last time with the dreaded Beef) washed it down with an excellent Rioja - 2001 Bodegas Amezola de la Mora. The meal was Ok, But I did miss BA's great desserts ('puddings').
So I'll cut short my trip report as we are now in real time and I am typing this on board.
Here's the summary and comparison (IMHO, of course):
1. VS is to be commended on outstanding improvement over the years. Even without BA's legendary history of service, they have managed to build up a high-class act in the sky.
2. VS cabin interiors are sparkling clean and new; BA's F and J are badly in need of an overhaul.
3. BA service is understated, but sometimes borders on being too low-key. VS is high energy and perhaps a little too bright, but then they appeal to a more hyper clientele (like Richard Quest on CNN).
4. For the outrageous J fare, VS tries very hard to offer value - great lounge, in flight massage, AVOD, new cabins and a party atmosphere on board. BA has lost it's pole position, and as a loyal BA fan, I wish they would stop obsessing about balance sheets and pensions ( a mere 2B) and so on and claim their lead with customers once again. sadly, none of my colleagues fly BA anymore ...
5. VS' Clubhouse is to be seen to be believed. Sir Richard (not Cliff, you dummies) has stood up and made a bold statement about VS's commitment to the future.
6. The Therapy sessions are fabulous, and is a great idea -- someone from VS actually sits down, holds your hands, and talks to you for 15 minutes - what a perfect customer 'contact' point!
7. It's great to see continuous improvement at work at VS. BA, on the other hand, has been the airline to beat so far. Without Concorde, BA will have to try very hard to remain The World's Favorite Airline.
As an Old Codger, I will still fly BA because:
1. They don't have the horrible herringbone-layout seating -- this is to be experienced to be believed.
2. They serve afternoon tea and give you an amenity kit.
3. They serve you wine and champagne on a tray, instead of bringing it to you grabbed by the stem.
4. Hopefully the new CW seat will improve the old and moldy cabin feel.
5. VS will prod BA out of complacency -- without happy (and loyal) customers, your balance sheet is going nowhere anyway.
6. The FA's don't rush about all the time (What are they doing anyhow?), especially with just one meal service on this long flight.
7. I'm a serious-type guy who's not into art, media, and the like.
8. I can still look out of the window without going to a chiropractor afterwards.
The verdict: Congrats VS! - You're eating BA's lunch. BA - This is your wake-up call to take the lead again...
Aussiestu From Australia, joined Mar 2001, 780 posts, RR: 1
Reply 1, posted (8 years 4 months 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 9789 times:
Comorin - what a report and I agree with you whole heartedly. Have just flown VS to SYD in UC. Virgin products and services are leaders and they make the other airlines standup and take notice but I must be getting to be an 'ole codger' as I would still pick BA over them. Have just witnessed the new CW seat and amenities and its looking great. With the huge BA longhaul fleet to change its going to take a while but I am sure those that may have left the BA fold to support and claim their precious miles, this new product may have them back. Nice report and even better that you have just written it. Many thanks
Alaskaqantas From New Zealand, joined Dec 2005, 906 posts, RR: 4
Reply 5, posted (8 years 4 months 1 week 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 9383 times:
great report, It was good to be able to see all of the comparisions!
I might be trying out NZ's new business class seat going down to NZ in the next few weeks because of family emergency, but I hope that I don't have to go down. I think that Virgins deal looks a little nicer with all of the extras, but they don't fly the route that I need.
would you say that the bed part was comfortable?
to some people the sky is the limit, to aviation enthusiasts, its home!
Yes, the bed is much more comfortable because you turn around when you sleep (the armrest lowers). The surface is also flatter, as you don't have the little ridges in between. It's also a more comfortable seat sitting up. You do however lose the side stowage for briefcases and so on - means getting up more often.
Feel free if you have any more questions, I'll look in periodically.
