Airline

Food Review: Virgin Atlantic A330 Atlanta to London

Aboard my Virgin Atlantic flight from Atlanta to London, we sat waiting for everyone to board. Flight attendants made their way around the cabin offering pre-departure drinks for everyone in the business class cabin. I decided to try the campgne that was available. The campagne was middle of the road, nothing spectacular, definately didn't finish drinking it prior to takeoff.

Once in the air, service started for dinner. On this particular flight, I had ordered the VGML meal meaning that it was vegan. I make this warning to vegans out there, while I am currently vegetarian, I was a vegan for year, so I know what to look for when being served food. Many airlines will provide the main course as vegan, but snacks and other parts of the meal may not be as you specified. Making my case for me, the first thing brought over to me was a small bowl of chips (or crisps being that it was a London based airline). The chips were sour cream flavored... definitely not vegan, so keep an eye on what they are serving you. Since I am vegetarian, I tried the chips and wasn't impressed by the flavor, kind of bland.

Next up was the bread basket brought around by the flight attendants. Passengers were able to choose which type of bread they wanted, I decided to try the parmesan diamond, which was pretty good, but it's pretty hard to screw up bread.

Once all the bread was passed out, the meal began with everyone's starter. Since my meal was vegan, my starter was different from everyone else's. My starter consisted of some orange slices, lettuce and a lemon vinaigrette. Really the starter seemed odd, like the catering company just didn't know what to do. Settling on slicing some oranges, they added a vinaigrette... for some reason. The lemon vinaigrette didn't really go well with the oranges, the orange flavor ran over the lemon flavor of the dressing. At no point did I really understand this dish, but it was everything you'd expect from orange slices, they tasted like oranges. 

Following the starter came the main dish. When this dish arrived, I was a little skeptical because it was basically some sliced veggies in a tomato sauce. The dish just looked like little thought had been put into it. Presentation wise, the dish was well plated and the sliced vegetables reminded me of a ratatouille. When I took a bite of this, I was sold. This dish ranks up there amoung the top dishes I've ever been served on a plane, let alone vegan meals served on a plane. Virgin really knocked it out of the park.

The main dish was well seasoned, flavorful and cooked perfectly. Mixed in was a starch like a potato or something similar that gave the meal some weight and made it stick with you longer. I really enjoyed this meal. 

Once it was time for dessert, things were a bit confusing. Having ordered the vegan meal, I expected to get fruit for dessert, seems to be the only thing airlines think is vegan and sweet. Much to my surprise, I was told that they do not carry dessert for the VGML meal option... this seems like quite the oversight for a business class ticket. If paying full price for the ticket, I'm not sure I would have been all too happy with them on this one. 

Since a VGML option wasn't available, I chose to try the cheesecake. While it wasn't in line with the meal I had ordered, the cheesecake was quite good. Most cheesecake that I get is very heavy, but somehow this one didn't feel like that, it was more light and fluffy. Also inside the cake was cherries baked right in. In my opinion, I wish more cheesecake was made like this.

After dessert, we settled down for the remaining flight time to London.

Just before landing, the flight attendants woke me to have breakfast. Before the first meal out of Atlanta, we had filled out a breakfast card, once again no VGML meal was made available for breakfast... not exactly sure what is up with Virgin Atlantic but if I order a special meal, I really want that meal not some of a meal and a complete lack of breakfast. Either way, I tried some muesli for the first time and it was awful, just not my thing I guess, it was bland and tasted roughly like cardboard. 

Overall I found what meals they did offer to be decent. I was a little upset that after requesting a VGML meal option, they only carrier part of meals and missed some entirely. Virgin could stand to improve in this arena, more of their meal options need to be on the level that the dinner main course was.

My BA Flight Has No WiFi

I'm currently walking through the steps of double checking my itinerary and making sure everything is in order for my upcoming flights. My flight to South Africa will be on board a British Airways 747-400, an aircraft I've been looking forward to flying ever since my Qantas flight was swapped to an A380 in 2014. It's one of the few airplanes I've never flown on.



