Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic A340-300 Economy class

10 Mar 2009 by Mark Caswell

Check-in I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal
3 at 1900 for my 2115 flight VS350 to Mumbai. Check-in for Virgin flights is in
Zone A and, when I arrived, the area was busy, with large queues at the economy
bag-drop desks. I hadn’t been able to check in online during the 24 hours prior
to my flight, but had used the “manage my flight” option to choose my seat
online a few days before departure. However, when I checked in using the
self-service kiosks, my seat choice had been changed (thankfully to another
aisle seat but unfortunately right by the toilets), and there were no seats
left to change to, as economy was completely full.

I joined
one of the bag-drop queues, and was served around 15 minutes later. I then
headed to security, and having stood in one long queue (outside the actual
security area) and reached the front, I was then told by an attendant that this
line was being closed and that I would need to join another one (equally as
long) on the other side. This, and the usual lengthy security checks, meant
that it took a total of 45 minutes from arrival at the airport to getting
airside.

Boarding We were advised that the flight would
be delayed due to the late arrival of the inbound service but, to Virgin’s
credit, we were constantly kept informed as to the status of aircraft cleaning
and cabin crew checks, etc. Boarding eventually took place at 2140, and we took
off around one hour late at 2215, with the captain informing us that we would
make up half of this during the flight.

The seat Economy configuration is 2-4-2 on the
A340-300, except for a few rows near the back of the plane where it 2-3-2
(click here to view the seat plan). I was sitting in seat 47H, an aisle seat in
the last row of the first economy cabin – not a great position, as the toilets
are positioned directly behind. The seat itself is Virgin’s older-style economy
product, which features in-flight entertainment on a loop rather than AVOD
(audio visual on-demand). While the seat is certainly not new, it doesn’t feel
particularly dated either. (The pitch is 79cm/31in and the width 44cm/17in.)

Where to sit? There are two economy cabins on this
aircraft, the first being five rows (plus two rows of the middle four seats)
directly behind Virgin’s premium economy cabin, followed by the toilets and
galley, then a second larger economy cabin. If you are desperate for extra
legroom, then the first row in the second cabin offers this (particularly the
two seats A-C and H-K on either side by the emergency exits). However, Virgin
charges a premium to reserve these in advance, and you should be aware that the
bassinet attached to the wall in front of the middle four seats means that
these are often given to families with babies, as was the case on this flight.

Being
six-foot tall, my personal preference is an aisle seat, and on another flight I
would choose one of the rows towards the front of the first economy cabin, or
failing that, a row in the middle of the second cabin. Also bear in mind that
some seats have the in-flight entertainment box underneath the seat in front
which reduces legroom – on the return flight (which again was completely full
in economy) I was unlucky enough to get one of these, so avoid window seat 53A.

The flight An evening meal service was offered
soon after take off, with a choice of an Indian or Western dish. Much has been
made by the media of the recent complaint letter written by a Virgin passenger,
regarding the in-flight Indian food offering on this route (including
photographs of the offending dishes). It should be pointed out that they
were referring to the meal service on the inbound leg from Mumbai, which will
have used an Indian catering service rather than a UK one.

Nevertheless,
it was enough to make me decide to opt for the Western offering, which was a
perfectly adequate chicken with vegetables, although the chocolate dessert by
premium brand Gu was definitely the highlight. The in-flight entertainment
included around ten Indian and English-language movies, including some recent
releases – I watched Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla
before attempting to get some sleep. Economy passengers receive a pillow, a
fairly thin blanket, and a plastic drawstring bag with an eye mask, socks and
toothbrush. Around one and a half hours before landing, we were served
breakfast (again with a choice of Indian or cooked English).

Arrival As the captain predicted, we touched
down around 30 minutes late. The airport is officially named Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport,
although one of the cabin crew mistakenly announced it as Chapati airport,
which caused much amusement among the passengers. We were quickly disembarked
and friendly immigration staff swiftly checked passports.

This
flight was on a Sunday so the roads were fairly quiet and it took around one
hour to get from the airport to the Nariman Point area of Mumbai (where many of
the city’s upscale hotels are located). During the week, this journey can take
considerably longer.

Verdict The lengthy check-in process and delay
aside, the flight itself went smoothly. The economy seat is comfortable enough,
although there are newer economy products out there, and AVOD is becoming an
expectation rather than a bonus on long-haul flights.

Price Return economy class flights from
London to Mumbai in early April started from £313.

Contact virginatlantic.com

Mark Caswell

Loading comments...
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below
Polls