17th February 2014 at 20:48 #588340
Anonymous17th February 2014 at 20:48 #588341
Travel review – Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy 747-400
1st November 2013
London Gatwick (LGW) to Montego Bay, Jamaica (MBJ) VS065
This review is in different sections, in order to help you find any specific area that you are interested in. I hope you find some of the information helpful.
1, Check In. 2, Security (Fast Track). 3, Lounge (No1 LGW) 4, Boarding. 5, On Board.
6, Seating. 7, In flight service. 8, Food and drink. 9, Amenity kit. 10, Arrival. 11, Summary.
1) Check in
We arrived by train at Gatwick airport, the night before our flight. We chose to stay at the Hilton because it is connected by a covered walkway to the a South terminal, which is where all Virgin flights operate from. We headed into the terminal in the evening, so that we could use the electronic check in terminal and see the twilight check in service that Virgin offers. Whilst this service will save you time before your flight, the actual queue for the evening check in service was really rather long. They operate the service between 5 and 9pm the day before your flight.
We returned to check in the next morning, at least three hours before, as Virgin advise. The economy check in had a lot of desks open but there was still a queue, but not so large that you would be worried too much about waiting time. I believe you would wait less than the twilight check in. There are a lot of Virgin flights departing in the morning, so this should be a busy time for them. As we were travelling in premium economy, there are a three or four separate desks dedicated to premium economy passengers checking in or dropping baggage. There was no queue but all the counters were busy and we were immediately directed to use the upper class check in area. Check in was swift and we were given premium security service stickers, which I am not sure if that is a standard with premium economy, as it is not advertised on the Virgin Atlantic website.
2) Security (Fast Track)
We used the premium lane security pass, which is a totally different zone compared to the normal security, so I cannot tell you how busy security was but there are a lot of flights departing. I can however tell you about premium security at Gatwick South, which was great. No queue, straight through the barrier, bag scanned and iPad and liquids back in and away in under 4 minutes. Straight into the terminal shopping area. Having travelled a lot and waited in many security queues, I would rate the service well and would be prepared to pay for it.
3) The lounge (The No1 Lounge LGW South)
Being with premium economy does not grant you any lounge access but my wife and I are priority pass holders and we can use the servisair lounge or the No1 lounge. We chose to use the No1 lounge and pre booked online. Priority pass holders can do this by paying a small fee (£5 each) or booking any other product. We booked a glass of champagne each (£8) which guarantees your entry into the lounge and with their current promotion, also gave us premium security access (so we had it twice?).
Pre booking is well worth doing as although the lounge was not terribly busy, it is quite small and they were fully booked. They turned many people away whilst we were there, so don’t be disappointed. Of course, anyone booking online using their normal booking service, is also guaranteed access, as this is to do with the lounge and not priority pass. The lounge itself is quite pleasant but small, compared to other No1 lounges, like Birmingham airport.
The selection of drinks was ok and food offerings above the standard comparing with many lounges who offer only peanuts and crisps. They had a breakfast service on, with croissants, cereals, yoghurt and granola etc and each person can order one complimentary hot dish from the bistro. The options were bacon or sausage barmcake or eggs florentine.
Gate numbers are advertised on a screen near the entrance but flights are not called. Beware, boarding for long haul starts around 50 minutes before and the lounge is a fair walk from the gates. Our gate came up at 11:10 (gate 31 for 12:30 flight) and, as one of the further gates, we were advised to leave then. It took 15 mins to get to the gate, brisk walking.
Started on time at around 11:35, firstly for those who needed assistance. They then invited all Upper Class, Premium Economy and Flying club gold members to board first. So we boarded and had seats on the upper deck (20A, 20C). It is great to see priority boarding actually managed properly.
5) On board before departure
We started to unpack our belongings into the large storage bins they have between the seat and the window. These are great so that you have easy access to items during the flight, although if you are travelling alone and not in a window, you have limited access to these. There are storage bins above you as normal, but due to the roof angle, they are quite small and limited bags will fit. For example, we had a standard samsonite b-lite cabin pull along rolling tote and there was no chance it would fit. The cabin crew took the bag to store in the wardrobe and return it to you at the end of the flight.
We settled into the new (upgraded in 2012) PE leather seating and we were served a choice of orange or champagne. We even got another glass before departure as we were first to board and it does take a while to fill the economy cabin (totally 430 travellers on board).
The seating configuration for PE (premium economy upper deck) is 2-2 and the cabin upstairs is small, with only 20 PE and around 40 economy (see SeatGuru.com 747 configuration no4). It means the PE cabin is really quiet, excluding the usual cabin noise of ventilation etc. the seat is very comfortable and a big step up from the economy seat. They have a larger pitch and width is 21 inches, which is the same as many international business class seats. Screens are in the seat back or pull out for our seats, as we were at the bulkhead. The screens are touch sensitive but you also get a fully interactive control in your seat. Having flown British Airways premium economy last year to Las Vegas, I can tell you based on the seat alone, Virgin wins. I am big guy (20 stone) and so seat comfort is important to me but if you fit comfortably in economy then this may not seem like a benefit worth paying for. Still the seat is fully leather rather than fabric in economy and the extra recline should help you sleep better. We completed the security briefing and departed on time. Bulkhead seats avoid anyone reclining into you but it does mean your screen must be stowed for take off and landings. Audio channels are still available.
All tray tables come out of the arm in PE (I think due to the screens on seat backs). The space is quite tight. As a bigger guy, it was a real squeeze, even my wife (size 14) did not have much space to move between herself and the table.
