CHECK IN I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 for my 1035 departure to San Francisco at 0720, leaving myself plenty of time. The large Virgin Atlantic check-in area was quiet and there were two women dressed in red on hand to help people use the electronic kiosks, of which there were plenty free. I was directed to the shortest bag drop queue after checking in and then moved upstairs to go through security.
This was also quiet and I joined a queue of two people for bag check (shoes on, laptops out) and after a quick swab of my partner’s bag we were through by 0740. I then made my way straight to Pret-a-Manger to grab my first coffee of the morning before settling in to wait for the 0930 boarding time. Things were fairly tranquil airside so I had a quick look around the shops and sat down to read for the remaining time.
BOARDING Gate 18 showed at 0920 and I made my way straight there. It took me ten minutes to reach the gate and I was met by a long queue in the hallway, as they were limiting the amount of people queuing to enter the waiting area. Once inside there was a window showing our B747-400 (Mustang Sally on this occasion). Once our boarding passes were checked people were selected for last-minute screening, my partner again being singled out for the check.
Assisted boarding began at 0940 then progressively from the upper deck down the aircraft until 1020 when we boarded at the last minute.
THE SEAT I was sat in aisle seat 31H. Premium economy on the B747 is configured 2-4-2. To see a seat plan, click here.
There was a bottle of water in the seatback but no welcome drink offered (there was though on the return flight, for which I was booked in economy). A blanket and pillow were waiting on the purple leather seat. The seat felt roomy, especially around the hips, (the seat width is between 17.5-19 inches) and the screen is the same size as economy (6.5 inches). There is a couple more inches of recline to economy (8 inches to economy’s five) and I felt that I would have struggled to adjust in any way to sleep comfortably. The in-flight entertainment (IFE) is not touchscreen but controlled by a remote, mounted just below the screen. The system can be a little slow to respond.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? If you are travelling with someone the pairs of seats (AC and HK) are certainly more desirable as you get a window for some pretty spectacular views of the Rockies, and more privacy than in the middle bank of four. If travelling alone I would probably go for a window seat due to personal preference. The front of the premium economy cabin is near the galley and the upper class bar but I didn’t notice any noise (it was a morning flight though), whereas towards the back is nearer the busy toilets so I would opt to stay as far forward as possible, 29H-K looking the best options.
THE FLIGHT The doors closed at 1035 and we were told that there were 368 passengers on board. Premium economy was full and a quick glance back down the plane suggested it was a busy flight.
Take-off was at 1100 and we were up, with the seat belt signs turned off by 1110. An amenity kit (pen, earplugs, toothbrush, toothpaste and an eye mask, in my partner’s kit but not mine) was handed out with standard economy headphones at 1115. A hot towel was also offered and the IFE was turned on.
The toilets were at the back of the premium economy section and two were labelled for premium economy customers only, one of these were out of order though and people tend to ignore such labels in any case.
A drinks service commenced at 1135 and I asked for champagne but there wasn’t any on offer so I had tomato juice. This was served in a glass and I asked for some Tabasco which was handed to me. Small bags of sour cream and chive pretzels were given out with drinks and lunch menus were handed out at 1210, they read:
Starter: Smoked salmon with crème fraiche and rocket
Main Course choice of: Lasagne al forno; chicken in a creamy mushroom and pepper sauce with mash, broccoli and carrots; or a vegetarian Thai green curry with sticky rice.
All served with warm bread rolls
Dessert: Chewy Belgian chocolate cake.
High Tea was also detailed for just prior to landing, and consisted of: cheese and onion finger sandwiches, a cupcake and tea and coffee.
The wines were selected by Berry Bros and Rudd and were:
Ponte Bello Sicilian Chardonnay 2011 and La Fontaine French Shiraz, 2011.
Lunch was served at 1230 and I opted for the Thai curry with a Tiger beer. The food is served on smaller trays now but I did notice that the tray table sags under any weight and the trays are liable to slipping around. Cutlery is metal and comes in a cloth napkin. The food is served on ceramic dishes instead of plastic trays. Every tray also came with a pair of the apparently endangered mini aeroplane salt and pepper shakers, which are made of silver plastic (see online news October 6, 2011).
The food was tasty enough, particularly the salmon. The curry was fairly small with not a great deal of vegetables. The cake was rich and soft, more like a brownie than a cake. Tea and coffee were served afterwards at 1315 and I settled in to a film.
The IFE selection was uninspiring in my opinion, as I really struggled for anything to watch either in films or TV (there were roughly 50 films and around 60 TV shows, plus a selection of children’s shows and foreign programmes). I ended up watching The Hunger Games to see what all the fuss is about and it was watchable enough, keeping me entertained for a couple of hours. Brandy and Baileys were offered at 1350 in glasses with ice but I opted against it. Duty-free was rolled around at 1420. The temperature in the cabin was fairly cold so many people had blankets on.
Ice cream was given out at 1630 and was a choice of Haagen Dazs vanilla or strawberries and cream from a brand I did not recognize, so I had a tub of the vanilla. A cheese or sausage savoury Danish was offered at 1800 and was greasy so I left most of it. Afternoon tea with hot drinks, juice and water was served at 1910 including the finger sandwiches on white bread and the cupcake, which was vanilla with sickly sweet icing. I had a cup of tea and gazed out of the window as we passed over the Rockies.
The crew were typically great, laughing and joking with customers, working quickly and serving with a smile.
ARRIVAL Love heart sweets were handed out just before we began our descent and the seatbelt signs were turned on at 1245 (local time) and we landed at 1325. There was a short wait as the pilot explained that we were waiting for a stand and we eventually disembarked at 1340.
There was a lengthy walk to customs and the queue was very large and slow moving, testing quite a few children’s patience along the way. We had pre-filled our immigration forms and eventually reached the front by 1450 after over an hour’s wait. Our bags were waiting for us. We then passed over our forms again to exit and went to grab a pre-booked transfer.
VERDICT A great flight with lots of nice touches such as ice cream and after-dinner liqueurs served with a smile. This was my first premium economy experience so I have no reference point but I was a little disappointed by the comfort of the seat, the width was good but the recline and IFE screen offered little more than in economy.
- PLANE TYPE B747-400
- SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2
- SEAT WIDTH 17.5-19 inches
- SEAT PITCH 38 inches
- SEAT RECLINE eight degrees
- PRICE Internet rates for a return premium economy flight from London to San Francisco in November ranged between £1,063 and £3,141 depending on flexibility.
- CONTACT virgin-atlantic.com