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
'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
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
- 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.
G-VxAB 'Lady Penelope'
J (17K) lower deck
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):
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.
cabin interiors are sparkling clean and new; BA
's F and J are badly in need of an overhaul.
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
' 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
, 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
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.
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...