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.
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.
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.
Main sitting area right after reception
Charming detail - perhaps the Eiffel tower says "Made in China" at the bottom.
Startup Showcase Room on the side
Dining area in the back
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.
My pre-flight snack
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.
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".
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.
Nice feature on the aisle seats to allow shorter people to reach the overhead bins
IFE was old and the screen quality was snowy
After take off FA's distributed printed menus and Immigration forms
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.
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.
i then washed all of that down with a cup of tea
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.
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
Ready for touch down
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
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The hotel is connected to the terminal through a covered walkway from T4 that also links to the Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and Hilton. Check in was quick through the kiosk and an agent was there to assist if needed.
Room was well appointed with a coffee/tea maker. WC was clean and had a tub/shower set up.
View from room
Christmas in London
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Originally I had an ambitious plan to visit every major shopping street with the Christmas decorations. I only got as far as Piccadilly and walked along Regent St. Then jetlag hit and returned to the hotel. Fortunately at the end of March 2019 I will make another trip to London and Dublin. This time I will have more time to explore.
Getting off @ Piccadilly Circus
Air France Lounge
San Francisco - SFO
London - LHR
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.
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