A uniquely VIRGIN experience (LHR-HKG-LHR)Back to Forum
Virgin, for some reason, do not get enough mention on this Business Travel Forum, so here goes…
I recently flew Virgin to HKG and then onwards to BKK on my usual CX flights. To be honest, I was not looking forward to the Virgin experience, all the stories about not being able to use airmiles, using T3, the crowded lounge, the seats facing inwards, poor business class seat, the noisy infight bar and poor infight service, all sadly got the better of me.
Booking: this trip was booked within 3 weeks of the departure date, which for me is a late booking. As I was using airmiles, I went straight for the Welsh call centre. Not much waiting around, dealt with by a very pleasant agent, airmiles not a problem – and I was gobsmacked my first choice of dates were available for my 5-day trip. Seats held so I could confirm my meetings. Unfortunately, the following day, I needed to change the trip by a week and when I called the call centre, they did their best to accommodate the changes. The date for the outbound flight was fine but the inbound I had to return a day later than required. All booked & I was astonished with the ease Virgin made the process, especially upper-class reward tickets all within 3 weeks of departure date. The only shock was the £560 I needed to pay, which I presume were taxes. Nobody could explain the cost. I thought that was high.
Terminal 3: used the fast track ‘exclusive’ Virgin security channel, which I thought would be similar to the BA First Wing, i.e. straight into the lounge. I realised though; the position of the lounge would make that impossible to achieve. Security was fast and then the trek through the stinky perfumes … to the lounge or rather Clubhouse.
Clubhouse: greeted by a charming VS staff member who was interested to know if this was my first visit. I explained this was my first VS flight for about 6 years. She showed me around the lounge, including the roof terrace. She explained all the food and drink was complimentary. I found this comment strange, but given the US lounges are not as generous, perhaps she didn’t want to scare away, her American guests. The lounge was clean, bright, yes there was thumping music, but no where near as bad as the W hotel experience. All table service. A tremendous choice of food from the menu or deli bar. Drinks continuous (I did behave myself) and amazingly was not at all crowded. I spent some time on the roof terrace, met some interesting people and yes, it did have a club atmosphere. Found a perfect spot by the windows next to the salon/spa to catch up on last minute emails and all too quickly, it was time to go to the gate. A very pleasant 4 hours – drinking, eating, some work and chatting to fellow travellers (oh, I did have a manicure)…
Boarding: T3 is badly designed, it feels like something out of the 70’s, long corridors, lyno flooring and a schlep to the gate. That’s not the airlines fault though. The lounge boarding call was perfectly timed because rather than being the first to board, I was one of the last to board, straight on, time to change sat down, another drink and off we went. My first impression of the VS 787, it looked funky, fresh and very clean. The cabin crew looked smart, were not chewing gum, introduced themselves and could not have been more helpful and that was before we had even pushed back.
Flight and Service: The seat was how I remembered, from my last flight. You need to twist your neck to see out. The IFE screen was bright and a quick flick through the programmes showed an extensive list of viewing choices. Very easy to operate. After take-off, the meal service. This was not hurried but neither did it take too long. Perfectly timed and the food (I had salmon) was very tasty. I had purposely sat towards the front of the aircraft just in case the bar was busy. Apart from 1 passenger using it for his computer, I do not think the bar area was being used at all. Then came the time to flip the bed. Cabin crew were hovering after the meal service to make up the beds. The beds did look very inviting when made. Previously I found the VS flat beds a little hard and I didn’t like that you couldn’t make any small alterations to the bed position. However…….. I woke up about 2 hours out of HKG, which meant I had slept for around 6 and half hours. I was very pleased with the amount of sleep.
I then realised the shades had all been electronically shut. I did ask whether the crew would release mine but was told the crew member in charge is the only person able to release individual windows and she was on her break. However, within 5 minutes, she was off her break, came over to explain she would be opening all the aircraft shades in a few minutes. All of a sudden the cabin was filled with gradual sunlight and interestingly, nobody closed their individual shades, despite going from dark to afternoon sunlight in just a few minutes.
HKG: despite once around the hold, it was an on-time arrival was deplaned and through what I still consider my favourite transit airport in a few minutes and straight into the Pier lounge ready for my onward with CX.