I prefer the smaller upper deck seating as you really feel like you are in a premium cabin with premium service. The bulkhead offer the best space, but be warned, they are close to the toilet, so people queue near you and also one side has the only upper deck skycot. No baby on either of our flights but this is a chance you take. Saying that, I think I would choose these seats again in the future.
7) Inflight Service
You have to use Virgins free headsets for take off and landing but after that, you are free to use your own. I seriously recommend a good pair of noise cancelling ones, even if you are in a quieter cabin. The entertainment system has a lot to offer and the screen size is decent. Plenty of movies and tv programmes, you can see the Virgin Atlantic website for an example of what’s on each month. The PE seats are also equipped with power sockets and USB as well as some serial connection options for your own device, but you need a special cable that I believe you can buy from the crew.
8) Food and Drink
The drinks service started swiftly and we had a full bar and pretzel snacks first and they handed out the PE menu.
A full bar service is operated, without champagne (apart from the initial glass whilst boarding), however you may purchase champagne on board: Qtr bottle Lanson Black label for £12 or two for £20. Be quick to ask though as they run out very fast. If you are on a return flight, chances are they will have none as they do not restock until back in the UK.
Smoked salmon roulade with a roasted vegetable and mixed leaf salad.
A choice of oven baked bread rolls.
Beef stew with sage and onion dumplings or
Chicken in garlic and mushroom sauce with roasted potatoes and broccoli or
Thai green vegetable curry with sticky rice
Chequered chocolate mousse.
The food is served all together on your large tray with linen cloth and you have stainless steel cutlery and real china in PE.
In flight snack
We received a pasty style snack filled with mature cheddar cheese, mid way through the flight. Nice and hot
With the meal they have only one choice of each wine
White: Domaine de Marins, Sauvignon Blanc
Red: Domaine de Marins, Merlot.
Both very drinkable and supplied by Berry Bros & Rudd, Wine Merchants.
After the initial drinks service and meal service, they offer an after dinner cognac or Amarula fruit cream.
The bar service is then stopped and they only come round with water and soft drinks. You can continue to drink but you have to go to the galley and request your drinks. This allows people to sleep or relax without trolley service continuing but also slows the pace that some people drink.
Just before arrival, they have another food service of high tea (as this was a day flight), or a breakfast if you are on an overnight flight with early morning arrival.
Cheese and pickle finger sandwiches on white bread.
Banana and toffee cupcake
Tea or coffee.
I took the economy class menu for reference:
Pre diner drink
Speciality fruit cocktail, with or without vodka, or the normal beers wines and spirits choice.
– Fruity Waldorf salad
Steak and mushroom cobbler with diced potatoes and carrots, or
Butter chicken, or
Vegetable and herb pasta in a creamy herb sauce
Gu dessert and tea or coffee.
No after diner drinks service, but the bar remains open and you need to go and ask. The option to purchase the champagne is also open to all economy class passengers.
The food is served in the standard airline trays and you do not get china or metal cutlery as in Premium Economy.
The same High tea was served in economy before arrival as well.
9) Amenity Kit
On day flights (like this one) no amenity kit is given out. Only on the return night flight and it contains the same as the economy kit with a slightly upgraded bag (don’t get too excited). Socks, pen, toothbrush and toothpaste, eye mask and ear plugs.
Due to the location of the PE seating in the main cabin, you are one of the first to get off. On this flight I can also confirm that the cabin crew stopped one side of the economy cabin people until we had come down from the upper deck as well. This was great but I am not sure if it is a standard or not.
We used the arrival service at Montego Bay airport, operated totally independently from Virgin, by the Montego Bay “Club Mowbay” lounge people. It costs $55 each and you are met off the plane, not in groups but just for your party booking, and one staff member waits with a board with your name on. They walk you past all the queues to the front of immigration, then help you collect your bags and again to the front of the customs queue. If you are waiting for onward transport, they have an arrivals lounge with cold towels and drinks (fruit punch, beers etc or soft). They collect you once you transport has arrived or your transfer bus is full and ready to go. In my opinion, this is a great service and it is much better to sit in comfort rather than queues, even more so if the airport is busy.
In our case, we were one of the only arriving flights but it still means 430 people to process in a really small airport. We waited in the lounge for about 45 minutes until the transport was ready, so I would rather wait with fruit punch than wait in an immigration queue. You must book this in advance. Link available on the Montego Bay airport website.
Overall, I believe Virgin have a really good Premium Economy product and that the benefits warrant the extra cost. I only have the older BA product to compare with but we normally travel business class, and I think the Virgin PE product is a good offering compared to the cost of Upper Class. For me, the seat comfort and smaller cabin meant that the overall flight experience was much better and relaxing. I think the product difference is much bigger than others who claim to have a premium offering. We will fly with Virgin again using this product.17th February 2014 at 21:57 #588342
Very thorough review, TravelWise! Thank you. 🙂
1F20th September 2014 at 20:29 #588343
Thank you for a very thorough review. I was toying with the idea of treating myself to a premium economy flight to Montego Bay and your review has sold me. I am going to book right now. Great to find a review of the route that I intend travelling on. I think I will book for use of the lounges also. Thanks once again.20th September 2014 at 22:00 #588344
“The bar service is then stopped and they only come round with water and soft drinks. You can continue to drink but you have to go to the galley and request your drinks. This allows people to sleep or relax without trolley service continuing but also slows the pace that some people drink.”
Priceless observation in a very enjoyable review.
I Always wonder: Why do people drink so much on flights?
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