B707Stu From United States of America, joined Feb 2005, 918 posts, RR: 4
Reply 7, posted (8 years 4 months 1 week 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 9113 times:
Thanks. Great trip report. You summed up my feelings about the two exactly, though I'm not as averse to the herring bone bit. With BA you're pretty much guaranteed pearls, a silver tray and worn interiors while VS offers reddish tones, smart white shirts and contemporary jewelry. BA probably brings a greater sense of 'security' to those in need while VS brings a fresh 'life energy' for those 'jet-setting.' It's interesting that you're still rooting for BA to make a come back... I've just about given up on them, like your friends. I'll take CO up front cabin over BA J product anyday.
LACA773 From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 4113 posts, RR: 2
Reply 8, posted (8 years 4 months 1 week 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 8952 times:
Thankyou so very much for the wonderful trip report and comparisons of BA vs VS. This report/review/comparison is publishable to one of travel magazines, OAG, online magazine, Business Traveler, etc. The only things I would are are some photos and the menus.
I'm surprised they don't offer an amentity kit as they tout this quiet a bit in some of their advertisements and on www.v-flyer.com .
I will be very interested to see what FBGDavidson (*) comments in regards to your observations, like you, writes class act reports that could be published.
Thanks again, Comorin.
(*) as well as AirxLiban, Carfield, ChrisTao, RoseFlyer, DeltaGator.........
I'll try to take some pictures next time - I need to figure out how to use my cellphone camera and download it to my laptop. Interestingly, the cabin crew asked us for our menus back at the end of the flight! I was hoping I could make a jpg out of it to post.
As for the amenities, we were encouraged to use the Arrivals facility both for breakfast and washing up. When I asked for a kit, the FA asked what specific item I needed, and brought it to me.
Airbus3801 From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2004, 1089 posts, RR: 5
Reply 11, posted (8 years 4 months 6 days 8 hours ago) and read 8450 times:
Excellent report and it gave a great insight into the differences between VS and BA. Interesting about the seating arrangement as I have never heard of that, but it does make sense when you think about it.
Fbgdavidson From United Kingdom, joined Oct 2004, 3714 posts, RR: 27
Reply 12, posted (8 years 4 months 5 days 23 hours ago) and read 8231 times:
Nice comparison report! There is no doubt VS offer a decent product and I really should give it a go one day. I just think VS and BA cater for different markets, it is almost a new money vs old money comparison. Flashy and in your face vs British reserve.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): Advice to BA and VS - stop trying to serve Beef or Lamb in the form of steak/chops - it just doesn't work!
Indeed, although I did have a fillet steak in BA F a few months ago that was actually excellent, I was surprised!
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): Once again, I realized how much I detested the Herringbone seating pattern. No privacy at all, we were all gawking at each other - nowhere else to look at.
This might sound daft but the herringbone seating could be good if you face the seat towards the window with the aisle behind you. Then you'd get more of a private feeling, could add a curved edge around the back of the seat for a little more privacy and voila! Alas you'd then not have the unlimited legroom you have at the moment, and get rid of the ottoman.
Comorin From United States of America, joined May 2005, 4908 posts, RR: 16
Reply 13, posted (8 years 4 months 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 8009 times:
Quoting Fbgdavidson (Reply 12): There is no doubt VS offer a decent product and I really should give it a go one day
I think it's worth trying, especially for the Club House experience at LHR. Give yourself enough time to enjoy the many amenities there. But do it before BA rolls out new CW
Quoting Fbgdavidson (Reply 12): This might sound daft but the herringbone seating could be good if you face the seat towards the window with the aisle behind you
Not daft - I had the exact same thought during the flight. However, I'm guessing that the VS demographic is more 'see and be seen'. Plus, without the ottoman, chairside massages become tricky. The 'therapy session' is a central part of the VS experience.
I'll try and post a report on new CW vis a vis VS UC when it happens, though I hope you'll be the first to tell us what it's like!
BTW, whatever happened to caviar service - is it no longer in fashion? I think DL still serves it in F on the JFK-SVO route.
The number one complaint about our CW beds at BA....too narrow at shoulder level. The new seat incorporates armrests that lower to the same level as the bed when reclined, making it a few inches wider.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): 2. VS cabin interiors are sparkling clean and new; BA's F and J are badly in need of an overhaul.
