Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Virgin Atlantic Experience: Part I

Recently I had to make an urgent visit to the Subcontinent for personal family reasons. The most economic last-minute travel option that also afforded me Delta SkyMiles credit was Virgin Atlantic. (The nearest was Lufthansa. I'm glad I didn't abandon Delta & partners, given their recent labor trouble.) The route involved multiple stops (ATL-JFK-LHR on the way out, on Delta metal, connecting to VS for the LHR-DEL segment) and long layovers in London -- 11 hours during the day on the way out, and about 15, overnight, on the way back.

The first interaction with Virgin was their call center. I called in to see if I could get decent seats on the VS metal segments. The representative was friendly and downright jovial. "You're a Delta Platinum? No problem. No charge for the extra legroom seats." I got an extra legroom middle seat on the LHR-DEL leg, and windows on the two VS segments on the return. He then asked the origin of my name, and proceeded to share this his wife was of Indian origin. It's a kind of informality about ethnicity and provenance that would be unthinkable in the US. And finally, "It's your first time? You'll love it. You'll never fly Delta again!"

VS300, Boeing 787-9, Economy Cabin, Extra Legroom Middle Seat

After spending a pleasant day in London, on the way out, I was back at Terminal 3, and walked into the glowing neon lit Virgin Atlantic check-in area.

There were red-clad VS reps standing at a distance from the check-in counter, to assist passengers. I approached one and asked what benefits my Platinum card received. She explained that I got access to priority security and also the lounge, and attached a special bar code to access the priority areas, and directed me to the Upper Class elevator. I mistook what she said, and on the second floor, ended up in the FastTrack security line (which, thanks to the good folks at FlyerTalk, has nothing to do with VS). The bar code (obviously, in hindsight), didn't work, but the security guard let me through any way.

At the lounge, I showed my LHR-DEL boarding pass and was told that Delta Platinums only got access on US bound flights. I then showed my inbound JFK-LHR boarding pass and was welcomed in. The Virgin Atlantic lounge at Heathrow is truly remarkable. It's huge, with a spa, showers, a play area, and several different options for seating, working, relaxing. It even has a poolside lounge area. Delta's SkyClubs are nowhere in the same league, nor are other SkyTeam lounges. There is a full service menu, served by friendly wait staff at one's seat. I ordered a Chicken Curry dinner (delicious) and this intriguing cocktail called "Delhilicious" ("Swaran Phagura Ginger infused vodka, fresh lime, Orgeat, syrup, pineabble, coriander").

Chicken curry and "Delhilicious"
The VS lounge at Heathrow
Boarding was announced about 40 minutes prior to departure, and I joined the Priority boarding line onto the 787-900, and made my way to seat 47J. I ended up sitting between a couple, who'd clearly wanted window and aisle comfort, rather than being seated next to each other! The seat was wider than any coach seat I've ever been in, and the extra leg room was more than enough for me to stretch out. The IFE screen was the widest I've seen in coach, and much slicker, and with a better offering than Delta's international product. There was a blanket, pillow, a simple amenity kit (eye-mask, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb) and a bottle of water on the seat. There was a drink service, dinner, and then a light breakfast before landing in Delhi. The food was decent for coach airline food, and quite ample. The flight attendants were, again, friendly, and quite attentive.

Dinner. Quite ample.  
Light breakfast

I like how they translate "Slurp" as
"khayein" in Hindi (which means "eat"!)
Really not bad for a coach middle seat!
I watched a movie and then slept fitfully till the landing in Delhi, about 30 minutes prior to scheduled arrival time, at around 11:15 am IST. The only thing about taking VS to the subcontinent, is that the it involves two nights flying in coach. This is decidedly inhuman.

Part II: Delhi-London

Part III: London-Atlanta

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