Back in November, I wrote about Virgin’s slightly flawed, but no less lovely, new Upper Class product on their brand new A350 flagship. On my return from New York, I took the hard road and sat back in economy to report on the cheap seats (and they are cheap too – you can often fly to New York from London for under £300 return!).
I also filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:
I’d arrived at JFK from the TWA Hotel, an experience which I won’t detail here but can best be summarised by the hotel being a far better museum than it is a good hotel.
I was returning on a multi-class booking – the outbound having been in Upper Class – and my economy fare on this leg was Economy Classic. This comes with advance seat selection, so I had no anxiety about being early to get a good seat, as I’d picked it at the time of booking.
Bag drop was quick and easy and there are numerous kiosks at JFK Terminal 4.
T4 suffers with long security lines in the evenings (eastbound transatlantic flights, all on widebodies, tend to leave in the mid-to-late evening). The day I traveled was no exception and I was relieved to have had the sense to leave extra time at the airport; it took me half an hour just to clear security.
I’d met a friend at the airport who guested me into the Wingtips Lounge. This is the only Priority Pass lounge in JFK T4 and is rather basic, although it does provide some refuge from the terminal.
I was lucky enough to snag a large armchair pod by the window for a couple of hours to enjoy some fine apron views.
Our aircraft tonight was G-VPRD, named “Rain Bow”. Flying time would be a mercifully short 5h30m thanks to some strong tailwinds in the North Atlantic jet stream.
Economy class was lit in brilliant pinks and purples (which really affected the photo quality – sorry!) – it was more impressive in real life than the pictures let on. The bulkhead seats offer outstanding legroom:
The first several rows of the second cabin are designated “Economy Delight” and come with 34 inches of pitch (as opposed to 31 elsewhere) plus the ability to use Premium Economy check-in and priority boarding. The configuration is 3-3-3 throughout. Seats have adjustable headrests and a few inches of recline.
My seat had a thick red elastic fabric cover which was covering a stain which had obviously got there on a previous flight. It took me several minutes to notice and doubt that most passengers would have noticed at all. Contrast this with the utter lack of care when it came to filth on my Hainan Airlines flight last year.
The ambiance of the A350 cabin is impressive. I like the color scheme, although I accept it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Takeoff was at 2115 following an unusually short taxi at JFK with minimal queueing.
The service on this flight was breathtakingly efficient; there was no Virgin chit-chat or pizzazz, but the crew worked incredibly hard to serve everyone dinner – and start clearing up – within an hour of takeoff. Likewise, there was less than an hour to run to London when I received my breakfast on the other side of the ocean. Such fast service is to be commended, as this flight was very short and sleep time for those that wanted to eat was maximized.
The table was reassuringly sturdy and folded down from the seat in front.
The menu for the flight was as follows:
I chose the chicken curry. It was fine – moist, not too spicy and the spinach dal was creamy. A good meal, but not an outstanding one.
There was a strange “cake in a pot” served for dessert on this flight. This one was a Key lime pie, which was incredibly sweet. The portion size is small but such was the intensity of the flavor that you wouldn’t actually want more.
There’s just one lavatory at the rear of the A350, on the right-hand side, and it is very small. As a moderately proportioned man of just 5 feet 8 inches, my natural sitting position left my feet touching the sides and the door. This may be a problem for larger passengers, although I managed fine.
The IFE was in HD and had a large selection. I went for some “slow TV” watching a pedestrian-paced documentary with some beautiful cinematography, about the Kimberley Cruise.
I managed about three hours of sleep and awoke to the dawn over Ireland.
Service again was very rapid, as I mentioned earlier.
Breakfast consisted of a small fruit salad and a cold blueberry yogurt.
Coffee was also served (and very strong it was too!), alongside water and fruit juices.
We landed punctually just before 9am London time.
All in all, a perfectly acceptable flight for a short eastbound overnight to London. It’s a pretty horrible flight in terms of timing, as you ask your body to function on three or four hours of sleep in an upright seat. Brevity and efficiency of service are paramount rather than outstanding charm and character.
As far as the A350 goes, it’s a lovely aircraft and the main improvements over the legacy fleet of A330 and A340 aircraft I can see are in cabin ambiance and a massively improved IFE screen, which is less susceptible to glare and is in full HD.
This is my third time flying Virgin in just a few months, having never flown them before, and I have enjoyed each time. So far, so good – and I will continue to fly them where I can justify it.