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.
Refernece my trip report:
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.
Photo © Kjc Photography
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.
Photo © Justin Wood
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.