VS029 Gatwick- Barbados
Photo © David James Clelford
Dep: LGW 10.00
Arr: BGI 14.45
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.
After nearly a month in the Caribbean (where it rained a lot!) it was time to go back home.
G-VFAB "Lady Penelope"
Photo © John Higgins - AirTeamImages
Dep: BGI 18.25
Arr: LGW 06.30
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.
En route to the UK...
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!