So true. The cabins at BA really need an overhaul. Club will receive this when the new seat is installed. FIRST will take over when Club is finished. For the poor folks down the back though, they will probably have some time to wait!
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): 3. BA service is understated, but sometimes borders on being too low-key. VS is high energy and perhaps a little too bright,
Hehe. At BA we bid our position we work onboard by seniority. It currently takes around 2-4 years on shorthaul to be able to get over to long-haul (with few exceptions). Once you are on long-haul, at LHR anyway, you typically wait 8 - 10 years before being offered a FIRST course. So probably not going to end up with an eager hyper stew serving you in FIRST! Positions in FIRST are usually snapped up first, upper deck and small CW cabin on the jumbo also popular. On the 777 or high CW config jumbo Club isn't so popular to work in so is often left to the most junior crew.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): 4. For the outrageous J fare, VS tries very hard to offer value - great lounge, in flight massage, AVOD, new cabins and a party atmosphere on board. BA has lost it's pole position, and as a loyal BA fan, I wish they would stop obsessing about balance sheets and pensions ( a mere 2B) and so on and claim their lead with customers once again. sadly, none of my colleagues fly BA anymore
Agreed. Things that many at BA fob off as 'gimmicky' such as the limo and beauty therapist really do add value to the passengers. And help pass the time. Tho i'm not sure our CW pax would like a 'party atmosphere' on a night flight from JFK - LHR.
As for pensions etc. Unfortunately the current management have inherited a lot of baggage from what was a former goverment company. We still have crew that joined on old BOAC/BEA contracts! There is no escaping this. It has to be dealt with. It is a lot easier for companies that have started more recently and where staff don't tend to stay as long to not have pension issues etc to deal with.
I've visited the new CW mock up and the cabin and seat looks fantastic. A huge improvement in terms of space, privacy and modernity on the current cabin.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): 6. The FA's don't rush about all the time (What are they doing anyhow?), especially with just one meal service on this long flight.
Having flown for VS before BA I can remember the 'Freedom Menu' where people could (theoretically) eat when they wanted. So we did tend to have to do a lot of running about during the flight. Laying a table for one pax while offering a dessert to another.
AirxLiban From Lebanon, joined Oct 2003, 4519 posts, RR: 53
Reply 15, posted (8 years 4 months 3 days 11 hours ago) and read 7694 times:
Thanks, Comorin, for this excellent report and review of VS in comparison to BA.
I haven't properly traveling in the VS Upper Class Suite to compare - my only UC experience was a upgrade to UC on an A340-300 in the days of the Upper Class seat. As such I couldn't experience the Clubhouse, but my overall impression was that Virgin has a differentiated, exciting and creative product offering but their service lacks the polish of BA's.
The opinion on the UC suite is unanimous in that it is more comfortable than the current CW seat. The entertainment system is more extensive. It seems as though the clubhouse is a more exciting place than a BA terraces lounge.
One way of looking at this issue, though, is that the comparison between VS UC and BA CW is not a comparison between VS Upper Class and BA Economy - and if you find the CW seat comfortable to sit in, comfortable to sleep in, are happy with BA's set-up for getting through the airport, like the lounges, enjoy the service and find the benefits of being a FF with a large international airline, then there's not much point in switching over to VS for a marginally more comfortable seat, slightly cleaner cabin and what have you.
At least that's what I'm telling myself until I fly the suite and get hooked
Comorin From United States of America, joined May 2005, 4908 posts, RR: 16
Reply 16, posted (8 years 4 months 3 days 9 hours ago) and read 7631 times:
Quoting BAStew (Reply 14): For once very fair and objective without the usual BA or VS bias!
Thanks! Your perspective is most interesting as you've been on both sides of the fence. Your comments following were most helpful as they fill in quite a few gaps.
Quoting BAStew (Reply 14): For the poor folks down the back though, they will probably have some time to wait!
