Aircraft: G-VFIT Airbus A340-600 (delivered to VS on 24.05.06)
Cabin: Upper Class (J)
Date of departure: 2 September 09
Scheduled departure time: 1345
Actual departure time: 1410
Scheduled arrival time: 0930
Actual arrival time: 0858
Scheduled flight duration: 12hrs
Actual flight duration: 11hrs
First trip report from a long time A.Net lurker. Please let me have any comments. There aren’t as many pics as I’d like, I was trying to avoid that “why are you taking photos of a plane, you nutter” feeling, but I hope those that I did take give a reasonable enough trip report. The VS Upper Class experience was absolute perfection, everything from start to finish was brilliant. Some highlights were the funky, spacious LHR Clubhouse, the comfortable Upper Class ‘suite’, attentive cabin crew and modern A346. You may also like to check out an internal flight undertaken on the same holiday (HND-CTS) with Skymark Airlines coming soon.
Photo © Patrick Schwarzschulz
Photo © Wim Callaert
On arrival at Terminal 3, VS Upper Class check-in was very quiet. Three counters were in use and no on queuing but we were directed to use the dedicated lift and check-in “upstairs” accessed via the VS-dedicated lift to the right of the Upper Class check-in desks. This turned out to be the drive-thru check-in area upstairs from the main check-in desks in Terminal 3, which again was quiet. A friendly VS check-in agent swiftly checked our bags and gave us boarding cards with our pre-assigned seats, 4 & 5K. The dedicated VS security channel was (again) empty and no one queuing at all. A cheeky security agent joked that plastic bags for liquids were £1 – where does he think he works? Luton? Michael O’Leary would be proud…
VS Drive-thru check in area upstairs from the main check-in area
Terminal 3 Departure Lounge (sorry for the blur)
Terminal 3 and VS Clubhouse
The departure area was frenetic despite this being the end of school holidays. (is the imminent closure of Terminal 2 making a difference?) After quickly identifying items for purchase later (Reiss shirt/trousers and Bose ear-phones) we continued towards the Clubhouse itself. On entering we found it to be quieter than normal – economic downturn or simply time of day, not sure. Our pre-booked Cowshed Spa treatments were arranged for 11am (Men’s wet shave and facial plus Head, Neck & Shoulder Massage). The massage was rather intense, but despite her asking me whether she was applying too much pressure, I was too polite and toughed it out to the end. It wasn’t painful, just rather too much pressure applied. My partner’s shave and facial was decent enough although it’s always a bit strange having someone else shave your beard.
Following our treatments we transitioned to the restaurant. I chose a plateful of assorted cold salads and fish from the deli counter while my partner opted for smoked salmon & scrambled egg on toasted brioche. Both were good – can’t complain about the smallish sizes when one can ask for seconds! I asked for a pot of peppermint tea and was pleased to be served a large pot of fresh mint tea, partner opted for a glass of sauvignon blanc.
We left the tranquillity of the Clubhouse momentarily to make the obligatory departure purchases – but failed to find the correct size of jeans in Reiss. However it was explained that one can phone ahead and order, so next time I’m travelling from LHR I will identify my “departure Reiss purchase” in Covent Garden the day before travelling! Partner was much more successful in his departure purchase (Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones). We returned to the Clubhouse for a final 30 minutes of calm before mincing down to gate 17.
Stairs up to VS Clubhouse
Entrance to VS Clubhouse
Clubhouse Bar from seating area
Clubhouse seating area seen from Cowshed Spa
View from the Clubhouse (glad we’re not flying that…)
Sitting in the Clubhouse Restaurant towards games room and upwards to Sky Loft
Another of the Restaurant upwards towards Sky Loft
Selection of salads from the Deli Bar
Boarding & takeoff
Gate 17 was deserted when we arrived, only a few lost souls hanging around, so boarding was a breeze. We were met at the aircraft by two smiley Japanese-national crew and directed towards our seats near the front of the Upper Class cabin. I discovered (on the return flight) that VS “national crews” (ie Japanese, Chinese and Indian) actually come and live in London for a few years, so they share the down-route with the UK-crew, not as I had thought. Also the Japanese National Crew do other VS routes (NYC in particular), rather than sticking with NRT exclusively. Apparently if they were always on the NRT flight, their annual ‘radiation quota’ would be used up much quicker in view of the northerly route taken between LHR and NRT. Load was about 60% in Upper Class – the entire middle row was empty comprising an equal mix of British and Japanese. Cabin Crew made announcements regarding the ‘light load’ in economy and for passengers to stick to their assigned seats for weight balancing. I guess it must have been very empty down the back, but didn’t investigate.
The crew assigned to our section introduced herself promptly and took our orders for pre-departure drinks (orange juice and champagne respectively). The flight-deck announced a rather short sector time of 11hr5mins (comparing to 12hr published sector time) and push back occurred on time at 1348. A relatively short trundle down to the end of 27L and we lined up as number 5 for take off in front of BA 777, AC 330, VS 744, Aer Lingus 320.
