Disclaimer: this account of Premium Economy aboard the A340-300 does not necesarily reflect the PE experience on the 747 or A340-600
Alright, here goes. After crossing the Atlantic from LAX
and vicky versa on British Airways between 1x and 4x a year since about 1991, it was finally time to try another airline...especially since BA
was more expensive this year.
So there were a couple of choices. Since we were going to travel in Premium Economy, it could only have been BA
) so since BA
was out, it was going to be Virgin.
I had heard good things about virgin and had finished reading Branson's autobiography within recent memory and had become akin to all the illegitimate business practices that BA
and Lord King had been pulling on virgin in the early 1990s and figured it was worth a shot.
However by the time I got to booking VS7 and VS8 were booked, so I had to forfeit the opportunity to fly VS
747s and reserved on the A340 instead.
Paid about *cant find the US dollar sign on this swiss keyboard* 1450 including taxes with Virgin for flights 23 and 24.
I had never flown on an A340 before, so I wasn't entirely disappointed as I figured I could at least participate in the A340 discussions on the website.
Got to LAX
around 6:30 pm for the 8:40 flight. Went into the dedicated premium economy check in desk at terminal 2 and checked in.
I asked the lady at the check in desk which exact aircraft was flying the route. She said "Airbus" and I said "I know...which one exactly?" Eventually she gave me the information I wanted to know but did not want to hear...I would be travelling on Airbus A340-311 G-VBUS, Virgin Atlantic's oldest 340 delivered in November 1993 and equipped with the archaic Arcadia entertainment system.
Oh well. At least I got my window seat.
As I was sitting in the departure lounge, good old Uniform Sierra arrived.
Another more memorable arrival was that of the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew. All i can say is: yummy...branson sure knows how to pick them.
As I was peering out the window, I saw BA
268 service to LHR
go past. The aircraft was G-BNLI and it looked absolutely marvellous taxiing out to the runway and taking off. The 747 is truly the queen of the skies. I turned my head and looked at G-VBUS and truly felt as though I was missing out.
Got on board and sat down. The cabin was quite tattered, but the seat was quite wide. However, I was shocked to find no leg rest and that the screen was miniscule!!!!!!
Crummy screen...familiar with the old nokia 8000 series?
The legrest did in fact exist, but it wasnt integrated into the seat. BA
had this feature in economy on their 767s 10 years ago. Virgin's folded down from the seat in front...bloody uncomfortable.
Here is the seat:
A very attractive young lady came around with a glass of champagne, which was a nice touch.
Unfortunately however the feel of the cabin was not doing it for me. The seats were worn, the red or blue fabric was haphazardly placed and overall it did not impress.
We taxied to the runway. I imagine that the engines spooled up, but didnt hear much of an acceleration. We took off slowly over the pacific ocean. I noticed that we were lower than I remember ever having been on a BA
M80 or anything else. Slow climb was definitly the name of the game.
Eventually we got to cruising altitude and I noticed how quiet the engines were, which is a good thing. I reached in the seat pocket in front of me...but there was no in flight magazine, which I found extremely odd. Why hasn't Sir Richard thought of this?
Beverage service came along and my scotch was simply poured into the glass instead of giving me the bottle. I have a habit of drinking it on the rocks and filling the glass up with ginger ale instead of water, fortunately I did receive a small can of ginger ale.
The snacks were simply given out in a plastic bag. BA
provides small dishes for the almonds. I didnt particularly care for the worcestershire sauce flavoured pretzel either.
They didnt come around again before the meal. I was hoping for a glass of wine but had to ask for it separately. BA
does come around twice and they also give you a menu so you know what to expect.
Another annoying thing is that they didn't give any socks in the little pack of things they provide.
The F/A simply said "do you want chicken beef or pasta?". I chose the beef and it was quite good...no complaints there.
Then I decided to go to bed and found that the seat did not recline in a smooth fashion; rather the possible reclined positions were quantized. At full recline however the seat was quite comfortable and I slept a good 7 hours.
Before breakfast I had a go at some of the Arcadia games. There were a few to choose from and I ended up with Mario. It took 4 minutes to load!!!
Breakfast was an egg and cheese muffin with some lousy fruit and a cup of coffee.
Prior to landing we circled around heathrow for a good 20 minutes and then came in to land. Spent another 20 minutes on the ground.
All in all, not a bad trip but I did expect more from Virgin after having heard so much about them. If I ever travel Virgin again (other than the return trip) I would like to try Upper Class. For my Premium Economy traveling, my choice is British Airways.
Unless of course the 747 and A340-600 PE
experiences are significantly better.
Here is a summary of BA
Premier Economy versus Virgin Premium Economy on the A340:
Quality of interior
Existence of in flight magazine
More flying club miles vs exec club miles
Virgin F/As preferable to wake up to
Premium Economy more 'separate' than WT
I reckon the physical space to be about the same on both carriers.
I would be very interested to hear in what ways Virgin's Premium Economy product is better on the 747 and A340-600.
In the meantime, I also formulated my initial impression of the A340-300. Although I did notice and do understand why some people call it underpowered and complain about the slow climb etc, I would not hesitate to fly on it again. Very quiet on board and the 2-4-2 layout in eco and 2-3-2 in premium economy is a plus. i would prefer to fly a 747 or 767, but between the A340 and 777 I would choose the A340...unless I was in a hurry.
That's all for now! Look forward to comments and hearing about 747 and A346 PE
PARIS, FRANCE...THE BEIRUT OF EUROPE.