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.


Mark Caswell

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