Flight-Report

Review of Virgin Atlantic flight San Francisco London in Economy

Airline Virgin Atlantic
Flight VS20
Class Economy
Seat 61H
Aircraft Airbus A340-600
Flight time 11:35
Take-off 23 Dec 18, 17:55
Arrival at 24 Dec 18, 13:30
VS   #21 out of 128 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 36 reviews
jetsetpanda
By 1387
Published on 10th March 2019

Background



Salut and allow me to wish everyone a Happy 2019! I realize that we are in March and it's kind of odd this late in the year to make such wishes but since this is my first FR for 2019 then I'm sure that I can be forgiven for such "faux pas".

So let's move on to the genesis of this trip. Last December I had a week off at the end of the month and was not sure if I wanted to go abroad. Then unexpectedly I stumbled upon a one way SFO-LHR fare for a little over USD 200+ (EUR 225+). The trip was on VS which is an airline that I have never flown before and that was enough incentive to seal the deal. How can an avgeek refuse to try a new airline?

But the question of where to go still lingered. LHR was not the most appealing destination this time of the year and I wanted to visit somewhere new and a tad warmer (or sunnier). I then remembered planning a trip to Izmir at one point to visit Ephesus in addition to the religious site of Virgin Mary House and this would be the perfect time to do that. I redeemed miles from my TK acct for the LHR-IST-ADB segment and purchased 2 one way tkts - ABD-IST on TK and IST-MUC-SFO on UA but flying TK/LH. Don't you love "codeshares"?. There was another option to fly on LX via ZRH but that required me to overnight in IST but in the end I chose LH because of the layover in MUC and the chance to fly the A380. Besides I have not visited MUC since the late 1990's so it was time to get reacquainted with Teutonic charms.

I was swiftly checked by an efficient agent at the VS counter. I inquired about the cost of an upgrade to Premium Economy and he advised me that it was USD 400. (EUR 355.90) Thanks but no thanks.

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AF Lounge


I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Since I have never been at the AF lounge at my home airport I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with it.

Entrance

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I presented my boarding pass and paid the USD 50 (EUR 44.5) day pass fee to gain access. After the initial welcome by the receptionist I ventured inside and reminisce about this lounge former life as a WorldClub operated by NW. I used this lounge once a long time ago when I flew on KL SFO-AMS and NW was a partner. Alas those days are gone.

The lounge is divided into several areas with a dining room all the way in the back. There is a small sitting area by reception, followed by a main sitting area right after. On the side of the main area there is a room designed as "Startup Showcase Room". It seems to be sponsored by French Tech SF but I had no problem walking inside this room and it does not seem to be reserved to F pax. Maybe during the morning or before the AF flight departs it might be reserved for more "exclusive" clientele.

Reception area



Main sitting area right after reception

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Charming detail - perhaps the Eiffel tower says "Made in China" at the bottom.

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Startup Showcase Room on the side



Dining area in the back

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Buffet consisted of a salad bar, self serve alcohol station, trays of cold cuts, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, pasta with meatballs and chicken noodle soup. For a lounge associated with an airline whose country is synonymous with culinary excellence I was expecting more. For dessert there were industrial baked goods like pound cake slices or brownies. Not even macaron for dessert? But then again, this is not France and SFO is just an outpost in AF's network. But to be fair SFO excels at the other world class cuisine ;)



Dessert in the main room.

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My pre-flight snack

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The flight



I headed to gate A9 all the way at the end of the terminal and there were quite a crowd already by the gate. Just out of curiosity I inquired about the cost of an upgrade to PEY and this time the price has been lowered to USD 350 (EUR 311.5) but on a middle seat. I think I will stick to my aisle seat in Y.

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Boarding commenced with priority given to wheelchair, families w/children and J pax. Then everybody got into the line. FA's were greeting at the door and we pass through the bar where crew were mixing drinks. Such a teasing sight for incoming Y pax who are boarding and take comfort that they will be squeezed like sardines in the back of the plane.

Another misconception about VS ;)





As i made the way to my seat I found the crew to be in good spirits perhaps due to the approach of the Christmas holiday. I bought a box of chocolates for the staff as a holiday gesture to brighten their workday a bit. One thing that I have say about VS is that the FA's are some of the friendliest and most approachable ones that I have encountered. Kudos to all of them for offering great service. By the way, I saw them wearing Christmas themed accessories like hats, socks, gift bows on their hair and just being themselves. It was lovely to witness such open jubilance. For some reason i can't imagine SQ or AF crew being so "expressive".

