Monday, 22 August 2022

Enjoying Premium Class With Virgin Atlantic from JFK To LHR

 Welcome to my return trip report on Virgin Atlantic!



Photo: Ruimin Yan 

Cheers to all the readers! I have 2 more trip reports to do before concluding my May/June 2022 flying trip reports. 


Introduction 

Time flew very fast and it was time to fly back to London for a few days there before heading home with Swiss. I hope you readers out there are enjoying my trip reports so far. 

For the return flight to London, I decided to treat myself by booking myself on the airline's premium class. I deliberately booked VS46, the evening timing departure from JFK to LHR is to fly on the airline's 787 Dreamliner but the aircraft was changed to Airbus A330-300. I tried to change other flights but it would have cost me around 300 pounds to do so, so I decided to just go ahead and hoping that a last minute equipment change can take place, it is one of those days you hope this happened. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and I just have to make full use of what I will be experiencing on this flight. So without further ado, let's begin this trip report. 

A brief history of Virgin Atlantic 

This airline is a British airline, based in Crawley England has been established since 1984.The original name of this airline was British Atlantic Airways and was renamed to Virgin Atlantic Airways after some issues between 2 shareholders of this company. The first flight for this airline took place in June 1984, London Gatwick to New York Newark Airport. Richard Branson entered this partnership before the airline was renamed to Virgin Atlantic. After much negotiations between him and Randolph Fields, Fields has his stake reduced to 25%, with the name being renamed and also became the first CEO of the company. However, things didn't work out for him and his stake was brought out and things ended ugly as his situation with the company ended up in the high court. 

Richard Branson had the majority of the build up to this airline with a leased Boeing 747-200 starting operation and he declared that if the airline fail to make a profit within a year, he will withdraw his airline from the market. Fortunately for the airline, it succeeded and with the help of the sister's company, Virgin Records, the airline was able to finance a 2nd lease Boeing 747. Gradually, the airline expanded with more aircraft joining the fleet and the expansion of the network. More aircraft such as the BAC 1-11, Boeing 727 and Vickers Viscount were either leased or purchased 2nd hand joined the fleet of Boeing 747, operating on shorter routes within Europe and Britain. 

Now, the airline is competiting well with British Airways, operating a strong fleet of Airbus A330-300, (-900) (coming in August 2022), Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 787-9 aircraft. The airline has also wet-leased some Airbus A321 (Converted Freighter) to operate on short routes. With a 49% stake from Delta Airlines, both airlines have a reciprocal relationship which give consumers flying on both airlines more choices to fly on, with both airlines code-sharing with each other's routes, earning miles on each other's frequent flyer program, sharing lounges and other benefits which help attract the frequent flyers, making it very competitive against their rivals. 

Check-in 

I was offered this amount (below) to upgrade to Upper Class and it is an insane amount of $ to upgrade on this relatively short flight in my opinion.


Thanks but no thanks, I stick to my seat 25K. 


I wasn't able to do the online check-in as they need to verify my final destination (not the movie) and I have to do that in person with the airport staff. 

Day of departure 

The famous TWA hotel, I had a last look at it before making my way to terminal 4. 



From terminal 5, I took the airtrain to terminal 4. 



This is terminal 4 where Virgin Atlantic flights depart from. 



Waiting at the premium queue was a nightmare. According to the airline, Premium and Upper Class passengers have priority check-in but this wasn't the case for us. The Economy class passengers were served first while we were made to wait. Not a good start to the day! I decided to join the Economy class queue and only then the Premium check-in counters were opened. That's life! 


It took about half an hour before I finally got my boarding pass. The staff was surprised I had no check-in baggage and she just asked me when would I be flying home since London was not my final destination and after a couple more questions were asked, I was on my way. 


Airside 

I would be leaving U.S with fond memories, a big shout out to the wonderful people I met on this trip. Hope to meet you in my part of the world, I would love to show you guys around. 





The decoration below has definitely caught my attention. 



My flight was going ahead on schedule. 


Some photos of the aircraft I photographed while waiting for boarding. 

This Virgin's A330 was parked at the remote parking lot, it was towed to a gate later on. 

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This is Aeromexico Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in this special livery. This is named Quetzalcoatl which means "Feathered Serpent", a godness of pre-Hispanic Mexico.


One of the many A380s in Emirates' fleet.


Kuwait's Boeing 777-300ER in the new livery 


Westjet's 737-800 is in the special Disney's livery 


Avianca's Airbus A319 getting ready for departure to Bogota.


Delta's Boeing 737-800 in the skyteam livery.


I was delighted to see this Delta's Airbus A330-900NEO in the special Team USA livery. 


Another photo of the Aeromexico's 787 special livery.


I wish I was flying on this A350-1000 which was departing for LHR about 45 minutes after my flight departure. 


The aircraft scheduled to fly me back to London wasn't updated on Flightradar24 until about an hour before my scheduled departure, that was how late the update is.