While going through my list of flights, and it's not a short list, I remembered reading about British Airways trialing WiFi on board a single 747 only 1-2 years ago. At the time you were lucky if you boarded this specific aircraft as British Airways literally had no other long haul planes with WiFi... I know, a tad bit surprising for an airline in the modern age.

Deciding to look more into this, I went in search of what is currently offered. This shouldn't surprise any of you when I say that British Airways has not added WiFi to any of their longhaul planes yet... but it's coming soon... well in 2017. 

While the trial seems to have shown BA that it is valuable to have WiFi on board, they decided to switch to the Gogo inflight system over the provider that BA used during the trial period. The airline will be equipping their entire longhaul fleet, as well as some Air Lingus and Iberia flights as well. Unfortunately this will not be any time soon as the 747 will be the first to get WiFi, but the roll out process will certainly take quite some time. 

Really this is very surprising to me. Competitors around the globe have had WiFi for a long time. It seems BA is lagging way behind the competition, and WiFi isn't the only place that is happening. If you've ever seen the show "A Very British Airline," it is a 3 episode show that focuses on British Airways. In the show, BA attempts to show how much of a world class airline they really are. In the real world, BA has a sub par first and business class seats. Food is far from great and service can be downright terrible.

We will see in person how they handle long haul flights in first class. The WiFi issue is not a good start. I do like the idea of British Airways and I want them to be great. Hopefully they can live up to the high standards they attempt to sell to us.

 

​My Initial Thoughts On Delta

Now with my first two flights behind me as a Delta Gold Medallion member I have some takeaways on what Delta does well and does not do well. Where they could improve and the areas many domestic airlines could learn for Delta.



Delta App

The first thing that you may see or use when it comes to flying with Delta is their mobile app. I personally use the airline apps now to check in and board flights domestically. Occasionally I’ll use them internationally if it is allowed as well.

Delta has a pretty good app, but it isn’t perfect. After taking my first flight and landing. I was immediately met with an app that had logged me out. Only noticing this while waiting to be checked in to the Delta Sky Club lounge, I had to back out of line and re-sign into the app. Since then I have found the app saves your information, so you can sign back in easier, but I found this a little weird. We’ll see if this continues to happen every time the phone goes into airplane mode.

One feature I really liked with the Delta app was the notifications for boarding. The app will send you a push notification to your phone when the agent at the desk starts the boarding process. I will keep this in mind for the future. This allows me to not actually be present at the gate to know when boarding starts. Since children and handicapped people get priority before first class and elites board, this allows me to mingle within a short walk of the gate without being there. When the app lets me know boarding started, I can walk right over and probably still be there before my seats are available for entering the plane.

On Board

I mentioned this before, but most if not all of Delta’s planes have power outlets. This is something lacking on American’s fleet. Since they have brought the US Airways planes into the fold, those planes have yet to be completely upgraded to American’s aircraft standards. That means a good portion of the American Airlines fleet lacks power and in some cases even wifi.

While Delta self proclaims the company to be the “On Time Machine” I have actually found this to be fairly true. So far, all my flights have left not just on time, but early. Somehow, Delta manages to nail the timing of boarding and ground services, they do move like a well oiled machine. There is obviously a reason they started the first 6+ months of this year without a single cancelled flight.

As for the service, well that is where Delta does not deliver anything special. Not to say service was bad, but it wasn’t great either, something of an in flight service purgatory. The people are mostly friendly but a little rough around the edges. Alaska Airlines, while pretty sparce on the East Coast, has set a great standard of friendlyness and service for me domestically. More service like Alaska Airlines would be great.

Sky Club Lounge

Lounges with Delta have often be described to me as much better than American. I’d have to say they are mixed, winning on some points but failing on others.

Walking into the lounge and checking in is a slightly better experience with Delta. I walked up to the desk to check in, and the agent sat there not really saying anything, not a great start. American Airlines employees are much better at greeting customers. Once I figured out she wanted me to scan my boarding pass (completely had to deduce this from her comepletely ignoring me), I placed my phone on the scanner. Here is where Delta won me over. She said hello to me by name, told me my gate number for the next flight and said welcome.

