Virgin Atlantic

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.

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, 

Virgin Atlantic A330 Atlanta to London: Preview

Here are some quick photos of the Upper Class cabin in the A330-300 that I took aboard Virgin Atlantic. Enjoy!



The mood lighting of the Virgin Atlantic fleet

The mood lighting of the Virgin Atlantic fleet

The seat was tight to sit in.

The seat was tight to sit in.

In flight airshow

In flight airshow

One of the best vegan meals I've had in the air... or on the ground for that matter.

One of the best vegan meals I've had in the air... or on the ground for that matter.

A Look At Upcoming Reviews

As my major Africa/Middle East trip draws near, here is a quick overview of what to expect in the way of reviews.



Virgin Atlantic

Airline: Virgin Atlantic

Route: ATL to LHR

Aircraft: A330-300

Class: Business (Upper Class)

My first international leg will be on board a Virgin Atlantic A330-300 aircraft. While this is the updated interior, Virgin has just announced that they are no longer going to be using this interior. It tends to be very cramped as Virgin tried to shove lots of business class seats in a small area and it was not well executed. Tight or not, look forward to seeing the sleep suit, the tight seat, and everything in between. 

 

British Airways

Airline: British Airways

Route: LHR to JNB

Aircraft: 747-400

Class: First

After a decently long connection in London, I'll be off to Johannesburg to catch my final connection. This will be my first time in a 747, and it'll be done in first class with a small nose section, a beautiful seat and interior. Queen of the skies from takeoff to touchdown, it'll be a memorable one.

 

Qatar Airways

Airline: Qatar Airways

Route: JNB to DOH

Aircraft: 777-300ER

Class: Business

After a four day stop, a safari, and tour of the cape peninsula, I'll connect in Johannesburg to a Qatar Airways 777-300ER. Not the most ideal business class seat to fly on, their 787 is much better, but it'll make an interesting review. Then on the ground in Doha, Qatar I'll be reviewing the brand new Qatar Airways massive first class lounge.

 

Airline: Qatar Airways

Route: DOH to DXb

Aircraft: 787-8

Class: Business

Here is where I get to try out the Qatar Airways 787-8 business class. Said to be one of the best business class seats money can buy, we'll see how it matches against American Airlines business class and others.

 

Emirates

Airline: Emirates Airline

Route: DXB to LAX

Aircraft: A380-800

Class: First

The dream jewel of this trip; opulence, overstated gold accents and just a little too much bling, Emirates brings it's A-game in first class. It may not be the seat that wins me over here though as much as using one of two on board showers while flying at almost 40,000 ft above the ground. This  aircraft was why I made this trip, well that and to try out the unbeatable Emirates A380 lounge that stretches the entire length of the A380 terminal at Dubai International. This lounge even features direct gate access for first class passengers only... insane!

Delta

Airline: Delta

Route: LAX to ATL

Aircraft: 767-300

Class: Domestic First Lie Flat

An unexpected close out to the trip, I get to fly Delta's business class product on a domestic route. Handling the heavy LAX to ATL segment, the 767-300 features a first class seat that is equal to the Delta One offered in business class on international fights. Don't expect any food review here since it is a red eye, but a lie flat on a domestic route is a full on win.

 

Overall

This trip is starting to get me excited. I can't tell you how much businessfirst class makes flying an amazing experience again. Flying can be enjoyable. Business Class, First Class and Lounges make all the difference in the world.

What To Do When An Airline Changes Your Plane

Way back at the beginning of the year, I started booking some flights for my second major trip of the year at the time. This trip was to be the biggest of any I've ever flown, with no less than 5 major airlines, 2 new aircraft I've never flown, and my first experiences with first class international travel. The cherry on the sundae of the travel was to be my Emirates first class experience on board their flagship A380 from Dubai to Los Angeles. Imagine my surprise on Sunday when I started checking all my flights and found that Emirates had downgraded the plane to a 777-300ER.



This just highlights the need to check your flights on a regular basis, especially if you booked them very far in advance. Airplane loads change and more often that you may realize, airlines will change out aircraft types on you. When I originally booked my flights, I had purposfully booked a Virgin Atlantic flight on an A340, since I've never flown that aircraft. That plane also was changed out for an A330-300, which I've flown many times out of Philadelphia since US Airways and subsequently American Airlines flies these almost exclusively out of Philly to Europe.

My original booking with Emirates took place when they first announced a second daily A380 flight between Dubai and LA. Passenger loads don't always live up to expectations though, and at some point without my knowledge, the plane was changed to a smaller 777-300ER. Don't get me wrong, any other trip after this, I might actually prefer the 777-300ER. The 777 first class cabin is much smaller and would likely be very enjoyable. However, Emirates 777 aircraft do not feature the onboard shower of the A380, and I very much want to enjoy that part of the Emirates experience. I booked this flight specifically for the aircraft... so what can you do?

Your mileage may vary here, since this is an award flight, lack of space on another flight may be an issue. There may not be anything you can do, but I highly suggest you try to call the company you booked through. In my case this was Alaska Airlines, and as always the phone agent was perfect, why Alaska Airlines excels where other airlines fail miserably is beyond me, but they can keep up the amazing service, I will never complain about that.

As soon as I had an agent on the phone from Alaska Airlines, I explained the situation and she went to work. I informed her that there is an earlier flight from Dubai to LAX that is indeed still the original A380 aircraft. A quick search showed her that no open award seats were available for her to book me into. This didn't deter her though, she put me on hold for quite a while, but I knew what she was up to. She contacted Emirates directly and asked them to open a seat for her to put me in.... they obliged. 

She came back on the line, asked me to back out of the website while she made an update, and within a few minutes I was booked on the earlier flight and back on an A380. Can I just say this Alaska Airlines... you are awesome! No fuss, no hassle, they just took care of it for me. What a great experience.

As for the other flight that was changed on me, my Virgin Atlantic flight was booked though Delta. I imagine it would be much more difficult for me to change that flight. For one, there is only one daily flight on Virgin Atlantic out of Atlanta, so no other flight to put me on. Also, I'm not sure I'd want to change this flight. This puts me on the newest Upper Class product from Virgin Atlantic, and would likely be more relevant to you readers, since the A340 is on its way out and the A330 is the latest. If I do decide to change things around, I'd likely have to change airlines, which might  or might not be worth it. I'll look at it, but I don't anticipate making a change to this flight. If I do, I'll update everyone once that happens.

For now, the moral of the story is, if an airline changes equipment on you, try to get them to move you around. It may surprise you that they might just be willing to accommodate you, no questions asked.... though they may not as well. I had a great experience and cannot thank both Alaska Airlines and Emirates enough.