Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic B747-400 economy

21 Jan 2013 by ScottCarey7

CHECK-IN  I arrived at Grantley Adams airport in Barbados at 1525 for my return flight to London Gatwick (to read a review of the excellent flight out, click here). A Virgin flight had been cancelled the night before due to a technical fault and I feared the worst at check-in. And my fears were justified as I was greeted to the large open forecourt by a set of snaking queues, the first one I saw was thankfully for Thomson but hiding just behind it was the massive Virgin queue.

Disappointingly, considering how much time they had to realise there may be a spike in demand, there were only two people manning the economy check-in desks, and there are no automated check-in consoles at Grantley Adams, which admittedly is normally a very quiet airport.

My grandparents were travelling in Premium Economy so we cheekily tried to use this queue and were thankfully allowed. This queue was much shorter but we still didn’t reach the front until 1620, almost a full hour after arriving. We also had to spend a further 15 minutes waiting near the desk while they made sure we had the extra legroom seats we had paid for. On the plus side the security queue had gone down significantly by the time we were ready and I showed my boarding pass and immigration form to security and joined another line for the x-ray machines. Shoes off, laptop out and I was airside at 1645, five minutes before the scheduled boarding time.

BOARDING Almost immediately a 30-minute delay was announced so I perused duty free and took a seat in the busy departures area and read. The flight was eventually called at 1735 and everyone jumped up to form a large queue, I stayed seated until it went down and was on board by 1800. To go with the earlier problems I was hugely disappointed to see that I was on one of the non-refurbished B747s with the old Vera in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, which is on a loop and has a poor quality picture.

THE SEAT I was in the extra legroom seat 32G (an extra three inches from the standard 31 inches costing £20 per person on this flight, for more information click here), which was an aisle seat in the middle bank of four and offered plenty of space (to see a seat map, click here) but the seats, and cabin in general, were very tired. My travelling partner’s seat pocket was hanging out and pushing against her shins and the cloth had come away from the seat in front.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The extra-legroom seats are all good for space and I didn’t spy any annoying IFE boxes under the seats so I would simply opt for personal preference and get as far forward as possible, as the B747s can take a while to unload.

THE FLIGHT To top things off there was an elderly woman cutting her finger nails sat in the same seat I had been assigned, and there was a screaming child and an impatient mother two rows in front of us. We soon discovered that the elderly woman had a duplicate seat, which was an issue which apparently was occurring all over the plane. The stewardess finally reached us and moved the woman to another seat before moving on to deal with the same problem further back the plane.

Once we were eventually all sat down the captain came on the intercom and thanked us all for our patience, explaining that they were having problems processing passengers on the ground and that this was pushing everything back. He also explained how two drunks had to be ejected from the aircraft and their luggage collected which caused a further delay. Apparently one of them attempted to light up a cigar. Our scheduled departure time was 1750 but we didn’t take off until 1940. The seatbelt sign remained on until 2030 as there was some turbulence.

Dinner was served at 2100 and consisted of: Teriyaki beef with white rice and red peppers; Chicken in mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes and French beans; Penne pasta with pesto in a chunky tomato sauce served with Italian cheese.

I opted for the beef which was delicious and tender, served with a nice salad of mixed leaves with black beans, red onion and sweet corn and a pre packed white roll. There was no prior drinks service. I had a Heineken and watched a bit of the in-flight entertainment. Trays were cleared at 2140 and an apple crumble swirl with tea and coffee followed, but most people were already bedding down for the night by this stage

I somehow managed to doze for a good four hours and was awoken when the breakfast boxes were handed out at 0130, consisting of an uninspiring selection of a blueberry muffin, some melon pieces and a peach yoghurt, served with tea and coffee. I had a cup of tea and ate the yoghurt, leaving the rest.

ARRIVAL We began our descent at 0245 and landed at 0315 and disembarked via an airbridge at 0345 (0745 local time) at a decidedly chillier Gatwick airport. Border control was completely empty so I went to a manned desk and was at the baggage carousel by 0755 and all bags were off by 0810.

VERDICT A huge disappointment following an excellent flight out, something I encountered at exactly the same time last year. The plane was packed and tired and the delays were unfortunate but frustrating. The captain and crew did do their best to put a brave face on the situation though and must be praised for this.

PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight from London to Barbados in March ranged between £574 and £1,817 depending on flexibility.




SEAT PITCH 34” (extra-legroom)


Scott Carey

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