I was slightly confused as I was readying my credit card to show the desk so i could gain access to the lounge. She said they didn’t need it, the card was already linked to my Delta account and she had it on file. The agent didn’t need to see it to know I had free access rights to the lounge. Simple and stright forward. American Airlines requires the credit card be scanned every time you enter a lounge so that it can be checked against the American computer system. Delta sped up the check in significantly with one little feature.

Once upstairs in the lounge I have to say the view was pretty good. I sat right by the window and looked out at the planes for the entire time I was working on my tablet. However, I like the decor of American Airlines lounges better. American Airlines lounges tend to be warmer, and that feels more inviting to me. The Delta Sky Club outside of gate B25 in Atlanta was very similar to what I have seen at Heathrow, a very European stark white, minimalist appraoch. While I do like the style sometimes, it does feel less inviting to me.

Beyond decor, the food was run of the mill. Not better or worse than American, the food was on par with most domestic lounges I’ve been at. Not a deep selection, but it is able to put something in your stomach if you are hungry.

Overall

At the end of the day, the experience with Delta has been a good one. I think Delta edges out American in many categories but not by a whole lot. I think so far this move has not been a bad one, but time will tell how Delta will manage their loyalty program.1

The True Price Of Low Cost Carriers Might Be Your Safety

Good or bad, low cost air carriers have taken the world by storm. Some of the most well known in the US are companies like Southwest, Frontier and Spirit. Europe is no exception seeing companies like Ryanair take over as a major air carrier. In many cases these companies offer no frills sort of fares that limit you on things like picking seats, getting food, or even carring your luggage on board. These companies make money on the fees they levy after the initial low cost fare. However, when it comes to some companies, you may be paying the cost not with money, but with your own safety.



Washington Post ran an article singling out Allegiant Air as a major problem in the low cost industry. If you have never heard of Allegiant Air, I wouldn't be surprised, they likely don't fly to many of the major markets you may be used to. Allegiant focuses on smaller airports servicing higher capacity direct flight routes. The only place I've ever seen them is at Syracuse Airport in New York when I visit family. From SYR airport, the company serves only 4 destinations, 3 in Florida and 1 in South Carolina. These routes are popular tourist destination airports, but not Orlando as you might expect, but rather places like Tampa.

Allegiant has been a darling child on Wall Street, seeing growth numbers unprecedented in the low cost carrier market. The company racked up a 154% increase in profits last year. That type of growth should sound suspicious to anyone, especially in a saturated market like low cost carriers. This in the past has made Allegiant a big stock on the markets of Wall Street... well it was. It seems that is has begun to fall out of favor, shedding a massive percentage of their once high stock value.

We should all take notice of what is happening at Allegiant Air, something that could massively impact many people. Safety may very well not be the top priority it deserves at Allegiant. The company made many of their strides by buying older aircraft at a massively reduced price over new aircraft. Problem is, with older the aircraft is they tend to be more likely to see a failure if not properly maintained. These aircraft are old and in turn require more maintenance, and more safety checks on a more regular basis. Now this could still equal massive profits due to the major up front savings on the aircraft. Done correctly, these aircraft don't need to be unsafe.

However, Allegiant is starting to draw attention not only from the press but also from the FAA. Arguably the FAA should have been on top of this problem long ago, since Allegiant has had some major missteps in recent years. Famously a mid air mishap occurred aboard Allegiant flight 864 about a year ago. After takeoff the pilot turned the aircraft around and made an emergency landing due to a strong smoke smell in the plane. After landing, the airplane was evacuated as an engine smoked on the runway. Emergency crews had to meet the aircraft as passengers rushed to de-board the plane.

This should have been a incident that resulted in the pilot being praised for good judgement and protecting passengers... instead the pilot was fired. Allegiant stated the reason for removing the pilot was that he failed to protect the plane and evacuated without just cause, causing the plane to require significant repairs to replace evacuation windows, slides and the like. Allegiant is now caught in a legal battle over wrongful termination. I think we can all agree this is a case where Allegiant was acting in their best interest and not that of the pilot or passengers. Beyond that, this may indicate a systemic problem at the company, safety may not be taking the forward role that it should be.