Especially on ultra longhaul - the seat pitch is just a bit too cramped. If BA could only come up with a pioneering way (like they did with lie-flat CW) to make WT more comfortable.
Quoting BAStew (Reply 14): Tho i'm not sure our CW pax would like a 'party atmosphere' on a night flight from JFK - LHR.
What if they were connecting to Kazakhstan?
Quoting BAStew (Reply 14): Unfortunately the current management have inherited a lot of baggage from what was a former goverment company.
Thanks for clarifying- I didn't know it went so far back, hope they get it behind them.
Quoting BAStew (Reply 14): Laying a table for one pax while offering a dessert to another.
Aah, so that's what is was! Personally, I'm not a big fan of eat on demand. I once woke up at 5 am to the smells of Shrimp Korma from a neighboring seat. I love Korma, but not at daybreak! I think set meal times are more fun, provide a sense of occasion and shows off great service.
BAStew, look forward to seeing your posts around here.
Comorin From United States of America, joined May 2005, 4908 posts, RR: 16
Reply 19, posted (8 years 4 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 7473 times:
Quoting BAStew (Reply 18): The aim is to offer a 'new CW seat guarantee' on all LHR/JFK flights within 3 months of launch. So I guess by mid Feb you should be pretty safe getting a new seat on the route!
Appreciate the tip I'll book for March then, and do another comparative TR. Now to figure out how to download pics from my cellphone...
Ardian From Netherlands, joined Oct 2000, 554 posts, RR: 0
Reply 20, posted (8 years 4 months 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 7350 times:
Nice tripreport! Interesting to read the differents between this two carriers and to see how they're trying to differentiate in this market.
You're totally right about the VS Clubhouse. I've seen the pictures of the Clubhouse in LHR and it was absolutely outrageous! What an amazing lounge: brings back some glamorous seventies feel to flying, nice small details and a wonderful design
DeltaGator From United States of America, joined Sep 2005, 6341 posts, RR: 13
Reply 21, posted (8 years 4 months 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 7225 times:
Excellent report and a good comparison of the two differing brands. The herringbone design didn't really bother me but the stiffness of the seat when made into a bed gave me a horrible night's sleep. I also didn't like the high walls on the suites where the air didn't circulate when lying down. It seems that design flaw has been fixed in the newer versions of the suites coming to AC and DL. I wish someone would introduce a seat that could fold like a V in the middle and let me sleep in a curled up fetal position.
My only issue with VS service was in the Clubhouse at LHR where I ordered some dinner and it never came. I enquired about it and they apologized and said they would get it right out to me but it still never came and I had to catch my flight to Delhi so I just ate on the plane.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): my antennae picked up an overwhelming presence of FFs dressed in suburban regalia. Not being JFK, there weren't any celebs lurking in the lounge.
Ha! That's a good one. Of course in my times in the JFK Clubhouse I didn't see any celebrities there.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): However, the Internet connections at Terraces were not - dare I say - dial-up, and there was plenty of space for multiple flight loads.
There should be wireless access there but it is supplied by the airport authority and does cost a little bit of money.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): Went to wash up, and realized that VS does not give you an amenities kit - you have to ask if you need anything!
Interesting. Every time I've flown UC they handed out the kits while on the ground. Perhaps a change and not exactly a good one. Possibly like SQ where they give you a small kit and if you want things like toothbrushes and combs you get them inside the lav itself.
Why on earth would anyone want to watch a PowerPoint presentation? I avoid them at work so I'm surely not going to watch one in a plane.
Quoting LACA773 (Reply 8): (*) as well as AirxLiban, Carfield, ChrisTao, RoseFlyer, DeltaGator.........
Ahhhh LACA, you're making me blush. Thanks.
Quoting Comorin (Thread starter): I had a 500 tier point gap (Silver to Gold) that I could not close by the end of the year,
Not sure how much that equates to in travel but I got Delta to keep me at Gold one year when I was going to miss it by a couple of segments (back when they did it that way) since I had maintained Gold for so long.
[Edited 2006-11-05 15:56:47]
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