My ride: G-VINE (Airbus A330-343)




Airbus A330-343 (leased from Avolon)
Name: Champagne Belle 
Configuration: C31 W48 Y185
Engines: 2 X Roll Royce Trent 772B-60
MSN: 1231 
Age: 11 years old (June 2022)
Built in Toulouse 

Flight route: JFK-LHR 


Miles: 3,451

The boarding gate of my flight



Date of departure: 14 June 2022
Airline: Virgin Atlantic 
Flight: VS46 
Aircraft: Airbus A330-343
Registration: G-VINE 
Seat: 25K 
Class: Premium 
Departure Airport: JFK 
Terminal: 4
Gate: A3 
Scehduled departure: 1845 
Boarding: 1747 
Push back: 1851
Take off: 1919 
Announced flight time: 6 hours 16 mins 
Actual flight time: 6 hours 15 mins
Scheduled arrival time: 0645
Touch down: 0634 
Arrival airport: LHR 
Terminal: 3 
Arrival gate: Unknown 
Load of Premium Class: 100% 
JFK departure runway: 22R 
LHR arrival runway: 27R 

Welcome on board Virgin Atlantic! 

For the upper class trip report on this aircraft, you can check out at Travel Codex's version over here.

My in-flight experience 

Boarding started about half an hour before departure time. I boarded the aircraft once the premium class passengers were given the green light to do so. The gate agent was very nice, she was friendly and asked whether did I enjoy my New York trip. Once on board, I was greeted by a lovely crew and I made my way to my seat with her direction pointing the right way. It turns out to be a full house in this class. Once I settled down, I can tell you, how much I enjoy the extra legroom space and seat width and not forgetting the armrest which has enough space for both seat mate and I to rest our arms. Shortly after, the cabin crew came around with our pre departure drink. I chose the champagne to enjoy this lovely occasion. 

Checking the contents in my seat pocket, I notice the in-flight menu and you know usually, we only get this when flying on business classes. There is definitely a Premium feeling in this class, that's for sure. Not only that, we also have an amenity kit on the seat and blanket provided for Premium Class passengers. 

The announcement was done by the Captain with the usual introduction and all that, only issue was the volume of the speaker was soft so it was difficult to catch his words. Once the aircraft was pushed back, it didn't take long for us to head to the runway for a quick departure. We hit a bit of turbulence along the way and after the dinner meal service, I took a couple of hours of eye-shut before waking up just in time for breakfast. Unfortunately for my seat mate, she slept though the breakfast service and only woke up when the plane started its descent. The crew did ask her whether she wanted her meal service, she wanted it but unfortunately the crew forgot about it and when my seat mate reminded her, it was too late to serve and instead my mate was given a cup of coffee and the crew was apologetic about it. Fortunately, my seat mate didn't kick a big fuss. For the In-Flight Entertainment system, it was the older system and the touchscreen on my set wasn't working very well. I had to press hard and a few times to get to where I want. 

Overall, it was an enjoyable flight. The meals were nice, IFE system and the seat are not too bad and more importantly I got a couple of hours of rest, so do I recommend flying on Virgin's A330 Premium Class? Yes. 

Once the plane landed and reached the gate, I felt reluctant to leave as I was feeling very comfortable. As a regular Economy Class flyer, I won't know when would be the next time I get to experience the premium class but one thing for sure, this was worth it especially with the bonus mileage points awarded to my Delta's skymiles account. With that, I have completed my first transatlantic return flight on one of the world's most popular routes : New York to London Heathrow! 



There is a little mini bar between the upper class and premium cabin. This is only available for Upper class passengers. 


Both Premium and Upper Class Service passengers receive a pre-departure drink service before departure. 


Premium Class 

This cabin consists of 48 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. It offers a better seat width of 21'inch compare to the Economy Class product. With a legroom space of 38' inch, I was able to relax on this recliner and catch some sleep. Every Premium Economy Class seat comes with a seat rest and even though the cushion of the seat may lack of padding, I find it to be comfortable though it looks dated compare to the newer Premium Economy Class seats. Nothing spectacular about this product but at least the seat width is wider and with better legroom space than Economy Class. Is it worth the extra $$ spent on this class? Well, if you have the extra cash and the airfare is not ridiculously high, why not? Do monitor the airfare from time time, you might encounter some awesome airfares. My verdict: 7/10 

The colour of the seats and cabin ambiance is quite smoothing to my eyes 




Usually I will be sitting behind the curtain, not today! 


I chose the last row of the window seat. (Below)




The bulkhead row offers better legroom space but the troublesome part is you can't use the IFE system during taxi, take-off and landing. 


This was my seat, 25K. 


Each of the seats above the passenger has air vents which may be important for some of us especially if the temperature of the cabin is slightly warm.


What do you think of the Premium class on the A330? 









Economy Class 

For the trip report of this aircraft's Economy Class, you can check out TPG's flight review over here.

