Flight: VS 075
Route: Manchester, England (MAN) to Orlando Intl (MCO)
Scheduled departure time
Jun 21, 11:00
Scheduled arrival time
Jun 21, 15:25
Name: Beauty Queen (first A330 to join Virgin Atlantic's fleet)
I was very excited to be flying on Virgin Atlantic's brand-new Airbus A330. As Virgin currently operates two flights a day between Manchester and Orlando, I had the choice when booking between the A330 and Boeing 747-400.
I have previously flown on one of Virgin's LHR-based 747s with the V:PORT IFE, which I enjoyed, but I have heard negative things about the older Gatwick and Manchester-based jumbos.
Photo © William Horsefield
Photo © Darren Wilson
So no competition, really! I boarded Beauty Queen in good time following an effortless online check-in and bag drop off. Inside, I was greeted by a two-class layout with the next-generation Premium Economy and Economy Class seating.
My window seat was in the economy cabin, configured in a 2-4-2 layout and featuring a 9-inch seatback monitor. The cabin’s mood lighting provided a warm and welcoming pink hue, softly lighting the signature red seats.
First impressions were good as I settled into my high-tech seat with the brand-new Panasonic eX2 inflight entertainment system. Legroom and seat width were acceptable, and lumbar support was comfortable. Everything, as you would expect, was in pristine condition.
I was leafing through my complimentary Daily Express newspaper as the aircraft pushed back right on time. We made our way to runway 23R for a south-westerly departure and rotated smoothly into the sky with a total of 284 passengers on board.
Shortly after takeoff, a welcome video message from Sir Richard Branson was played, thanking us for choosing Virgin Atlantic. A nice personal touch, I thought. This was followed by Virgin's “Your airline's either got it or it hasn't” TV advert, featuring the A340-600.
We were each handed a complimentary amenity kit, presented in a high-quality drawstring swim bag style. This contained useful things like earplugs, eyeshades, toothbrush/toothpaste and pen, along with a Change For Children charity envelope.
A drinks service, including free alcohol, was then swiftly provided along with what seems to be the obligatory pack of pretzels you receive on all US-bound flights these days!
This was followed by the lunch service. There were three options (macaroni, sausage and mash, and fish pie); I opted for the latter. The food was pretty good: the salad tasted fresh and the main dish was quite tasty. I washed it down with a beer.
The cabin crew were quick and efficient, friendly and warm. Always smiling too, but then they were headed to Florida!
An Aer Lingus A330 keeps us company
Once lunch was cleared away, it was time to get acquainted with the new entertainment system, named JAM. First of all, in this age of iPhones and iPads, it was so pleasant having a touchscreen monitor where I didn't need to navigate the menu using the handset controller. The menu was divided into on-demand movies, music, TV shows – and also extra content such as interactive moving maps, Sky News (which is updated throughout the flight and works essentially like the Sky News app on your phone), travel tips, and more. Handily, you can also bookmark movies and albums as you browse the extensive menus for easy access later in the flight.
All told, easily the best IFE I have used. One minor quibble I have is that the headphone socket is still the standard dual-plug affair, which means you have to use the airline's cheap headphones – these are provided free, but it would be nice to have a standard headphone socket so passengers could use their own.
The handset controller incorporates buttons for everything – from your overhead reading light, cabin crew call button, to games controls and a full qwerty keyboard on the reverse. Also, it doubles up as a seat phone for making phone calls to the ground and free seat to seat calls by simply entering the seat number and letter. Handy, perhaps, if your family or friends are seated elsewhere on the aircraft.
In addition, all seats are equipped with USB ports for connecting iPods and other electronic devices. Useful for recharging your phone before landing.
Mid-flight we were each handed a delicious Pearl & Dean vanilla ice cream. A tasty treat to accompany whichever movie you are watching!
Next, switching to the moving map feature I observed we were cruising at 38,000ft and that we were taking a standard route – out over Liverpool, then Belfast, across to Newfoundland, and then proceeding down the eastern seaboard of the United States, including Boston, Atlantic City, and finally Jacksonville before our final approach.
