I am a bit of a Virgin with Virgin Atlantic, particularly compared to their sister carriers: Virgin Australia and Virgin America. Since 2011, Virgin Australia has transitioned to a full service airline and integrated their frequent flyer and fare offerrings with their UK and American counterparts. As a Virgin Australia Platinum flier (top tier), I am eligible for benefits with these partners. My experience is that the systems are still a bit creaky, as this trip illustrates.
Booking 8 out of 10
I booked through Virgin Australia using their points on Virgin Atlantic. I got great service and advice via the Velocity Reward phone centre because you cannot book yet book Virgin Atlantic seats using points on-line at Virgin Australia. What is bizarre is you can redeems frequent flyer points for Air New Zealand and Delta flights on-line. Booked into Premium Economy at a cost of 43,400 velocity points. Interestingly this was the number of points I earned from my last Virgin Australia trip: Auckland–Los Angeles return.
Check in: 8 out of 10
Be warned: The Dulles airport is undergoing some renovation work so some areas in the terminal were blocked off. The actual check in area seemed impossibly small for all of the passengers that would be passing through. That didn’t worry me as I got there nice and early!
I was greeted by a Virgin Atlantic Staff member who was directing guests to the appropriate line. Immediately, here was confusion as to which line I should stand in. As a Virgin Australia Platinum customer, I assumed I would head to the Upper Class (Business/First) Check in. The staff were mystified, however, with the check in agent admitting I was the first Australian Platinum customer, she and her supervisor had seen. She held my card up to the light commenting “are you sure this is a Platinum card?”
The confusion continued with my hand luggage. Virgin Atlantic allows Economy and Premium Economy passengers to carry on one 6kg bag while Upper Class and top Frequent Fliers can have two items with an individual weight of 12kg per item or 16kg total. My 8.5kg bag and 4kg lap top bag, were more than a Premium Economy should have but okay for Upper Class. The check in agent suggested I could upgrade to Upper Class for $1700! After some discussion, the supervisor gave me the nod to take my luggage on.
The staff were unsure about priority access through security and told me: “try it!“. They did advise me I had lounge access. I will clarify with Virgin Australia as to what I should have got. Having said all this, the staff were very friendly throughout and a delight to deal with.
Security 4 out of 10
I was indeed let into the Priority queue for security. After getting my documentation checked, I found the priority queue merged back into the general queue for the actual screening process. What was the point of that? We did skip a few people ahead but now we were stuck behind people with prams, forgotten bottles of water, lost items in pockets- all of whom delay the screening process and irritate frequent passengers! (notice?)
Lounge 9 out of 10
The Virgin Atlantic ‘Club House” was located opposite our gate A32. Not a large lounge but very nicely appointed. I was given a very friendly welcome by the ClubHouse Staff who commented they had never seen a Virgin Australia Platinum customer before (this was starting to be a familiar refrain). The Lounge has a luggage storage area near the entrance, a bar, bathroom area, dining area and lounge area. The dining room had an amazing a la carte menu. I tucked into a delicious three course meal. The only negative about the lounge is that there is not really a good system for accessing the only shower. I would like to see some sort of booking system for it.
Boarding 10 out of 10
I was directed straight from the Lounge to the priority boarding line and therefore had almost no wait to get onto the Airbus A340. Cabin crew at the door were very focussed on getting people on board so that process felt a little rushed.
On Board: 9 out of 10
I was seated sat in the last row of the Premium Economy cabin by the window. My seat mate was standing with a glass of sparkling wine. She was very friendly and we had a very enjoyable ride together. She is a very regular trans-Atlantic commuter and was the right mix of conversation and space for the flight. Thanks! I noted that I didn’t get offered a welcome aboard drink.
The 38 dark purple leather Premium Economy seats are arranged 2/3/2 It definitely feels very classy. They have a 38″ pitch and 21″ width. By comparison, Upper Class have 45 lie flat seats with a 79.5″ pitch and a 22″ width. The 233 Economy Class seats are arranged in 2/4/2 have a 32″ pitch and 17.5″ width.
After take off, we got headsets, newspapers, and an amenity kit in a stylish slim wallet.
Take off: 10 out of 10
We left on time and soared into the Virginian sky.
Meals 9 out of 10
In Premium Economy, a choice of meals is offered. They were served on real china with real cutlery (silverware). That little touch makes a great difference. A pleasant surprise was the after dinner liqueur.
Entertainment: 8 out of 10
Great range of channels but in actuality a limited number of shows compared with Emirates and Qantas.
System felt a little dated.
Landing 10 out of 10
We arrived into London 18 minutes early touching down at 06:47. This advantage was soon eroded by the nightmare that is London Heathrow immigration. Why in this computerised world, we have to stand in line for almost an hour? Considering how many millions fly through Heathrow, that is a lot of wasted time. I was out in the terminal at 8:03am
My rating: Overall 83% (4.2 out of 5)- my overall rating of Virgin Atlantic based on my previous flights which have only been in Economy is actually only: 3 out of 5. Clearly Virgin’s Premium Economy is a vastly better way to go.
Skytrax Rating of Virgin Atlantic: 3 star
Positives: Almost everything especially the nice touches with the meal
Negatives: Security and Entertainment
Would I fly them again? Yes!
My last trip Report: American: LAX-SFO: 65% (3.75 out of 5)