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Cabin

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Seat

Originally I was assigned 60H but my neighbor asked me if I could switch with his wife who was right behind in 61H. According to seatguru.com 61H had a little bit more legroom and initially I wanted to get that seat but was occupied. Needles to say I gladly accepted and this turned out to be a win-win situation. The standard legroom on these seats was tight and I was glad to get a bit more space.

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Legroom

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Pocket literature

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Nice feature on the aisle seats to allow shorter people to reach the overhead bins

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IFE was old and the screen quality was snowy

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After take off FA's distributed printed menus and Immigration forms

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I was impressed that VS had printed menus in Y and made dining aboard a more dignified experience. Unfortunately I jumped to conclusion too quickly.

A round of drinks started the meal service. I ordered a cranberry/orange juice mix but this was not accompanied by any tidbits or munchies which was disappointing.

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Menu

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Just when I thought that bad catering in Y was confined to North American carriers, here comes VS outdoing them all. Let's start with the positives - printed menu for a more dignified dining experience with 3 choices for dinner. Now the negatives - a condensed two course meal without even a meager salad! In fairness the Indian dish that I received was tasty and I enjoyed it, but the portion was on the small side and that dessert in a jar was a joke.



The menu described the dessert as "a little pot of big surprises" and boy was that true! I had to do a double take to make sure that was not baby food placed by mistake on my tray. The quantity was ridiculously minuscule. You could finish that with two bites.

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i then washed all of that down with a cup of tea

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Time to see a few movies to catch up and throughout the night FA's made several water and juice runs through the cabin. I stretched my legs a few times by walking to the rear galley and FA's were attentive and willing to talk to pax.

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As we approached LHR the cabin lights were gradually turned on indicating the start of breakfast service.

Breakfast consisted of yogurt, a bar and hot croissant with Swiss cheese served with beverage of choice. Very average and the croissant was greasy. At least BA offers a proper hot breakfast with eggs and the works.



Once the breakfast boxes were collected FA's prepared the cabin for landing

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Ready for touch down

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The arrival at T3 took some time and afterwards I headed to M&S Food to pick up some snacks. Later I was on my way to T4 @ Premier Inn hotel for the night. For USD 53 (EUR 47.15) it was quite a bargain for a hotel inside the airport.

Heathrow Express from T3 to T4



Premier Inn @ T4


Bonus : Click here display


Christmas in London


Bonus : Click here display
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Verdict

Virgin Atlantic

7.3/10
Cabin7.0
Cabin crew10.0
Entertainment/wifi9.0
Meal/catering3.0

Air France Lounge

7.9/10
Comfort8.0
Meal/catering7.5
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Services8.0

San Francisco - SFO

9.5/10
Efficiency9.0
Access10.0
Services9.0
Cleanliness10.0

London - LHR

8.9/10
Efficiency8.5
Access10.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

I was glad that I had the opportunity to fly on VS and experience a new airline. Having read and heard about how trendsetting VS is I had high expectations and unfortunately these were not met. While the crew was delightful and truly an asset to the company, I felt a bit disappointed that VS did not have "extras" that set them apart like amenity kits for Y cabin and better catering.

The meal that I received was below what U.S. carriers offer in terms of quantity and there were no snacks in the galley between meals considering that dinner was not that generous in the first place. A printed menu was nice but i would rather see that extra cost be allocated to better food instead. I have never received a transatlantic meal in Y that lacked an appetizer dish whether that is a meager salad or something more robust.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times when airlines are trying to cut cost in every conceivable corner, but VS was renowned for being different and after my experience it seems that it is relying on that reputation to carry them through these turbulent times.

Would I fly with them again? For sure if the price is right but I think that I get a bit more value with BA, especially a heartier meal out of SFO.

Information on the route San Francisco (SFO) London (LHR)

11 Comments

  • Comment 492246 by
    KL651 TEAM 4374 Comments

    Thanks for this FR.
    Well both meals sure are disappointing, even on UA it would be, let alone VS.
    Did you ask the crew about the meal service ? Because clearly it's been downgraded lately.
    I'd like to try out VS but from your FR I will only do it if the price is right.

    • Comment 492629 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2295 Comments

      Hi Etienne,

      I recall reading something about VS meals not having an appetizer or salad on inbound flights back to LHR but that did not make sense. Why would you offer less components for flights returning to its hub if the length is the same? Apparently the article was right from what I experienced. I did not ask the FA's but I bet that they are used to complaints from pax.

      Apart from the nice crew VS is just like flying any other established carrier with less food.

