Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Virgin Atlantic Experience: Part III

Airbrakes deployed, with KATL below.

LONDON-ATLANTA, November 17, 2015
VS103, Airbus A330-300, Economy Cabin, Extra Legroom Window Seat

On a cool, grey, cloudy morning (does London have any other kind?), I arrived back at Heathrow's Terminal 3, and went into the Virgin Atlantic check-in area, to an Upper Class check-in desk. The barcode for Upper Wing access was added to my boarding pass, and my passport checked. I took the elevator (sorry, lift!) up to the second floor (um, first floor!), and this time, found the Upper Wing door, and scanned in the bar code to access the security screening area. There were no lines, and I was through in about five minutes. A short walk through brightly lit Duty Free shops, and I was at Virgin's Lounge H, with about 80 minutes to spare before boarding. I ordered the English Breakfast (poached egg, Cumberland sausage, baked beans, toast, mushrooms, tomato. Yum!) and tea, followed by that Delhilicious cocktail that I quite liked, and viewed with astonishment my Facebook newsfeed that was blowing up over the question of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.

An English Breakfast

At 8:40 am, boarding was announced for flight 103 to Atlanta. By the time I got to gate 17, most of the passengers were already on board. I was at pretty much the tail end. Since this wasn't a domestic Delta flight on an old MD-88 with insufficient cabin luggage storage, there was no problem in finding space for my backpack, and I settled into my Extra Legroom seat. The amenities were the same as in Premium Economy, though this wasn't a neck-pillow, but those standard, barely fluffy, pillow-like-things one gets in coach, and there was 330ml of complimentary water, as opposed to 500ml. Again, no amenity kit with eye-mask, etc. Clearly, that's only for night flights.

"Lady Stardust." Airbus A330-300 to Atlanta.
That purple lighting! 

The VS coach seat has a width of 17.5" (that extra half is helpful!), with a standard pitch of 31"; the Extra Legroom seat adds 3 more to that. My legs could stretch out comfortably. The seat on the A330 didn't feel any different from the 787. The IFE screen is smaller than on the 787, and, in addition to a slot for USB power, there were RCA audio jacks, and an S-Video jack (with a label that said "iPod"!). I've never seen these on an airplane before. I mean, who brings RCA jacks onto a flight?

RCA jacks????

Nice legroom. Unlike Premium Economy!
Boarding complete, we pushed back and taxied out to the runway. To be honest, I wasn't looking at planes, but was glued to the conversation on my FB feed (shh! Don't tell anyone I didn't switch to Airplane Mode until we got to the runway! And please don't tell anyone that I didn't pay attention to which runway it was!).

And we're off! I miss the 787's Flight Map feature, which is a lot cooler! 
After a beverage service, lunch was served. I chose the Indian option again (butter  chicken. Really good!). Tea or coffee followed. Prayer, movie, readings, sleep (I was quite tired, and jet-lag was doing its thing) -- I woke up with about 1h50 to go of the 8h30m flight to Atlanta. A wrap was served (chicken & bacon, or cheese), with a "High Tea" offering (a Brodericks bar, and mints). There was a lovely view of Hartsfield, as we entered a left downwind approach to runway 8L. We touched down about an hour early, at 1320 EST.

Lunch: yummy butter chicken! And that "Gü" key-lime-pie-thing was great too!
Beautiful view of Hartsfield-Jackson on approach! 

The customer service agent I talked with when I was booking my seats was absolutely right. I did love flying Virgin. Frankly, their hard product and their soft product are miles ahead of any US carrier. They clearly have a customer service focus, and the friendliness is ubiquitous, and doesn't seem affected.

However, the long connection times at Heathrow aren't really convenient for trips to the Subcontinent, especially on the way over (two consecutive nights on a plane in coach? Yikes!). And the fact that I can't stretch out my legs fully in Premium Economy is a major strike against shelling out the extra dollars for it, especially on a night flight. If I have travel to London or Europe, however, I would seriously consider flying them again. For the Subcontinent, SkyTeam coach, with free access to Comfort+ and Economy Comfort seats in Delta and KLM respectively (not that different from VS's Extra Legroom seats), is better value for me. 

Farewell, Lady Stardust!

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