Flight

Flight Review: Virgin Atlantic Business Class A330 - Atlanta to London

Feeling antsy, I made my way from the lounge to the gate in Atlanta's international terminal. Still fairly early, I wanted to be ready to board the first flight in a long line of great products coming up in this trip. From the departure gate, our plane was displayed outside of the window, ready to return home to London.

Airline: Virgin Atlantic

Aircraft: A330-300

Class: Business

Flight: 104

Route: ATL to LHR



After waiting for a short time, the business class section was called to start boarding, so I quickly made way for the aircraft.

Walking down to the plane, Virgin Atlantic does an impressive job of wowing you at first sight. On the other side of the entry door is the iconic lighting of the Virgin brand, pinks and purples flood the cabin, and style almost takes such a forward role that function kind of goes out the window. The immediate impact on you is impressive, nice little wow factor on first visual.

Missing Overhead Bins in Center Row of Seats

Missing Overhead Bins in Center Row of Seats

Look for a few more minutes, and the flaws start to come out. The most immediate to any passenger on the plane is the complete lack of overhead space for the middle seats. I understand the thought here is that there are fewer business class seats, so they should require far fewer overhead compartments. In practice however, the seats do not provide much storage space around them, so that extra hand bag or backpack many passengers carry needs to go overhead. While there may be fewer passengers in the forward section, there is a need for more luggage per person to go in the overhead. Our flight did run out of room for a few passengers and those bags needed to be placed in the coat closet instead. In my eyes this was a huge miss.

Upper Class Seat

Upper Class Seat

Seating was another miss in my opinion. Virgin Atlantic was definitely try to cram as many seats into the cabin as possible while still offering lie flat beds. Problem here is that the seats are placed at a pretty extreme angle, so window seats are actually hard to see out the window with.



Second and probably most annoying is how tight the seats are. Business class seats are not cheap, and if you are paying top dollar for these seats, then you are going to want a comfortable seat. Virgin attempted to get as much revenue as possible here and sacrificed passenger comfort. Honestly, I'd never pay full price for a business class seat in this arrangement, probably part of the reason this arrangement, while Virgin's newest, is already going away. Passengers just aren't happy with it. 

See Through Seat Dividers

See Through Seat Dividers

Sitting down, the artistic seat divider becomes an in your face element. Beautiful from a design aesthetic sense, the see through nature loses a sense of privacy that is a cornerstone of business class. Business customers want privacy to work, and sleep. Making the cabin feel more open air is a nice design choice, but beyond looks, the feel isn't right for the type of customers the airline is trying to attract.

Amenity Kit

Amenity Kit

Before the plane pushed back, the crew came around and offered amenity kits and sleep suits. Sleep suits are the British equivalent of pajamas. The flight attendant gave me a medium sized pajama. I was skeptical of the sizing since I normally wear a large to x-large, but the mediums ran so big they actually fit me quite well.

Amenity kits on Virgin were quite sparse as far as kits go. There was some useful stuff in them, but it seemed to be lacking the variety of most normal kits. The bags were also the least useful of all those I received on this trip. I find myself underwhelmed by this kit, it's not one I'll be inclined to reuse. 

Champagne

Champagne

Preflight champagne, orange juice or water was offered before takeoff. I chose the champagne, which was middling at best, nothing to write home about. Once again, the disclaimer here is that I'm not a big drinker, so take my alcohol recommendations with a grain of salt. I don't like alcohol, so I'm pretty picky on drinks that contain it.

As for the service crew, they were quite impressive. Friendly, attentive, laughing and joking. The crew brought a friendly and fun feeling to the cabin throughout the flight. Crew did strike a nice balance between being attentive and having fun. I would say service could have been a little faster, but they were always on top of things when they were needed.

Once we taxied out to the runway at Atlanta, the plane took to the sky for a nice 8 hours flight to London. 

Traffic in Atlanta

Traffic in Atlanta

Traffic in Atlanta

Traffic in Atlanta

Taking off from Atlanta

Taking off from Atlanta

After takeoff, food was ordered and served. I'll be doing a food review later this week, stay tuned for that. 

Once meals were done I watched some TV since it was still a little early to go to sleep in the US. Pulling out the in flight entertainment screen, the selection was up to date, but lacked depth. Once you saw the newest films, there wasn't a huge back catalog to choose from beyond that. Being that this was only an 8 hour flight, the entertainment selection wasn't a huge deal, but I could see it being a bit boring for the longer flights. 

As a note, the screen is controlled by a separate remote. Like many modern products, this remote has a built in screen. The screen allows you to view the flight maps while still watching something on the main entertainment screen. My unit had some issues at first. The maps froze the handheld unit's screen for much of the beginning of the flight. I did not notice when, but the unit did eventually load the maps later on in the flight after I just ignored it for a while. This just highlights that the plane and product is showing a little age. Dings and bangs showed all over the cabin, nothing major, but minor things that did make the cabin feel aged. 

After watching some movies, I got ready for bed. A flight attendant helped make my bed, and for good reason. Virgin's seating is not like most lie flat beds. Most other products allow you to stay in the seat and just go along for the ride as it converts to a bed, but not the Virgin Atlantic seats. These you need to bring to a full upright position and then unlock the back of the seat, which then folds down to a flat position. This is not intuitive and really I'm not sure I still know how to do it.