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Comment 492294 by
    757Fan 499 Comments

    VS looks like they offer an overall decent Economy Class product, but the food looks very poor in my opinion. I flew Virgin many years ago and found the emphasis they put clearly is in their Upper and Premium Economy products, but Economy is clearly an after thought. How about putting less focus on the clever little statements in the menu and more to the actual quantity and quality of the dishes?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Comment 492630 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2295 Comments

      I agree that VS should emphasize on the food instead of printing a menu as a differentiator in Y. I don't think their Upper Class is even competitive with those "coffin" seats. The look narrow and restrictive with lack of privacy. Didn't CX get rid of them because of negative feedback from pax?

      VS Premium Economy on the other hand seems like a solid product and I wouldn't mind trying it one of these days.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  • Comment 492438 by
    ThomasDutch SILVER 268 Comments

    Like you I heard only good stories about VS, but now reading through your report I am not impressed. Staff may be wonderful, but the service in terms of food and extras is abysmal. 50 USD for that lounge? That seems to be quite steep in my opinion for what they offer. Thanks for your report though!

    • Comment 492631 by
      jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2295 Comments

      When VS came into the scene it was a game changer and was seen as the "underdog" taking on the establishment. It was innovative and fun. Even their amenity kits for Y had a whimsical design. Sadly VS joined the "cost cutting" bandwagon and it has now become just another airline.

      Yes, USD 50 fee for a lounge is a bit on the high side, but I have never been at this particular one and for me it was worth it. I still feel that I got a bit more value compared to a UA or Admirals club.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Comment 492613 by
    socalnow GOLD 839 Comments

    Happy New Year to you Jetsetpanda, always great to see a report of yours. Thank you for sharing your ride on the majestic A340-600.

    "For a lounge associated with an airline whose country is synonymous with culinary excellence I was expecting more."
    -I wonder if the quality (lack of) is related to the Priority Pass participation? It can't be any nicer and meet their reimbursement levels but without PP can AF operate a lounge in a station that sees 1 - 2 flights a day? Food for thought, if you will...

    "Just when I thought that bad catering in Y was confined to North American carriers, here comes VS outdoing them all."
    - I see why the APG Podcast call them Acme Red (Acme being their "secret" name for Delta). Their are airs of sophistication but no substance.

    London in her Christmas finery is quite a site.

    Thanks again for sharing and happy flying.

  • Comment 492632 by
    jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2295 Comments

    Hey there Christian.

    You have a point about AF's Priority Pass participation, but I sense that the AF lounge is the "unofficial" Skyteam lounge @ SFO. Premium pax from KE, CZ , MU, and AM tend to also use this lounge. CI has its own lounge so that might not be such a big problem. There are rumors that VN might start flying out of SFO .

    Indeed LHR can be charming during Christmas. Lately I've been more intrigued by this city.

    Thanks for your kind words and comments. It's always a pleasure.

  • Comment 493352 by
    KévinDC TEAM GOLD 4722 Comments

    Hey Adan, thanks for sharing this new report on VS. Flying around the Holidays can be fun when cabin crew get into the spirit. I've had some fun flights on Christmas Eve and Christmas day with crew decked out in Holiday gear. If you have to work on the Holidays, you may as well make it fun! Those socks are awesome, haha.

    For a lounge associated with an airline whose country is synonymous with culinary excellence I was expecting more.

    The SFO AF lounge is disappointing, to be sure. They have much nicer lounges out there in the system. But it seems that at least the catering is pretty standard fare for AF outstation lounges in North America. Here in DC, there are usually no hot options.

    That meal is pretty sad looking, good thing it at least tasted good. It's sad to see such evident cost-cutting at VS, a carrier that was once so chic and ahead of its time in all classes.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Comment 493378 by
    jetsetpanda AUTHOR 2295 Comments

    Hi Kevin,

    Crew can either make or break a flight. It's sad to see that VS no longer differentiates itself from the rest of the pack. In the front those J seats lack privacy and look tight and in the back most of the perks they they used to have are gone. PEY might still hold its appeal and seem to be a very decent proposition, especially if the price is right.

    I thought that hot food was a standard at all AF lounges. Over at CI in SFO they even had chicken wings.

    Thanks for your comments and support as always. There might be another FR to LHR soon since I am leaving this Thu. on AC SFO-YYZ-LHR. Let's see if VS catering can be "dethroned". :P

    • Comment 493425 by
      KévinDC TEAM GOLD 4722 Comments

      There might be another FR to LHR soon since I am leaving this Thu. on AC SFO-YYZ-LHR. Let's see if VS catering can be "dethroned". :P

      Hope you have a great flight! I would hope AC has a better showing than VS in the catering dept. Have a good trip!

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