Archive for August, 2010

Virgin Atlantic is still “A Cut Above” – but it’s losing some of its lustre

August 4, 2010
  •  It’s been a tough time for airlines, but Virgin Atlantic has always given more for your travel dollar than almost anyone else. My recent r/t New York to London to Newark flights were both fine, but the Upper Class experience is not auite as good as I’d remembered.
  • The famous clubhouses at JFK and London were still more interesting than most club rooms, but my traveling companions and I all felt they were looking a little worn.  Furniture in the famous London Flagship Clubhouse was dated, and the overcrowded New York clubhouse had little of the style one expects from Richard Branson enterprises.   Still, the F&B options on the ground far exceed what one usually finds in club lounges.  The bars are excellent, especially the one in London which borders on the amazing.  Professionally mixed cocktails aer actually delivered with Bransonesque flair, and there were a slew of professional, energetic servers who made you feel really welcome in both places.

    The London Clubhouse has a barber shop (which was available for quick trims at no cost) and even a full size, 10 person jacuzzi (which remained empty during the entire 3 hours I was in the lounge).   Nice knowing it was there, but it seems like an idea that might have been designed for Austin Powers – (yeah baby!)   Could it really be that the swank, new American Admirals club one level down was actually more sophisticated following it’s two year renovation?  I’d have to say yes, but the Clubhouse is probably still more fun…

    On the down side, the interior of the Airbus 30 was looking a little worn.  No in seat power meant limited work time.  The basic seat design was awkward – I couldn’t get lighting to work effectively on the night flights.  The VOD worked fine in one direction, but was on the old fashioned 2 1/2 hour loop on the way back.  The choice of movies was better than on most carriers.   The headsets were old-fashioned and were not noise-canceling, but they did produce good, clear sound (once you found the plug in spot, inconveniently located behind the inconveniently located pop-up armrest and pop-down drink holder.

    The seats DO convert to flat beds, which are great.  The mattress pad was thin, but adequate to soften the surface.  The duvet was better than some, but not as good as British Airways fluffier counterpart.  They do offer comfortable sleep suits (if you can make it into the bathroom to change before takeoff) – and a cool amenity kit that comes in a kick-ass shoe bag.   Overhead storage space on the Airbus 340 is really tight; it was a good thing most people checked their luggage, since the overnight comforter and pads take up half of the storage space before anyone even boards.

    Meal service was OK, but none of the choices on offer made me go “wow.”   Admittedly, these were the late night flights in both directions – so the meals were all served at once so customers could sleep, but the menu didn’t offer as much choice as many carriers.  The execution of the dinner service was just OK; not much flair and very practical.  (Exception:  whimsical salt and pepper shakers in the shape of airplanes).  Champagne (with the same excellent quality served before takeoff – take note American) was better than most business class offerings, but the red and white wine offerings did not match those on offer by Lufthansa or American on my recent flights.

    For the special fare cometing with BA’s post-strike offer at $2800 R/T in business, it was a GREAT deal, but at $7500 – well, I would not have been so happy. Still, it’s a flat bed and much more comfortable than the US carrier typical offerings. I think the 747 upper class flights are a lot more confortable, so if you can, go for those.

    Mr. Branson – your staff is still top flight, and that makes the experience worth while.   How about a little updating of your lounges and airliner seats?  They are looking less “smart” these days, although I still love the way flying Virgin is not like flying anyone else.