Off to the land of lifts and loos! London was next up on the calendar in June. Having never flown Virgin Atlantic in my 40 plus years in the travel biz, it was high time I gave it a go.
Meeting my friend Trisha, we booked Virgin from Washington Dulles to Heathrow. Though we’ve been roomies a few decades ago and marathon shopping buddies for the past 37 years, this was our first trip away together. Alone. How better to determine compatibility than to share breathing room on a six day trans Atlantic trip? As expected, we made great mates.
Our first wow moment came when we stepped into Virgin’s Clubhouse at Dulles. Convivial staff welcomed us to a glass-walled spacious lounge in contemporary décor overlooking a sunlit runway. While others enjoyed a quiet work space or scaled the spiral staircase for some quiet, we sprawled out in a cozy seating nook then ambled to the separate dining area for a pre-flight meal. The goal was to enjoy an early dinner pre-departure, then drift into dreamland once onboard. Could not imagine better butter chicken and baked salmon anywhere, washed down with a delightful Rosé. Gobsmacked, we were!
As we settled into our Premium Economy seats, a chipper flight attendant asked if we’d like a welcome drink? Righto! In fact, every crew member was as bubbly as the Prosecco, unfailingly cheerful, polite, eager to assist. True to plan, we passed on dinner, aiming to rest. Well, one of us did. Try as I might, slumber is not an onboard amenity that gets delivered, even with extra comfy seats. An appetizing breakfast came round about 90 minutes before landing with robust coffee, fruit, cheese and tasty egg dish. Yummy!
Getting through Passport Control and Customs was a breeze at Heathrow with the new fast track and kiosks which speed up an otherwise mundane, painstaking process. Noteworthy: airline status, class of service or prepaid registration is required. We enjoyed this only on the inbound flight. Upon return, it was the usual snakeline, including a rigid security screening.
Our foggy brains operated well enough to purchase Oyster cards for the Tube (Metro) from Heathrow to Central London, then around town for 6 days. Ok, we did need help – and glad we got it to avoid over purchasing. But at last, we were in London, breathing the same air as Bogaerts and Benny, Mookie and JBJ…confusing, right? It will all be sorted out in the next blogpost.
After an ace week together – which included Trisha graciously hosting me at her home both pre and post departure – our return flight awaited. Locating the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow via the dedicated lift, we checked in at the desk. “Your first visit, is it?” Another merry Virgin staffer with unbridled exuberance! As she escorted us inside, we lamely tried to conceal our jaw dropping reactions. Scanning the vast expanse of seating, we spotted every style imaginable: hanging birdcages, rockers, swivelers, chaise lounges, work spaces. Talk about cush for the tush!
Greenery left to right, a full winding bar that rivaled the Ritz, multiple self service food and drink locations… then I heard these magnificent magic words… what’s that again? A Bumble and Bumble full service salon? Haircuts? Mani pedis? Free facials? In the club? Sign me up! Finding cozy high back chairs, we settled in for a sumptuous breakfast of eggs Florentine, after which I headed to the corner salon for my facial, one of the best I’ve ever had. Warm towels, flute music, a total Zen environment. Never have I ever been more relaxed before flight time. Totally chuffed!
Alas, time to leave the club. But then… Premium Economy awaited us on the return, which was even more enjoyable than Eastbound. We were fortunate enough to get bulkhead seats, the first row, which delivered an unheard of surprise later. The welcome drinks came round. Once airborne, a jovial staffer asked Would we like a footrest? A what? Out came these wedge shaped firm pillows on which we propped our happy feet. Brilliant! Next came pre dinner cocktails with a proper gin and tonic, then onto dinner…Trisha enjoyed the chicken and mushroom casserole, as I feasted on the asparagus and ricotta gnocchi. Fancy a cuppa? At the appointed time, complete high tea was served in ceramic cups, scones with jam and clotted cream. Spoiled like royals, we were! Again, the most attentive, ebullient staff I’ve ever encountered, up and down the aisle. Jamie was our dedicated server, he was like air, everywhere! Our countless wow moments carried us back across the pond, until we landed at Dulles. Feeling refreshed and exhilarated, we bid toodles! to our outstanding crew.
Flying the Airbus 330 both ways was superb, soft lighting, above average seat comfort, quite roomy. Our Premium Economy seating was spacious, a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration. Even with a 2 x 4 x 2 seating in main cabin there was ample leg room with in seat entertainment featuring a mammoth video and music library. The rear galley was cavernous enough that four staffers could navigate around each other. Both this and the front galley near us featured self service snack bars with sweet and savory items, as well as juices, soft drinks and water. Convenient and very smart.
Costwise, Virgin is as competitive as any trans Atlantic carrier. I’ve long since learned that bundling air, hotel and tours together is the optimal way to garner savings on all trip elements. For this trip, we saved huge dollars booking our VS flights and London hotel using the Delta Vacations booking tool on my agent site.
With such cracking staff and delicious sky cuisine, predictable airline experiences are nowhere to be found on Virgin Atlantic. I can’t recall the last time I flew with such a polished, professional, happy crew in both directions, as though they were the ones on vacation. What do they feed these people? Chockablock with extras, Virgin Atlantic gets high marks from start to finish. Given London is their base and the origin/destination of every flight, I’m already pondering how to work it into my next overseas trip for another mint experience.
As for Trisha and I, our maiden voyage together was jolly good, we’re game for another!
Ta for now!