Trip Report: Economy on Virgin Atlantic JFK-LHR

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The award redemption

On October 17, 2013, I headed over to London to see the new Tori Amos musical, The Light Princess, which I highly, highly recommend. I wanted to see the October 18th show because there was a Q&A with Tori, who wrote the lyrics, and Samuel Adamson, who wrote the book, before the show. Also, Tori watched the show with the audience after the Q&A. It was a special treat, and I wanted to make sure to be there on that day. Translation: my dates weren’t flexible, so that did limit my flight options.

I considered biting the bullet and buying a ticket on British Airways. It would earn me American EQMs toward my coveted Executive Platinum status and lots of RDMs. Ticket prices weren’t bad: about $800 R/T. Between the price of the tickets and hotel, and after buying a ticket to Santiago for late November, my finances were dry. Plus, I was done with Delta, and wanted to get rid of some SkyPesos.

Following their recent announcement of a partnership with Virgin Atlantic, I decided to take a look at award inventory. To my surprise, not only was there a flight every day in October, but I had the choice of multiple flights a day. I could even allow myself to get a little picky with flight times. Amazing. I settled on leaving late Thursday night and arriving early Friday morning. That would give me time to check into the Hilton London Bridge Tower early as a HHonors Gold member, take a nap, and get ready for the show at 8pm. Perfect.

JFK-LHR

After hanging out in the Wingtips Lounge in T4, we headed up to our seats on flight 46, which we were able to select in advance. Since we were on the Boeing 747-400 with the Upper deck, I thought it’d be fun to “take the stairs” even though I knew there was an economy seat waiting for me.

When I got to the seat, there was a pillow, blanket, set of headphones, and mini amenity kit waiting there.

2013-10-17 18.47.17

Virgin Atlantic economy amenity kit

Virgin Atlantic economy amenity kit

 

The FAs were cute British girls with accents, which I loved, and the service was very prompt and precise.

There was a dinner, followed by tea or coffee, and I’m chiding myself for not taking photos of the menu or food. For dinner, we had a chicken curry dish with a side salad followed by Gu brand yogurt. I also had a Heineken.

Afterward, I watched The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, but it was unfortunately kinda bad. 🙁

I slept for a while, and woke up to a boxed breakfast service consisting of a packaged muffin and orange juice, and served with coffee. Before I knew it, we were touching down at Heathrow.

LHR-JFK

Coming back, however, was a totally different story. They had us on an Airbus A330-300 with no Upper deck (October 20, flight 9 LHR-JFK), so we were relegated to the back of the plane. This flight had the most annoying flight attendants I have ever encountered in my life. My god, I thought I was going to snap. The guy they had in economy was way overbearing and constantly came by to tell people to put on their seatbelts, move their things out of the way, etc. I am all for safety while flying and I deeply respect the professionals that work long flights, but what really bugged me on this flight was the attitude. Very customer un-friendly and almost accusatory/provoking the way they handled things. I did manage to take a couple of shots of the interior.

2013-10-20 19.13.34

2013-10-20 19.13.38

 

The seat was pretty narrow for trans-Atlantic economy. The dinner/snack service was nearly identical to that on the flight over. I watched The Exorcist on this flight and am still amazed by how amazing that movie is, even today. Then I did that thing where I kinda half dozed/half stayed awake until we started to descend into JFK.

This was my first experience with Virgin Atlantic. I was expecting the mood lighting, the swankiness, the sort of kitschy/ridiculous flair and not too much overall out of the whole experience.

I was impressed by the dinner service. It wasn’t amazing as far as a dining experience, but the quantity of food and the way it was distributed was more than adequate. Free cocktails were nice, too.

I was not impressed by the attitude of the flight crew on the way back.

IF I was still trying to saddle up to Delta, I’d be disappointed in this new partnership. To get to Europe, all they have in the way of partners is Air France, KLM, Alitalia, and now Virgin Atlantic. Alitalia is atrocious. I will never fly with them again. I’ve never had the joy of Air France or KLM, though I’ve heard good things. But their fuel surcharges are prohibitive to a lost-cost redemption. Virgin Atlantic was fine, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly them again.

Side note: Actually, thinking of the alliance partnership options to get to Europe makes me ponder the state of the airline industry as a whole. United had the best, or has the best, until February 2014 when their new award chart goes into place. And American just has Finnair and British Airways, right? Oh, and Iberia and airberlin. I wouldn’t want to fly airberlin in economy all the way to Berlin though. And god, I hope American doesn’t butcher their chart as badly as United just did. /end side note

Bottom line:

Virgin Atlantic was adequate. For economy, it was a nicer experience than I expected. However, the FAs on the outbound flight just about ruined any good fervor built up by Upper deck/pleasant flight into LHR. For only having two flights and a 50/50 experience, it’s not an airline I’d pick again any time soon, not when there are so many wonderful ways to get to Europe (for the time being). I did succeed in burning 120,000 Skymiles (60,000 each for 2 R/T tickets), so I do consider that a positive. Next Delta redemption will be on that other VA, Virgin Australia, biz class to Sydney. Now that’s where I’m expecting miracles!

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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