Looking at data acquired over the safety record of Allegiant, a troubling trend was easily seen. Delta operates many similar aircraft to Allegiant, often on their regional routes. The aircraft Delta operates are also very close in age to the ones that Allegiant operate as well. During all of 2015 and the first 3 months of 2016, Allegiant Air had 9 times more incidents than Delta even though Delta operates a fleet 3 times larger than Allegiant. Those are some pretty damning numbers.

We've seen similar problems at other low cost carriers too. Southwest a number of years ago was caught bribing FAA officials to allow aircraft to continue flying beyond dates when they were required to undergo major safety checks. While this saved millions of dollars for Southwest by deferring these checks, it also put many airplanes and passengers at risk. These rules are in place for a reason and while we can argue on how restrictive the rules should be, the fact remains these are currently the laws. Profit is not a good enough reason to throw safety out the window.

While Allegiant Air seems to have a major internal problem, we also need to watch all of these low cost carriers. When operating in a industry where profits can be difficult to turn, safety may be the one thing that is sacrificed for the bottom line. This is never ok, and we need to start to hold people accountable for their actions on these fronts.

Next time you want to fly with a low cost carrier to save a few dollars, just keep in mind what you may be sacrificing for that low cost ticket.

The Human Factor of Safety

Safety in the airline industry is a big deal. When crashes happen on an airliner, there tend to be many passenger present, which quickly equates to large losses of life all at one time if the worse comes to pass. Often the media and ourselves jump to a conclusion that something went wrong with the plane. This assumption is often incorrect, with more than half of all air accidents attributed to pilot error, this is by far the number one cause of accidents.



The human factor is the weak point here. As technology has improved, the overall numbers of accidents have continued to decrease, but the percentage attributed to human error has become a larger percentage of those remaining accidents. What are the factors that feed into these accidents?

One the surface, the pilot error component is fairly well known. Fatigue, sensor deprivation at night, poor choices, and many other issues crop up in emergency and even non emergency situations that cause planes to crash. However, outside of the cockpit are more issues that often go overlooked or often uncovered by the media.

Yesterday's article touched briefly on the issues that stem from starting out at a regional carrier. Here, pilots often stick with a single plane all day making many stops all day as they go from city to city to city. Management at these smaller companies often get less scrutiny than the larger companies, causing those in charge to push for longer hours, and lower pay. Pilots don't sleep in personal homes and sometimes are forced to just sleep at the airport. With poor sleep comes impaired judgement and other problems. A situation just like this was attributed to crash in Buffalo, NY right down to the cot in the airport at a small regional carrier.

Industry practices drove the management of this company to push for longer hours and lower pay. This was all backed by how they were paid from the larger companies they served. Further more, the FAA had often failed before and after the crash to push for reformers and greater scrutiny on these dangerous business practices. Instead the FAA bowed to political pressure and failed to reprimand the behavior behind the issue.

Another example of business practices causing safety issues was a case with Southwest. The FAA at some point discovered that employees were being paid off by Southwest to ignore and not preform vital safety checks required of the airline. Each aircraft is required to be taken out of service and go through detailed inspections top to bottom on a regular basis. The older the plane the more extensive the checks are and the longer the plane is out of service. 

Southwest was caught bribing FAA employee to allow planes to go without these checks for years in some cases. While this allowed Southwest to operate planes cheaper and continue to be a low cost carrier, it was done while sacrificing safety of the passenger and crew aboard that plane. To this day I still refuse to fly Southwest because of this incident.

While safety for the most part is well managed on airlines, there are often people who try to skirt the rules in an effort to increase profits. The human factor of air safety isn't just a big deal in the cockpit, it's also a major issue all the way up to management. Safety should always be a high priority, but we should not always be as hyper focused on the cockpit, sometimes a cushy office in a major city is where the problems stem.