Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic B747-400 Upper Class

1 Jul 2011 by Rose Dykins
BACKGROUND This was the return flight of Virgin’s celebration of its 25th anniversary of flying the route. The route flies once a day, seven days a week at 2045. It is the second route launched by Virgin (two years after the airline began in 1984). CHECK-IN  I arrived at Terminal F of Miami International at 1850. An escalator took me up to passport and security checks, where there was no queue, and I was through in about five minutes. The walk to the departure lounge was rather long and took just over five minutes. THE LOUNGE We waited to board our flight at the departure lounge, which had a Budweiser Brew House, a Pizza Hut Express, a Burger King and a small Duty Free shop. There was a glass wall that ran the length of the lounge and there were lots of spare seats - the area was about half-full. I would have appreciated a coffee shop, or slightly more variety of shops, but the area was pleasant enough and clean. BOARDING We were called to board at 1950. I walked to the front of a long queue at the gate with my fast-track boarding pass. I was greeted by friendly cabin crew and I took a seat at the bar, where I was offered a glass of champagne with raspberry liqueur. The bar was a hub of activity, with a crowd standing around and chatting, and there was a large birthday cake at either end in celebration of the Virgin London-Miami route’s 25th birthday. We were politely asked to head to our seats at 2025 for take-off. THE SEAT The same aircraft was used as the outbound journey – a triple-class B747 divided into upper class, premium economy and economy, with an upper deck that had both upper and economy seating. Upper class on the lower deck was into two sections (rows 12-19 and rows 20-25) divided by a kitchen, and the latter was separated from economy by the bar, stairs, another food preparation area and foldable doors (which were open). Rows 12-19 were configured 1-1 (A and K) and rows 20-25 were 1-2-1 (A,D,G and K). I was seated in window seat 20A, which was the front row of my section and faced away from the window. It was the closest seat to the toilets and the kitchen, which meant people were walking past my feet quite often, and the passenger in seat 20D complained that cabin crew occasionally would brush against his footrest as they passed by. However, our row was the first in the section to be served food, and the furthest from the bustle of the bar. The seat itself was comfortable and private – it was upholstered in purple leather, with cushioned leather around the base of the seatbelt and a footrest which allowed more than enough room to stretch out my legs. The seat reclined electronically with the push of a button on the armrest, where there was also a button for summoning the table from the wall to my right, and cabin crew came to help me set the table up for me whenever they served food. The solid white plastic table was a good size for dining or working. Also on the wall to my right was a magazine rack, a reading light, a small drink rest and the in-flight entertainment system, the V- port. On my footrest when I arrived was a “snooze pack” which provided an eyemask, toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs and socks. Pyjamas were provided (plain black cotton with long sleeves). There was a storage space behind my head where there was a plump pillow and a thin, soft duvet. The seat can be converted into a fully flat bed, and as this was an overnight flight I made use of this. Cabin crew made the adjustments for me, which took about 30 seconds. The bed was lined with a mattress protector, and I found the cushioning from the seat/ bed made it reasonably comfortable to sleep on. It was nice to be able to lie completely horizontal when I wanted some rest, and there was enough space for me to turn, move around and curl up if I wanted, although occasionally I would wake to find my feet had slid off the footrest. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Of the three sections of Upper Class, I think rows 1-5 on the upper deck were the most appealing, as they were separated by the widest aisle and so this section felt the most spacious and exclusive. The configuration of 1-1 in rows 12-19 meant that there was more space, however I did think that seats 12A and 12K, closest to the nose of the plane and facing each other, must have felt a little too close together as the aisle gradually got smaller. The back row of rows 20-25 were the first to disembark out of Upper Class, and rows 19 and 20 (my row) were either side of the two Upper Class toilets, so out of all the rows, these are perhaps the least desirable. All seats seemed to offer the same amount of legroom, as this was determined by the fixed footrests. THE FLIGHT The plane took off on time at 2045, and the lights remained off to help passengers sleep. Few passengers returned to the bar, and most seemed to settle down to read- the atmosphere was peaceful. A member of cabin crew introduced herself to me, said she would be looking after me during the flight, and she asked if there was anything I needed. I thanked her and had a couple of hours’ undisturbed sleep. When I woke, she returned and asked me if I’d like anything to eat. I noticed there was no set menu for this flight, and asked for some sandwiches. She promptly brought me a selection of sandwiches including chicken tikka, cheese, and egg and bacon, which were tasty and fresh. I watched a film, on Virgins in-flight entertainment system, the v-port, which I found easy to use, and found that a couple more films were included in the selection since my outbound flight two days before. With four hours of the flight remaining, I went to the kitchen and asked cabin crew if they would mind setting up my bed for me. I ended up chatting to them for a little while, after which one of them came and helped me out. I then slept well, waking occasionally. I stirred myself to find that we had 30 minutes until landing, and the pilot announced that we were also 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The cabin crew put my bed back into a seat and offered me a bacon roll and a coffee, which was delicious. I appreciated being offered something to eat even though it was so close to the end of the flight- I was even offered another coffee five minutes before landing. Despite circling the airport for a while, we finally landed at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1000, half an hour early. ARRIVAL On arriving, there was a five-minute walk to passport control, which had short queues, but it only took a couple of minutes for us to get through. I headed to baggage claim, where my bag arrived within ten minutes, and I was ready to leave the airport by 1025. I decided to make use of Virgin’s Revivals lounge, so I took an escalator up, walked through the Arrivals hall and then took the lift up one floor just before the exit. The lounge was right next to the lift. On entry I showed my boarding pass, booked a slot to use one of the showers and was offered a complimentary treatment in the Cowshed Spa, so I booked a manicure for 1115. I took a seat in the main lounge, where I was offered a complimentary breakfast and coffee, but instead I just had a water. I charged my phone in one of the plug sockets and left it there with a fellow passenger while I took a shower. There were roughly 20 showers within the Cowshed spa, each with a toilet, basin, towels, clothes hangers, Cowshed products and a hairdryer. When it was time for my manicure, I headed to the treatment room where a friendly beautician gave me a good manicure. It was just a tidy-up without nail varnish, but it made me feel refreshed. Other available treatments include massages and wet shaves. Afterwards I gathered my luggage from the lounge and headed downstairs to get the tube home, by which point it was 1130. VERDICT Excellent service – the flight was over before I knew it, and the Revivals lounge made me feel as if I’d barely been on a plane. PRICE A mid-week flexible Upper Class single ticket in July costs £3732. CONTACT Rose Dykins
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