Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Virgin Atlantic Experience: Part II

THE RETURN: DELHI-LONDON, November 16, 2015
Boeing 787-9, Premium Economy Cabin

I arrived about two hours prior to scheduled departure (1400) at Terminal 3 of Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport. There wasn't much of a crowd around the Virgin Atlantic check-in area. I was directed to the Upper Class check-in desk (no customers ahead of me). The agent offered me a reasonably priced paid upgrade to Premium Economy up to Heathrow. I accepted: a good and fairly economical opportunity to check out their much vaunted PE product. At Delhi, Delta Platinums get Priority check-ins, but no lounge access. I cleared immigration (which can take forever at peak international departure times at night. In the middle of the day, it was smooth and quick), and got a sandwich at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company. One of the offerings was intriguing:

What does this even mean? 
I suspect something was lost in translation ... BLT to LGBT! I arrived at the gate just as Upper Class boarding was starting and walked down to the beautiful 787-900.

"Olivia Rae." Such a beauty! 
Virgin's Premium Economy seats on the 787-9 are comfortably wide (21". Upper Class is only an inch wider!), with 38" pitch and a generous recline, in a 2-3-2 configuration. Unlike the Air France hard product these are not shell seats. So, here, one would be affected by the recline of the person in front. The IFE screen is a decent size (actually, not that much bigger than the 787-9 Coach IFE).

Not bad, but the legs can't stretch out!
Love these large 787 windows! 

As I settled in, I discovered that my legs wouldn't stretch all the way. There is some kind of a barrier across the length of the bottom! I couldn't believe it ... Premium Economy, and my 6'3" frame couldn't actually be properly accommodated! This was a day flight, so it wasn't that big a deal. However, this would be a strong reason for me not to pay the extra to get a PE seat over a regular Coach seat, on a future night flight. In Economy, in the extra-legroom seats (accessible at no charge for Delta Platinums), I can actually stretch my legs straight out, all the way under the seat in front of me. But not in PE!

There was a nice neck pillow, a comfortable blanket, and a 500ml bottle of water, but no amenity kit (facemask, toothbrush). I guess VS only supplies those on night flights. (Delta gives these out on all long-haul international flights, at least in Comfort+.)

The taxi to the runway afforded an opportunity for some great plane spotting: 

A Turkish Airbus A330. I'm very puzzled however. Both the TK and IGI Airport websites list only one daily TK
flight to Delhi, from Istanbul, that arrives at 0510 (TK716) and departs at 0645 (TK717). This was taken
around 1400. What is a TK A330 doing here at this hour?
Left: Pegasus Asia Boeing 737-800 (flying as ZM1025), to Bishek, Kyrgyzstan, and a
Kam Air MD-87 (flying as RQ116), to Kabul, Afghanistan

Very intriguing: A US registered Gulfstream GV, registration N36GV.
According to the FAA, the owner is Utah Bank Trustee, based in Salt Lake City.
What is it doing in Delhi?
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 757-200 (flying as ET 687), getting ready to head back to
Addis Ababa. 
And finally, we're lined up to the east, and off we go to London! Those engines are truly quiet!

One of the features of the IFE on VS's 787 is the flight map. This was a fun and interactive display, with a variety of different view options.

I'm surfing the web, somewhere near Tehran!

Wait, is this Flight Sim?
For lunch, I chose the Indian kadhai chicken offering, which was actually very tasty, with some white wine.

The 787s are WiFi enabled. Unlike US carriers, the WiFi works globally -- the cost is a flat £14.99 for the entire duration of the flight (unlike the complicated variety of passes offered by Gogo on Delta in the US). You sign up, pay, and get a login which will work with any device (one device at a time). I found the speed to be better than the best connections I've experienced in the US (perhaps because fewer people were using it?), and I was able to watch some videos for an online class I'm enrolled in, without any hassles.

A movie and a long nap later, it was time to descend to London. The flight was over 30 minutes late, despite having departed Delhi on time, due to stronger than expected headwinds, for a total of 9h42m of flying time.

We flew right over the West End, with a nice view of the London Eye, Westminster Palace and Big Ben. Unfortunately, I didn't get the timing right on the camera. But here's a decent view of Central London nonetheless.

My bags were checked through to Atlanta. I cleared immigration in a breeze (no line), and went out to the Heathrow Hotel Hoppa bus stop outside Terminal 3 to take the H7 for my overnight accommodations. (Note: 1) It's a shame that Heathrow doesn't let airport hotels provide free shuttle service to the terminals. 2) The Hotel Hoppa costs £5 one way, or £9 roundtrip. Various websites advertise that it is a pound cheaper to buy tickets online. Except they charge a £1 convenience fee on the website! What? I just bought a return ticket from the driver.)

Part III: London-Atlanta

Part I: London-Delhi

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