This is the third and final post in a series from my late December 2018 trip to London. You can read my last post, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, here.
Virgin Atlantic Flt. 21 London-Heathrow to Washington-Dulles (LHR-IAD)
A330, Economy, 8h 31m
Sch. Dep. 11:35am Sch. Arr. 3:20pm
Act. Dep. 11:30am Act. Arr. 3:01pm
My trip back to the US was on a nonstop Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to Washington-Dulles, and boy was it pleasant compared to my outbound journey. Not only was the nonstop better, but the plane and comfort of the flight were miles ahead of the Air France experience.
Getting from the Hotel Indigo London Paddington to Heathrow was a snap. I decided to save money and take the TFL Rail instead of the Heathrow Express, since the rail (formerly the Heathrow Connect) is half the price and still takes only about 30 minutes. I left my hotel at 8:18am, and was on the 8:30am train, and after the schlep from the train, at Terminal 3 a little around 9:15am.
The Delta and Virgin Atlantic joint operation out of Terminal 3 is pretty efficient. The only hiccup I had was when I clicked to check-in through the Delta app for my Virgin-operated, Delta-coded flight, it took me straight to the Virgin page which then told me there was a problem with my reservation. I tweeted directly with Virgin Atlantic and they told me to just use the Virgin record locator directly, and sure enough that worked fine. For some reason, I decided to check my rollaboard, and the line moved super quickly even with the special security for US flights. As a Delta medallion, my bag was priority tagged, and I was at security by 9:20am.
There were a lot of idiots in force at security. One American woman kept asking where the TSA Precheck line was and complaining that she should have TSA Precheck. She apparently missed the memo that we were in the UK. A lot of other folks were trying to get liquids through, and otherwise failed to grasp the very basic concepts of airport security. It took 15 minutes but then I was dumped through the large duty-free shop into the main terminal area.
Terminal 3 has a lot of lounges – four separate Oneworld ones (BA, AA, CX, and QF), Emirates, and Virgin, plus two independent lounges: Aspire and No. 1. Both Aspire and No. 1 are accessible with Priority Pass. I hadn’t researched which one was better, so just picked one and ended up at the No. 1. One thing I noted was that Delta uses the No. 1 Lounge for Delta Gold Medallions, while Delta business class and higher tier elites get to access the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which I got to experience the last time I flew the LHR-IAD route, albeit in Upper Class.
There was a line to get into the No. 1 lounge, which made me hesitant, but it wasn’t actually that crowded. The lounge is open to the public for 40 GBP, with sleeping pods for 20 GBP an hour. A lot of people on line had booked lounge passes, spa services, or pods ahead of time online. Note, even for Priority Pass holders, showers cost an additional fee (10 GBP).
The space was fairly large, with a number of different seating styles and areas. Everything was clean and modern, and there was plenty of room. There was a separate “library” seating area, which was particularly quiet. The bathrooms were each huge and immaculate, although only three of them.
As a Priority Pass member, I was given a card I could use that listed the a la carte menu and allowed me to select an item, to compliment the limited buffet. For breakfast, the menu was fairly uninspiring, though for lunch there were some fairly substantial options. I ordered a streaky bacon roll through the bartender, and then took some nosh from the buffet, which had some pastries, fruit, cheese, yogurt, and cereal, in addition to self-serve coffee machine and juice.
I waited about 15 minutes and realized a guy who had ordered 10 minutes after me had already gotten his food, so went and inquired. Apparently, someone else had claimed my roll. The bartender ordered another one for me, which came quickly. But it was just bacon on a roll. Shrug. I picked.
There was a woman seated next to me in the dining area with bratty children who was ranting how the lounge is supposed to be luxurious and how is this luxurious if she had to go over to the bar to place her order. I imagine she is not familiar with flying and was just trying to be posh, given the small percent of lounges worldwide that provide waiter service. Nonetheless, it was a very pleasant place to pass the time.
My gate wasn’t posted until almost the scheduled boarding time of 10:30am. It was the farthest gate possible, in an area of Terminal 3 I’d never been in, a much more open area rather than the gates that are each their own room off the main corridor. Not sure if it was a new extension.
Preboarding began at 10:41am, and then boarding began by fare product: Upper Class, Premium Economy, Economy Delight, and then the rest of economy. One thing I was shocked by was an American couple who went up to ask about upgrades who told the gate agent they were on their honeymoon. I was shocked that she upgraded them to the Economy Delight extra legroom seats for free – something I didn’t get as a Delta elite.
Boarding was very civilized, though. The A330 was the same as my flight from Atlanta to Manchester from the summer, and I again had a window seat, in the 2-4-2 configuration. The seats do feel a bit dated, with older, smaller in-flight entertainment screens, and ethernet jacks. The only in seat power is for USB. But the seats themselves were better padded, and it felt a lot less cramped than my Air France flight, even if some of that has to do with the psychological aspect of being in a grouping of two seats as opposed to one. The seats had individual air nozzles, which I appreciate, and there was a gap between the window seat and the fuselage wall which is good for storage. There was a blanket and thin pillow at each seat, and, although the gate area seemed empty, the cabin slowly filled up, with only about 10 empty seats.
We pushed back right on time, and joined the long line of planes that is part of the Heathrow experience, with wheels up 17 minutes later. In the meantime, I perused the decent selection of movies and American and British TV shows, before settling on A Quiet Place. Wifi was also available, for $6.95 for an hour, or $21.95 for the whole flight. I did not partake.
Right after takeoff, flight attendants passed out menus, which listed a lunch service similar to the dinner service on my ATL-MAN flight, and a tea service. The bar cart came first, and I just did a soda to go with some pretzels.
The meal was served ninety minutes into flight. I went with the Malvani chicken curry, which was definitely one of the better coach meals I’ve had in a long time – flavorful big chunks of chicken, with rice, spinach, and saag. There was also a good pasta salad on the tray, along with boursin cheese, crackers, a Gu passion fruit pudding pot, and a small bottle of water. I also requested the white wine, which was fine.
Trays were cleared promptly, followed by a coffee and tea service. Unlike some other carriers doing westbound transatlantic flights, there was no midflight snack, either in the aisles or set-up in the back. There was another drink service six hours into the flight, and a snack service about 45 minutes later, about 105 minutes before landing. Branded an “afternoon tea,” it had a limited drink options of coffee, tea, apple or orange juice, or water, and a little box containing a cheddar and tomato chutney on wheat bread sandwich, a small bag of chips, a chocolate caramel candy thing, and, oddly, a menthol cough drop. The sandwich wasn’t that substantial, but certainly beat the raspberry beet goat cheese one on Air France.
During the flight, I watched the second season of Westworld, as it was a very noisy flight with kids and babies, and soon enough we were on the ground at 3pm, a little bit early.
Due to poorly behaved kids, I just missed the first moon buggy from the gate to Dulles immigration, but even with a delay at baggage claim, I still made the 3:35pm bus home into the city.
I definitely would not hesitate to fly Virgin Atlantic in coach the next time I am heading from DC to London.