Ominous looking clouds at cruising altitude
Lunch was a choice of egg mayonnaise or tuna sandwich, which in my opinion are two offensive options!
Thanks to the fantastic IFE, we were descending into Orlando before I knew it. The pilot announced we would be landing ahead of schedule, as he had “taken a few short cuts”.
As we descended through Florida's mid-afternoon clouds, the cabin crew handed each of us a pack of Love Heart sweets. A simple, but nice touch.
Passing Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) on final approach
We landed smoothly on southerly-facing runway 17L and made our way to the gate.
In conclusion, this flight has to be one of the best I have experienced to the United States. I have flown across the pond many times and on many different airlines and aircraft, but I truly believe Virgin sets itself apart from the competition in certain respects. Where I feel many of the US carriers are faceless and have a rather jaded quality to their economy class products, Virgin has personality and a sense of occasion almost. Style and character.
Small details make a big difference. A free newspaper when you board; the amenity kit; the cabin crew sending SMS-style messages via the IFE informing passengers that “lunch will be served shortly”; the mid-flight ice cream; Love Heart sweets during descent. Even the fact that every plane in the Virgin Atlantic fleet is given a female nickname.
Now that Virgin offers a brand-new aircraft on their Orlando flights, I expect this is the best economy class product available to Orlando. Their A330 has a real air of quality to it: a clean and airy interior complete with subtle touches, like the reading lamps which softly turn and off, or the Hollywood-style mirrors in the restrooms.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Flight: VS 076
Route: Orlando Intl (MCO) to Manchester, England (MAN)
Scheduled departure time
Jul 3, 19:00
Scheduled arrival time
Jul 4, 08:30
Name: Beauty Queen
After a relaxing vacation in Daytona Beach, Miami and Orlando, it was sadly time to return home.
I used Virgin Atlantic's iPhone app to check in for my flight the previous night, which was simple to use. Once in the airport, bag drop off was again swift and the flight was scheduled to leave on time, as were all other Virgin flights that evening.
I watched Beauty Queen's partner in crime and the airline's second A330, Mademoiselle Rouge, depart to London Gatwick from the food court window, and then made my way to the gate.
We boarded around an hour prior to scheduled departure time. I noticed at the gate there seemed to be fewer passengers for tonight's flight and once boarding had been completed, there were indeed many vacant seats. The crew announced there were only 176 passengers onboard and that we could move about the cabin to different seats after takeoff to make ourselves more comfortable.
Note that flaps are already extended due to the high outside temperature
We pushed back early and made our way to runway 17R. Once we were airborne, the pre-dinner drinks service began, followed promptly by dinner itself.
I chose the beef and potato dinner, which was good; the other options tonight were vegetable curry and salmon pasta.
Our initial cruising altitude was 37,000ft; two hours into the flight during some pretty moderate turbulence over the New York area, we climbed to 39,000ft, where we remained until Ireland.
Once again, the brilliant IFE made the flight pass quickly. Quite a few passengers took advantage of the light load and used the four centre seats to make their very own lie-flat beds!
Breakfast was served at dawn. The choice was a hot panini sandwich – either ham and cheese, or egg and cheese. The cabin crew were attentive throughout the flight (including discrete drink runs during the night) and seemed genuinely cheerful and relaxed.
The Senior First Officer made a quick goodbye announcement before top of descent.
At air traffic control's request, we went around the loop twice due to a heavy amount of traffic this morning. We circled in near silence thanks to the airplane's impressive soundproofing and quiet Rolls Royce engines, and then (seemingly) dropped onto the glideslope. After gear was lowered, a final right turn saw us capture the localizer for runway 23R.
A fairly smooth touchdown was followed by reverse thrust and rather keen braking (the autobrake must have been set quite high). We exited the runway in good time for a Delta 757 to land after us.
For me, Virgin Atlantic and the A330 are a match made in heaven. This really is a superb aircraft, both inside and out, and feels very modern indeed. Highly recommended.