This is a rather belated report from a trip I took in July 2008 to Australia. I had, to be honest, been put off Virgin in the past by a couple of transatlantic experiences in Y, but in 2007 I had been transferred from a cancelled MaxJet flight (shortly before their much-lamented collapse) to VS Upper Class for my return from JFK to LHR. That flight completely changed my opinion of VS, and I was very keen to try their Upper Class product again.
I was booked on VS 200 (LHR-HKG-SYD) on 9th July 2008, returning on 11th August on VS 201. My seat was 2A for both flights, as I had seen that this seat had good privacy, being the window seat on the left hand side of the aircraft (there is no row 1 by the window on the A340). The seat turned out to be a good choice, as there is a ventilation panel next to the seat where, although it says “no stowage”, small items like ipods etc can be put as storage space around the seat is not great.
Now I have read and heard a lot of complaints about the VS J class seat – too narrow, impersonal, cramped, can’t see out the window etc., but I think it is great. OK, I can see that if you are travelling with a partner, then it is not ideal with the partitions, but that is about the only gripe that I will concede. It is easy enough to turn around to look out of the window, and I did this a good deal without any real discomfort. The tray table is large and the seat and bed are both very comfortable. I am 6’ and found the bed plenty long enough (admittedly, I put my pillow on the windowsill – not sure if the aisle seats are, therefore, shorter), and it is really not an inconvenience to get up out of the seat to convert to bed mode. Also, one thing I really appreciated is that the seat does not have to be in the fully upright position for take-off and landing – there is, after all, an airbag in the seatbelt (I just love that! ).
Unfortunately, on arrival at the Clubhouse lounge at LHR I was informed that the hot water system had packed up and there was, therefore, no hot food available. This was very disappointing, as I had experienced the hot food on a previous trip to Dubai, and was very much looking forward to a hot meal in the lounge. There was, admittedly, a good range of cold food available, but it wasn’t quite the same. That aside, the Clubhouse really is a jewel in the VS crown and I passed a happy couple of hours there (forgot to take any pics, though, apart from the one below of the EVA Air plane).
View of Eva Air 747 from VS clubhouse at LHR
Boarding was painless and pre-departure drinks were offered. “Snooze packs” – i.e. black pyjamas I mistakenly once referred to as bisexual, when I meant unisex – oops – and eyeshades, socks etc. There is no other amenity kit as such, but FA’s then bring around a basket from which one helps oneself to razors, mints, lotions etc. I guess this is quite sensible, as most amenity packs end up unused in my bathroom cupboard. Anyway, here are some pics of the seat and also of the economy & premium economy products:
Wine, shoebag & notebook
Notebook, wine & something to read
Y class legroom
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly when most of the pics were taken – whether they were the outbound or return flights, but the plastic cutlery was definitely on the HKG-SYD-HKG legs. I really don’t get this, but Australia is still not allowing metal knives on flights – an FA on a recent Emirates flight asked me to write a complaint regarding this, as, I guess, they are trying to get support to have real cutlery re-instated. However, the food and service were consistently good. The little salt and pepper shakers have “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic” printed on the underside, which I thought was a witty touch. FA’s were a mix of European and Asian, and, whilst they were all very good, I have to say the Asian cabin crew had the edge over their European counterparts.
Gnocchi (very nice) with plastic cutlery (why oh why??)
Soup & real cutlery!
Nice chicken main with real cutlery!
I referred earlier to some mixed experiences on VS in the past, and this was largely due to the cabin crew. I chatted to one of the FA’s at the inflight bar (not sure what I did with my pictures of that area) about this, and she knew what I was talking about. Interestingly she said it is almost always entirely dependent on the Flight Services Manager – if he/she is a good one, then this permeates the whole crew, and the reverse is, she said, also true. However, I had no complaints about any of the crew I have encountered in J on VS, and I rate them very highly.
Anyway, the flight was soon over, so here are some approach shots as we neared Sydney:
Beautiful sunrise as we travel down east coast on approach to Sydney
FA spraying cabin on arrival into SYD:
Arrival at Sydney
Why do this to a beautiful plane?
View from Sydney domestic terminal
VS uses the Air New Zealand lounge at Sydney, and there are great views from there. Here are some:
UA 747’s in old and new liveries
Whilst in Australia I came across “Flight Experience” in Surfers Paradise, which offers simulator flights. I booked the one-hour option, and I have to say I loved it!
Like a kid in a sweet shop – fun on a 737 simulator
And finally, here are a couple of shots from a tourist flight over Kakadu National Park – well worth a visit if you’re ever down that way.
Tourist flight over Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory.
My seat (I was told not to touch anything!):
Smoke from bushfire obscuring the sun:
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is a great product; indeed, I would go as far as to say that it is my favourite J class (though my comparisons are only BA, Kuwait, Cathay and Qantas). I am due to be flying back down under at Christmas – the outbound flight is on Qantas with the return in BA’s new Club World, so it will be interesting to see how the latter compares with VS. (At the time of writing, however, there is a threat of BA cabin crew going on strike, so may not be going anywhere!).
Will report back in the New Year. Hope you enjoyed this one.