After getting £500 for my 18th birthday, I decided that instead of blowing the money on junk, id spend the money on something useful. Originally, I planned a trip to new York with my mate, but through an email from Virgin Atlantic a month or so before ordering the New York tickets, I suddenly noticed that San Francisco was a much better, and most likely more thrilling deal.
So £286 and 4000 air miles each later and several months down the line, the big day finally arrived. This was to be an experience of many firsts for me, It was to be the first holiday without my parents, my first Heathrow trip and my first time in a US City (I've been to the USA before, however it was to the tourist trap that is known as Disney world).
Thankfully, my mates dad had kindly offered us a ride to the airport, so, at about 3.30 in the morning we left Billericay and got to the airport at roughly 5am. Not too bad I think. Check in was not opening to 6am and Im aware that I could have arrived later, but I just like to know I'm checked in or about to be. Ids rather wait that extra hour than be stuck in a traffic jam/ road problems/large queue.
Being almost the first to check in, I was greeted with a smile, and the usual courtesy I expect from Virgin Atlantic staff. Check in took about 5 minutes and no problems were encountered; I also received two vouchers to claim on my next flight refunding the APD tax. Its worth noting that these cannot be sued online, so it is a case of phoning my next flight to use them, unless it’s a better deal online than over the phone of course.
Luggage gone, and crowds suddenly appearing (it turns 6am and people just appear from nowhere), we headed upstairs and to “prêt a manger” where I was totally screwed over for a sausage sandwich (I think it cost £4 something). Thankfully, it didn’t taste that bad (I can be very picky with sausages) and washed down with a glass of lemonade it filled me up enough for the time being.
After that we decided there was no point to stay landside and headed over to security. It may have been 7am, but it was soon building up, so we were thankful to have got there when we did. After the obligatory belt off, coat off and bags onto conveyor routine that we so often do, we were now in the departure lounge of Heathrow’s terminal 3. Or should I call it World Duty free shop? At least half the lounge was one huge shop with a smaller one tucked away from it. I know LGW
has a fairly big one, but the LHR T3
one really took the cake. This wasn’t my main quibble with terminal 3; my big one was the lack of windows. Besides a skylight in the roof, there were no windows there whatsoever. Thankfully, you could easily walk to gate areas and look at aircraft without too much of a hassle, and we managed to see a few planes, including the one below. This actually turned out to be our aircraft. This plane was to be my first “special livery flight” as it was painted in the 21st birthday livery.
(Our plane, "Lady Penelope")
Est. Dep 1100 Act. Dep 1105
Flt. Time 10hrs 51mins
Boarding began, and we were almost the first on the plane considering I had chosen seats 62A and 62C. Those of you who are seating map fanatics would know that these are two seats instead of 3 seats and located right at the back of the plane.
Legroom seemed excellent. Much more than my previous trips on VS
, whether it was the V:Port style seats or the fact im near the back, or perhaps that trip on Ryanair last august made the legroom feel better.
(A photo of the legroom)
(A photo of the V:Port Screen) with an interesting message on it)
(A photo of the V:Port remote)
Below are some photos from the taxi, the first one shows Air Canada’s A330 and the second shows a Thai 747. This was my first time seeing the air Canada “toothpaste” livery in person, and I was quite impressed with it. Made a nice change from silver and white, so kudos to the designers.
The Pilot came on to tell us a little about our flight, and I use the term “little” lightly, what we were given was an incredibly detailed list of the route so detailed I'm sure I could have driven it. This was then followed by an announcement from the crew telling us about the use of toilets in our section, and information about the plane (our load, the planes name, registration and airborne date) along with what was for lunch today.
After what felt like a really long take off roll (I guess a half loaded 737-800 does kind of shoot down the runway) we were up into the (for once) blue skies of the UK, and of towards Scotland. With the V:Port system not yet active, I decided to read my copy of Airliners World for a little while (the perfect magazine for any aircraft enthusiast). After about half an hour, they announced that they would now activate V:Port and that it could be a little temperamental.
