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The new national airline!?
Member Name: vickitoria10
Advantages: Free food, free drinks, pre allocation of seats
Disadvantages: Not a huge amount of legroom for economy/entertainment system varies from aircraft to aircraft
I have recently had the pleasure of flying to New York and back with Virgin Atlantic and must say I have been really pleased. I have read on many different sides about Virgin going downhill and their planes becoming scruffy, service lacking etc etc, however I can't say I experienced any of this.
We booked this flight fairly close to departure for us (we booked end of December for 6th March) we were looking at hotel and flight packages and therefore didn't specifically look at Virgin, we were looking at all airlines that flew direct. Initially the cheapest that came up was BA - we avoided this like the plague due to the threat of strike action from them. Also coming up was Delta and American Airlines, we would have been quite happy to fly with either of these, however around 28th December Virgin Atlantic announced a flight sale - New York return from £299 - so we looked at flight and hotel packages again and Virgin were now the cheapest - Excellent!
We flew with them to Barbados for our honeymoon last year and were more than happy with the flight and service and signed up for the frequent flyer card - it doesn't cost anything and if you get enough points you can pay for flights/upgrades etc with the points.
I wouldn't have gone with Virgin purely for this as we don't have enough money to take the flights needed to build up enough points - an example would be an upgrade from economy to premium economy one way to New York is currently 20000 miles - we now have about 8000 miles having been to Barbados and New York and back - if you don't use your membership in 3 years though you lose all your miles so you do have to be making a long haul trip with Virgin every couple of years really to keep it going and build it up.
I do see Virgin as the best transatlantic carrier at the minute, I still think it has a bit of a status symbol about it even with some of the poor reviews around. I generally don't have really high expectations and only travel economy - if I'd have paid the money for premium economy (approx £300 extra each way) or Upper Class (£1300+ extra each way)I would definitely expect more! Why do normal people pay so much more?! It's still the same plane! I'd rather have another holiday!!
With Virgin Atlantic you can log onto their website and pre select your seats - this is not guaranteed due to operational reasons and can change at the last minute - we have always got the seats we picked though. You can also use this facility to complete Advance Passenger Information (API) now needed for nearly all flights (especially USA), you can also select any special meals required by your party. It also has information regarding your baggage allowance and check in procedures. It is also on this page where you can check in online and print your boarding passes. I'm not sure how much time this saves but you are more likely to get the seats you have picked checking in online and they do release more seats at this stage so if you're not happy there is seat plan for the plane and you can change your seats. Going we checked in online no problem, however coming back having found an internet café it just kept saying there was an error. We just checked in at the airport the old fashioned way and it was no problem.
Virgin has recently reduced luggage allowance to just one piece at 23kg for economy customers, this used to be 2 pieces. If you require an extra piece you can pre-book it for an extra £30. I think that this is fairly reasonable, it is quite unlikely that most people will need more than one bag in the hold so can see why they have done this. And £30 for an extra bag is not bad at all considering the overweight luggage charges!!
We were called to the gate about an hour and a half before the flight was due to depart because we were flying to the USA. We had to have a second security check and bag search, we all then sat in the gate area and waited to board, boarding began about an hour before we were due to depart - something to bear in mind if you are used to getting to the airport only a couple of hours before your flight - you may now need a bit longer!
As is usual they boarded Upper class, premium economy and Virgin Gold card holders first, then they start with the back of the economy section and work their way forward. They let you use your phone until the cabin crew tell you to turn it off, I think this is cos they like to get you on board early so they can try and push back a bit early if a slot becomes available.
We were on a morning flight out and received a breakfast wrap about an hour into the flight and then later on received a full meal, you had the choice of either chicken in a mushroom sauce or beef stew for the main meal and it came with a small pasta salad for a starter, a lovely GU chocolate pudding and the customary bread roll and butter. For plane food it was perfectly acceptable and was warm and tasty.
The drinks service on the flight was frequent and everything is free, including alcohol. Early on in the flight they brought round juices and tea and coffee and later brought a full drinks service. However, should you want anything else you only have to ask,. There are also water fountains where you can help yourself to water.
Coming back we were on a night flight and were served a meal more or less as soon as the seat belt sign was switched off, this was really good as it meant we could try and get some sleep, the option was roast chicken or cottage pie, with the same accompaniments, but a lovely chocolate brownie for pudding this time! Just before we landed continental breakfast was brought round. We were given the choice of a strawberry cereal bar or a blueberry muffin, I mush preferred the outgoing breakfast option and also the option on my previous flight which was a ham and egg, or cheese and egg roll!
The staff were all courteous and friendly and nothing seemed too much trouble. I have no complaint at the on board service.
Different Virgin aircraft are fitted with different types of entertainment, I think they are VPort, Odyssey and something else - basically if you are on aircraft out of Heathrow you will get the best entertainment, which includes on demand entertainment where you can pause and choose exactly what you want, you have numerous games, music, tv and movies to choose from, also an interactive iMap so you can see where you are. We have been lucky and on both flights (even when we flew from Gatwick our plane was switched to a Heathrow plane) we have had the on demand entertainment.
Most of the Gatwick and Manchester planes (our next flight - I'll maybe end up actually reading the newspaper or book I've taken on the plane rather than playing with the on demand entertainment all the flight!) have one of the other 2 loop systems where you have a choice of channels but there is no option to pause, start when you want etc, also I've read that one of the systems does not have interactive games, I have never experienced either of these planes and think it is something Virgin are considering upgrading in the future. I think on demand entertainment is the way forward on planes, it gives you so much more freedom! I've also read the planes with the older entertainment systems are also older looking and slightly tatty inside, again I have no experience of this so can only comment on the planes I have been on and I certainly have had no problem with the aircraft I have used.
So overall, I am generally easily pleased! I've never had any problem with the service offered by Virgin and find the whole process fairly smooth. They would always be my first choice on a route that they fly, however this would be price dependant - if I could fly the same route for a lot less I would (avoiding BA!). At this rate they may even become the national airline in the future! Virgin Atlantic all the way for me!! :-)
Summary: Always my first choice for long haul
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