Similarly this is a problem when waking up. Getting ready for breakfast, we hit some turbulence. This meant I could not unbuckle and get up from my seat to convert back to a seat. In the mean time I just sat up in my bed until the ride smoothed out enough that the flight attendant could convert it back to a seat and give me my morning meal. 

Landing in London

Landing in London

After a quick meal, we prepared to land in London. As always, London was cool and breezy but a beautiful day otherwise. The captain touched us down and before you knew it we were through immigration and on to British soil.

Virgin Atlantic was a beautiful product, but suffered from being too highly focused on that beauty. Design was put before function here and the seat was tight, difficult to convert to and from a bed, and see through dividers sacrificed a lot of privacy. At the end of the day I was happy to be in business class seat over economy, but the seat was a little lackluster. I look forward to seeing what the new updated business class product will be from Virgin, 

86,045 Miles... 45 Flights... 25 Airports... 1 Awesome Year

It's been a pretty eventful year in travel for me. 2016 has been the first year that I started to travel like a crazy person, and I loved every second of it.



My travels this year started with a work trip to France, my first time flying with Delta in years. 

Aix En Provence, France

Aix En Provence, France

Soon after, I made my first major miles based flights in business class to Argentina. A lackluster place to visit if I've ever seen one, but some great and not so great flights made for a memorable experience. Not to mention my first time aboard a Boeing 787, the aircraft I helped design right after graduating college.

United 787

United 787

Weeks later I boarded a flight to Hawaii where me and my girlfriend spent a week on vacation. This is where we were engaged, now my fiancee, we fell in love with Hawaii. Returning to Hawaii is a must for us, the islands are someplace everyone should get the chance to visit.

Pololu Valley, Hawaii

Pololu Valley, Hawaii

Another quick trip to France for work.

Then the last minute, spur of the moment flight to Beijing, China. Well as spur of the moment as it could get having to still get a visa from China.

Beijing Forbidden City

Beijing Forbidden City

A few trips back to see family in NY were sprinkled in throughout the year, but the next and biggest trip was my Cape Town and Dubai trip. Having just finished this, it really put a nice finish on the year of travel. 

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai

I have a few more flights to go this year, but mostly short flights to my hometown, and to possibly see a friend in Florida if I have the cash to make that happen. Overall though it has been an awesome year, blowing away all my previous years of travel, I've seen more countries and flown more miles this year than my last 2 years combined.

Next year is coming fast, and I'll be off to the races as soon as I can. There are so many places left to see, and so many I want to revisit. The travel bug has bitten me hard, and I don't think it'll stop any time soon.

How Do Flaps Works?

 "Flight attendants please be seated for landing." We've all heard this announcement on the plane as the plane flies low over the city, preparing to touch down at the airport. Around this time, you might here some hydraulic noises. If you're seated at the window, you might also see the wing start to reconfigure, the back of the wing will move out and down.



This is something that I've seen many people ask questions about. These rear edge extensions are called flaps. These flaps are variable in that the pilot can set how far out these extensions can be placed. Flaps can also be used for takeoff as well, though not set at the large angle that tend to be when landing. 

So what do flaps do? 

Airplanes are inherently built for higher speeds. Wings are swept back to make for a more aerodynamic aircraft. The more aerodynamic the aircraft, the faster it can travel and the more efficient it is at higher speeds. However, landing and takeoff speeds are slow by necessity. This is where the flaps come in.

When the flaps are extended from the wing, the shape of the wing changes to a more arc like shape. This shape is great for low speed flight, since it increases the lift of the wings at those crucial low speeds. This allows the plane to fly at lower speeds and still remain in the air with no problems. Activating flaps gives the pilots better control at low speeds and helps land the plane slower and make for a better and more comfortable landing for passengers. Slower speeds also means that the runways don't need to be as long as would be required if planes did not have this feature.

Next time you're in a window seat, take a look at the wing during landing and you'll see the flaps come into play.

A Weird Lounge Problem

There seems to be a minor problem that has begun to creep up when it comes to lounge access. Over the past few months, a new form of gaming lounge access policies has started to gain some minor popularity. People are accessing lounges without ever intending on flying.



How does this work? Almost every airline has tickets for sale that are fully refundable. Now these tickets tend to be very expensive so most of us don't buy them. If you travel internationally, business and first class tickets come with access to airline lounges where you can of course eat, snack, drink and sometimes shower for no additional cost. By using these features together, people have figured out a way to enjoy lounges like a club or business center, without paying.

How they do this is with buying a business/first class, refundable international ticket. They then enter the airport with the ticket, and make their way to the lounge. Once they have used their refundable ticket to gain access to the lounge, they then call the airline and cancel their ticket. At that point the ticket is refunded and they have paid nothing for free food and drinks.

Now, to me this is an insane waste of time. Going to a major airport, clearing security, then going to a lounge that is nice if you are travelling but for any other occasion is pretty sub par. Really the only thing going for them is that they give free food and drinks in many locations. Personally the hassle is not worth the little gain you would get. 

This seems like something that will always be a minor problem. Also there are ways to deal with this, like banning customers who consistently buy tickets and refund them without ever flying. Or just tracking the lounge accesses of customers and stopping those who are obviously taking advantage of these policies. 

It's a curious group who would seek something like this out and be proud of it. If that's how they want to waste their day then, they can go right ahead, I certainly have better things to do with my time.

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.