Mine thankfully worked, as did everyone’s around me and it stayed this way throughout the flight. I was utterly amazed by the amount of choice Virgin offers you, and if you’re an AVOD addict or an IFE junkie, then V:Port really must be in your top ten. I admittedly have only ever used two other personal IFE systems (both Virgin Atlantics) but it really is something else. There are over 50 films to select! Id never used it before as it is only available on the Heathrow fleet (except the A343s).
After choosing The Simpson’s drinks were served. I passed on the free beer option, but went for a coke instead. Pretzels were served as usual with the drink, and again were delicious, Worcester sauce flavour if you’re interested.
(The drinks service, makes a change to have Virgin Cola)
Meal service soon began, as did my next choice in film, Jackass 2. Maybe not the best choice whilst eating but it was funny enough for me to drop my fork down myself.
Today’s choices were:
Braised beef, with roast potatoes and vegetables
Chicken with pasta in a mushroom sauce
I chose the beef, which was tender and juicy and the potatoes were just right. The portion seemed ample enough, as it filled me up.
The usual crackers cheese and roll was served with it, and the roll had a great twist, it was literally half brown and half white bread. Desert was a “fru” a fruity yoghurt mousse like thing from the makes of “Gu”. It was very nice but very rich, rich enough for me to decline the offer of my mate’s dessert which he didn’t want (I think he was full after pretty much licking his meals packaging clean. I chose wine to go with the meal, and it was a very rich and fruity flavour.
Meals were removed and I went back to playing around on V:Port. The map function is excellent, allowing you to zoom right in on some cities, very similar to Google earth, except less detail, and slower.
Ice creams were served a little later:
(Chocolate filled ice cream bar)
After cleaning up on a round of the airline quiz game (I was the only one playing, so expected to win) a second meal was served. This consisted of a choice between a chicken, roast vegetable and tomato Panini or a mozzarella cheese, roast vegetable and tomato Panini.
I chose the chicken one, but I found it to have processed chicken meat in it, and the tomato base was way too spicy.
, this time I watched an episode of peep Show and almost died laughing at “That Mitchell and Webb Look”. The sketch called “numberwang” was just fantastic.
Final meal service consisted of either a chicken Caesar sandwich or a cheese sandwich. I chose the cheese sandwich thinking aha no mayo; however, I was to be deceived. They had cleverly hidden the mayo amongst the cheese. Luckily I read the label of ingredients. Thankfully, the bag of fruit served alongside it was nice and fresh and kept me going until landing. Well, that and the bag of hula hoops I had shoved in the night before.
There were a few things worth photographing from the window, notably the mountain shown below.
(Not sure what mountain this is...)
Landing was dead on time, and smooth too, defiantly one of the better landings Ive had. We parked at gate A8 and then faced the lengthy immigration queues. I expected them to be worse, but was pleasantly surprised. The officer was friendly and efficient. He even smiled, which makes a change compared to the Orlando officials.
After getting our luggage (which as typical was last to come up) we were off onto BART (bay area rapid transit) for a journey to Montgomery station for the walk to our hotel.
Overall this was one of my best trips with Virgin Atlantic so far and if you asked me, they once again pushed the bar with my expectations. The meals, entertainment and crew were all excellent.
Below are a few snaps from my holiday there. It truly is a beautiful city.
(The golden gate bridge in the distance at sunset)
(A very colourful house near Ocean view)
(A street car running on the F line)
(Me at the Golden Gate Bridge)
(A quick view of Alcatraz before arriving)
(A photo during an Oakland A's vs. Yankees game)
(For once an empty muni car)
And now for the return journey:
After a quick and comfortable trip on BART, we arrived at the clean and tidiness that is SFO
airport. The airport puts LHR
to shame, and wasn’t crowded either.
I checked in at about 1330, with a queue of 0 passengers in front of me. The normal economy line had a few, but the online check in one was empty.