After 4 days of work, it was time to return. I had tried to extend my trip by a further day, but this time, my call to the call centre did not generate a positive response. No upper-class reward seats available for the next couple of weeks. I could downgrade, but I would need to stay for a further 3 days. Kept ticket as it was:
Return transit through HKG: I seem to be lucky with the transit points. Again, where we parked there was a transit point within a few gates, again EMPTY and was back upstairs in a couple of minutes of arriving into the terminal. I guess my luck will run out eventually, but it hasn’t so far. This time though, I did not have a one world connection so the Pier (and all other CX lounges) were off limits. I thought about asking someone, but thought better of it… rejection is never taken lightly by me…
Plaza Premium First Class lounge: I was though looking forward to trying the lounge used by Virgin, which is in the area of gates 1-4. This is a third-party lounge offering a higher level of service. Both airline and paid guests use this lounge. I did find the lounge dark, clearly caused by there being no natural light. A collection of rooms with no windows. The lounge does have the largest collection of whisky I had ever seen in any airport lounge. However, they were not all complimentary, in fact the majority of the 15 year + single malts were chargeable. The top shelf did contain a favourite of mine, a peat flavour from Islay – that was just too tempting. I went through for dinner where it was explained I could have an unlimited salad bar, mainly of lettuce…. Plus 1 main course, a second main course could be selected but for an additional charge. I did notice on the menu that it said airline guests can have as many main courses as they wanted for no extra charge. I just had the one, Salmon, which was pretty bland and came with a sauce but no vegetables or potatoes. For dessert I had the cheese board which consisted of 4 pieces or more accurately, slithers of cheese and 2 ritz crackers. After dinner went back to the whisky bar which had come alive a bit more. Started talking to a fellow traveller on the VS flight back to London and together, my new friend and me did manage to find our way to gate 25, for the flight home. Again, immediate boarding, no waiting around.
Although not a major issue, the lounge experience was a little underwhelming. Especially having experienced the Heathrow Clubhouse and the Pier on the way out, the Plaza Premium First Class lounge is no where near the same standard, it basically tries to be something it clearly isn’t, compared to the other HKG lounges (not just the Pier). Compared to European lounges, it is very good.
Return Flight: Very much the same as the way out. Food wasn’t particularly exciting, but ALL the cabin crew provided the same high level of service, nothing was too much trouble. The window shades were dealt with differently, they were kept down and locked until 30 minutes before landing. Although they were released if you asked. I was not the only one who asked and roughly ¼ of shades had gone up for the breakfast service. Sadly, my sleep on the way back was interrupted by a disruptive passenger. (aged about 10 or 11), the parents were too busy sleeping to calm the continuously over excited, nose picking, youngster down.
Summary: I was very pleasantly surprised by both these flights. My first VS experience in 6 years was very enjoyable, the overall service was excellent but most of all it felt fresh and clean, with cabin crew that clearly cared. I think the airline will continue to improve especially with the new seats. Interestingly BT reported VS were only installing the new seat into their 350’s. According to the cabin crew, they are intending to fit across the entire fleet.
Both flights had excellent cabin crew and all were respectful where their chatter and noise were concerned. No clanking about in the galley, no elephant feet down the cabin and no chitter chatter throughout the night.
My choice of airline for this trip was a one off, due to cost. I am likely to stick to oneworld in the future, just down to the daily number of seats it has to HKG and connections through the region.
One final benefit though for this routing, no ex-Europe departure. I felt it very much on the return, not having to make 2 extra flights to AMS and back.
Thank you very much Virgin – I am sure we will meet again…. just don’t know when 🙂8 Jun 2019
Thank you for that comprehensive report.
They seem to have improved a lot since my last poor experience with them to CPT just before they pulled the route.
I have to go to JNB in a few weeks time, may give them a try, although I normally use Swiss.8 Jun 2019
I do not understand why Virgin gets a bad rap. I have been flying Virgin in Upper Class s per year for over 20 years now and have only had one bad experience. All other flights have been great and you do get a PJ and do not have to pay to reserve your seat.8 Jun 2019
I do not understand why Virgin gets a bad rap. I have been flying Virgin in Upper Class s per year for over 20 years now and have only had one bad experience. All other flights have been great and you do get a PJ and do not have to pay to reserve your seat.
I always enjoyed the experience from booking, problem solving, lounge at T3 and I even love the bar onboard.. I still can’t get over the inward looking “Window seats”… It is one of the things I do enjoy most of about flying.. looking outside at take off and landing, regardless of how often or many times I have flown into the same airport. Anyway, I think they are changing the seats in upper class on all the new air crafts so over the next 10 years that problem will be solved.9 Jun 2019
I have never found the Virgin Upper Class seats to be an issue. A slight turning of the body and I see out of the windows perfectly fine. The newest version of many airlines’ seats now have those built in obstructions plus they are no longer right next to the windows. I would thus take a current Virgin seat any day over these new not so well designed versions.11 Jun 2019
I have never found the Virgin Upper Class seats to be an issue. A slight turning of the body and I see out of the windows perfectly fine. The newest version of many airlines’ seats now have those built in obstructions plus they are no longer right next to the windows. I would thus take a current Virgin seat any day over these new not so well designed versions.
I agree, I also enjoy looking out of the window and never had a problem on Virgin. As I always travel alone I rather like the Virgin layout ( and enjoy being able to chat to fellow passengers at the bar). However for a couple or family travelling together it’s a poor layout. I have seen people sitting on the footstool to share dinner with their other half but the table is rather cramped for two.12 Jun 2019