When the Rolls Royce Trent 500s powered-up for takeoff we both remarked how quiet it was up front. Relatively short take-off roll perhaps due to the light load. A small amount of bumps as we climbed through the rainclouds.
Once the crew had been released from their seats the Flight Service Manager introduced himself and offered a selection of Cowshed products, mints and pens. Throughout the flight he was visible in the Upper Class cabin helping to serve drinks, meals etc.
View from onboard of a rainy LHR
View from my seat back down the cabin – empty middle row
Photo © Mike Moores
Photo © Suresh A. Atapattu
Before the meal, a drinks service was conducted, complemented by crackers or onion crisps. I opted for a glass of Portuguese white wine, partner opting for a South African red. Both were totally drinkable. Hot towels came next – scorching hot and rather wet, but welcome. Then the meal itself – my choices pictured below, followed by whole menu listing.
Portuguese white wine on small drinks shelf
Table set up
Starter of “Hokki sushi with wasabi-flavoured sliced mushrooms, lobster yellow fry and boiled soya bean with green leaf”
Main course: Creamy fish pie with a baked champ and cheese crust, served with seasonal vegetables and sweet potato. Although this was presented rather badly it tasted lovely. There were plenty of chunks of salmon and prawns and other unknown smoked fish covered in a creamy/cheesy sauce and topped in what essentially tasted like cheesy mashed potato, just enough to mop up the sauce. The seasonal vegetables turned out to be steamed leeks, the sweet potato was indeed sweet and an appropriate accompaniment.
Desert: Spotted dick sponge pudding served with custard. The pudding was moist and warm, not hot and a sensible amount of custard.
Peppermint Tea with VS 25 Year Anniversary Chocolates
Wine top-ups were repeatedly offered and choices were recalled (ie read off a list) correctly by different cabin crew each time.
Remainder of menu was:
Crunchy leaf salad with feta cheese and chorizo ham and olives served with a light chive vinaigrette dressing
Warming butternut squash & sweet potato soup with a choice of warmed breads
Wild Mushroom stroganoff, served on a bed of basmati rice and a side of curly kale
Chicken tsukune yakitori skewers, glazed with sweet terikyaki marinade served on steamed rice with bamboo shoots, broccoli and carrots.
Japanese Bento Box
Chocolate genache cake with Chantilly cream
Once the meal set-up had been collected the cabin lights were dimmed and almost all other passengers in the Upper Class cabin converted their seats into the fully flat bed and tried to get some sleep. However sleep evaded me and I ended up remaining awake the entire flight. Once I had exhausted the newspaper I turned my attention to VS’ in-flight entertainment system (V-Port). V-Port was probably cutting edge AVOD when it was first introduced but has probably been overtaken by the likes of SQ and EK now but it still has around 100 films and TV shows, documentaries and music to choose from. There was less of interest in the film section than last time I flew VS, but I found ‘The Boat that Rocked’ was relatively entertaining, then got the laptop out for a bit before watching some really funny episodes of Simpsons that I’d never seen before. Cabin crew kept moving around the Upper Class cabin every half hour asking if there was anything they could get me, I must have drunk about three litres of water by the end of the flight!
Somewhere over Scandinavia
V-Port iMap Data Page
V-Port iMap Data Page
Seat belt sign came on twice for about 10 minutes each time somewhere near the Ural Mountains and then again over the Sea of Japan, but other than that it was a totally smooth flight.
Upper Class Bar Area
The bar area was deserted most of the flight. I popped up there a couple of times to top up on water and for a change of scenery and the crew were almost immediately there asking if there was anything they could do for me. There have been rumours about VS removing the bar area and shoving more seats in, but it would be really missed, particularly on day time flights. On the return leg we spent a good couple of hours chatting to other passengers and the crew. However I can imagine on the LAS route or on VS Caribbean routes (for example) that the bar is mobbed the entire flight.
Photo © John Thompson
Photo © Sam Chui
Breakfast service, landing and arrival
My breakfast of Museli and fruit bowl with orange juice and cup of tea
Partner’s full English breakfast
Overcast NRT taxiing to stand
At about 90mins prior to landing the cabin lights were switched back on and breakfast orders were taken. I opted for some museli, fruit juice and cup of tea. Partner (having got a good few hours sleep) managed to scoff a full English breakfast. Landing into NRT was slightly early due to the strong tail wind. A short taxi to Terminal 1. We were in the first six people off the plane and walked quickly towards immigration through the swine flu screening area which had a ‘temperature detection device’ directed towards the flow of passengers walking towards it. We discovered immigration to be totally deserted, in stark contrast to previous NRT trips in which we have encountered a half hour queue. Our bags were amongst the first on the belt. Next hurdle was the customs check at which both our suitcases were given a swift and rudimentary search. Before we knew it we were heading towards the Narita Express bound for Shinagawa and still glowing from the near-perfect experience of VS Upper Class.
This was my first trip report, please let me have any comments / questions you may have.