The 2-4-2 configuration with 185 Economy Class seats in this cabin. The economy seats offer 17' inches of seat width. There are Economy Delight and Economy Light/Classic seats, the 'Economy Delight' offers up to 34' inch legroom space while the latter offers up to 31' inch legroom space. 




More photos of the Premium Seat 

The magazine holder consists of 2 magazines and a safety card.


For Premium Class passengers, the foldable tray is located at the arm rest compartment. 


Legrest support 


You can use this control (below) to adjust your seat. 


The Lavatory (Economy section)





What's provided for Premium Class Passengers

In-flight magazines 



Safety Card 


Blanket 


The amenity kit (Goodie Bag) for Premium Class 


What's inside the goodie bag? 





The headset is wrapped with a donation wrapper encouraging us to donate.


In-Flight Entertainment System 

This is the older system which you can either control it by using the remote control or touchscreen. 






WiFi was available on this flight.





In-Flight Meals/drinks

I was pleasantly surprised that a menu card is available for Premium Class passengers. 




A pre-flight beverage drink was served. There was a choice of water, orange juice and champagne and I chose the latter. 


Light snack before dinner 

The lovely crew gave me 2 cans of Gingle Ale and 2 packets of the popular American favourite's snack - pretzel 



Dinner - I selected the Fajita Chicken with green pepper and onion, spanish rice and tortilla. (Photo below)

The other 2 choices were Red Thai Curry with seared salmon buckwheat soba noodles and mixed vegetables and Potato topped vegetarian shepherd's pie.

Its been a while I got to enjoy a business-class style meal, making this experience even more enjoyable. The food was tasty and I was quite full by the end of it, that should be the way! 

I remembered I had to hold on to the glasses when we were flying through turbulence. 


Breakfast 

A choice of sausage, egg and cheese in a warm biscuit or sweet breakfast pastry. Both comes with overnight oats with mango and coconut as the side dish. 

I chose the sausage, egg and cheese option plus a coffee to add into this lovely mug (below). 


This was a nice breakfast, no complaints at all for the 2 meals. I do hope they consider improving their Economy Class meals by bringing back the standard meals.


Window shot photos 

The position of our aircraft at the gate


After pushed back, we made our way to the departure runway in this good weather.


Goodbye Jetblue! I had a good time flying with you. 



Almost there! 


Goodbye, U.S and New York! 







After a few hours of sleep, I woke up and noticed that it was getting brighter outside while we were flying across the Transatlantic.


At this stage, we had begun our descend into U.K airspace. 




On final approach to LHR. I was very fortunate to arrive during the time before the trouble started at LHR airport due to shortage of airport staff and other operational reasons. 


Our aircraft reached the gate with minutes to spare. 


My flight summary 



Arrival in London Heathrow Terminal 3 

This time I decided to take the Piccadilly line to my Airbnb accomodation. 




I stayed near Forest Green Station where my Airbnb home was at. 


For my Economy Class trip report with this airline (A350-1000), click here.

My rating: 

Airline's website/mobile app: 4/5
Airport staff at JFK airport: 2/5 
In-Flight Service: 4/5 
In-Flight Experience: 4.5/5
Cleanliness of the cabin: 5/5 
In-Flight Entertainment system: 3/5 
In-Flight meals: 4/5 
Punctuality: 5/5
Seat comfort: 4/5 
Cabin interior: 3.5/5
Overall rating: 39/50
Percentage: 78%
Verdict: Great!

Conclusion 

Every airline has its own strength and weakness. While the airline has great in-flight products especially on the newer aircraft, there is also weakness which the airline can consider improving on such as flight changes coming from the airline. The airline should consider offering a one-time complimentary change for passengers especially if the airline initiates the change. This happened to me a few months before my flight, the airline cancelled my flight and rebooked me onto a flight 2 hours before my original booking and I had to pay to make the change which is ridiculous if you ask me. The next thing that they should do is to bring back the standard Economy Class food since now we can consider Covid as part of the norm and many airlines have done so. The Economy Class meals on my flights are disappointing due to the size of the portion and the quality. Other than that, I was quite satisfied with my flight experience with the great crew on both flights making both flights enjoyable and which flight do I prefer? It has to be this flight for the Premium class experience. The A350-1000 on the other hand was a great plane to fly on, that is for sure! In the future, I would love to fly on this airline's A330-900NEO and the Boeing 787-9 in the near future, it's unfortunate that I didn't fly on the airline's 747-400 and A340-600 while they were still around. Oh well! 

Anyway, should I do a British Airways A350-1000 trip?  I am looking at a possiblity of flying this aircraft on the 5th freedom GRU-EZE route. If so, I can do a comparison between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways' A350-1000. Let me know! Hope you enjoy this trip report!

For my previous trip report (Alaska Airlines Airbus A321 SEA-JFK trip report), click here.
For my next trip report (Swiss Airlines A320NEO LHR-ZRH trip report), click here.

Thanks for reading!
Charles 

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