We were greeted by a friendly check in assistant again; she even talked about hockey with us after noticing my mates Mighty Ducks Jersey.
The process was again quick, with us declining an offer of a free round trip on a future VS
flight if we volunteered for the next day’s flight. Im still kicking myself about this now, as it settled in later that this was a good offer.
After having a really juicy and filing hotdog from Burger Joint, we had a little browse of the aviation museum, and headed on through security.
Now considering that it was about 3pm, and there was a few international flights, I expected long queues. However, I was literally straight through the scanner, with no problems. Perhaps the domestic terminals are worse? Or is SFO
just better than other airports. TSA
seemed friendly and even greeted me with a smile when I presented my passport.
Flights also leaving in the time frame I was there was an AF
flight to CDG
, a KLM flight to AMS
and a NW
flight to NRT
There was also a CX
plane, a BA
plane and a QF
plane parked at the terminal when we walked around. Below are some photos. Besides the NW
flight, all the aircraft were 747-400. I wonder how much longer this will be the case, as more airlines phase out the 747-400.
(Qantas flight which moved later to a remote stand)
(KLM flight - Those colours look amazing on a 744)
flight to Hong Kong)
(Tail of AF
flight to CDG
- The plane was amazingly clean!)
(Front view of the AF
(Our plane after landing)
(Our plane now at gate)
The plane landed later than the week before (about 1415) however, we still got away on time.
Todays flight was to be on Tubular Belle
Est. Dep 1630 Act. Dep 1635
Flt. Time 10hrs 51mins
Boarding began, and again we were amongst the first to board, being seated in row 63.
The crew on this flight didn’t announce as much as the ones on the way out, however I found them friendlier.
Service started off with drinks as usual and I opted for a Stella Artois, which again was served with pretzels.
(Beer and pretzels)
No need to review either the seats or the IFE, that’s all above, so I’ll get down to the meal service.
Today’s meals consisted of either:
Chicken with noodles
Beef in a BBQ sauce
I chose the beef again, and found it to be tender and juicy with the sauce being sweet and delicious. Unusual to find it with beef, but it worked., it was served with mashed potato and vegetables. The usual cracker, cheese and roll affair also accompanied it, and the desert was a slice of key lime pie. The pie was also delicious.
Meals were cleared, not before the turbulence of course, it does sure know when to occur, always during meals.
(The beef, quite a generous portion)
Duty free service began, and I purchased another model 747-400 to add to my collection, and as always it was presented in a collectors tin with a certificate of ownership.
I took a break from V:Port a little later and went to get some drinks from the galley, where I ahd an interesting chat with a flight attendant. I asked several questions, and found out that she preferred the LHR
flights (less noisy kids I guess).
Back to V:Port for a little while and also a quick few games on my Nintendo DS, accompanied with some Threshold and Sonata Arctica from my Zen Vision M.
The sky outside never really became dark, but we followed the sun and it was amazing to see the glow it left in the sky (especially over Greenland [shown below])
(The sky over northern Canada)
(The sky over greenland)
Breakfast was served about an hour from arrival, and was the usual fruit salad and muffin experience Im used to from VS
, except this time the fruit salad was larger, and they served a hot croissant with an egg and cheese filling. I didn’t eat that however, I don’t like egg.
Meals were collected and the sudden change in altitude was noticeable, and pretty soon we were over the grey skies of London.
At about 1005 we touched down and taxied to one of the gates at LHR
parking next to an A343. This part of LHR
was very nice. It felt modern and spacious, however that soon changed when I reached customs and the baggage hall, which is halfway through a revamp (about time too). Bags came out in once piece and we were off into the maze of LHR
to wait for my mates Dad.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with VS
both on and off the ground. Maybe its better from LHR
, but whatever it was, these two flights felt much better than any other flight ive taken.
I hope you enjoyed my trip reportand the pictures, and if you want to ask questions or comments, please do leave feedback. I have higher resolution pictures if you want them.