This recap of my return trip, British Airways Dublin to London and Virgin Atlantic London to Washington, is the sixth in a series of six posts about my December 2019/January 2020 trip to Dublin and Belfast. My last post, covering my stay at the Hilton Belfast, is available here. Note: this trip was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus reflects a very different world than we are facing now.
I originally wasn’t going to recap my return trip home from Dublin on New Year’s Day 2020, as it was so long ago, relatively uneventful, and didn’t involve any new flight products. But I had the notes and the photos, so why not?
British Airways Flt. 831, Dublin to London-Heathrow (DUB to LHR)
Airbus A320, Economy Class
Sch. Dep. 7:10am Act. Dep. 7:04am
Sch. Arr. 8:40am Act. Arr. 8:43am
Virgin Atlantic Flt. 21, London-Heathrow to Washington Dulles (LHR to IAD)
Airbus A330, Economy Class
Sch. Dep. 12:25pm Act. Dep. 12:25pm
Sch. Arr. 4:10pm Act. Arr. 3:42pm
It’s been awhile, but you may recall that my entire flight reservation was a disaster, with an outrageously long layover added to my outbound flight. On the return, there was only an extra hour added to my layover, and a slightly earlier departure, which wasn’t a big deal, but a 7:10am departure on New Year’s Day isn’t that fun.
The Hilton Garden Inn Dublin Custom House, where I spent my last nights of the trip, is on the Northeast side of central Dublin-the part of the city closest to the airport. I had prebooked a ticket on the Aircoach, which stopped about a block from the hotel, for its 5:15am departure. You book the ticket for a specific stop and a specific time, and I was all ready to go and waiting at the stop, only to see the bus going down the street two blocks away passing me by. I pulled up the website and discovered that sometime in the past two weeks, Aircoach had announced it wasn’t going to make my stop that week, and hadn’t felt it necessary to inform anyone who was booked for that stop. It was too late for me to go to another stop and get the next bus, so thankfully I had cash and was able to grab a taxi, and was at the airport 26 EUR and ten minutes later.
Dublin Airport and T1 Lounge
Although I’ve flown out of Dublin several times in the past few years, it’s mostly been on transatlantic flights to the U.S. The last time I flew a shorthaul flight from DUB was back in this blog’s infancy, in 2012. The airport experience was pretty painless, though. I stopped at the counter to get my boarding passes, but they told me they couldn’t give me one for my connecting flight on Virgin. I was through security and at the lounge by 5:35am.
The T1 Lounge at Dublin, run by the airport authority, is a nice, newly renovated space, which accepts Priority Pass and also serves as the lounge for most airlines flying out of Terminal 1. There was a small cold breakfast spread, with cheeses, fruit, a variety of pastries, and self-serve coffee machine and soft drinks, on one side of the lounge. Not a huge variety but decent quality. There was also a bar with a barista coffee service, which was much appreciated at 5:40am. I sat for a little over 30 minutes, before making my way to the gate.
British Airways Economy Dublin to London-Heathrow
It was a long walk from the lounge to the gate, through the duty-free and main shopping areas, and took nearly 10 minutes. At the gate, there were queues set up for British Airways’ numbered boarding groups, with lines for group 1, 2/3, and 4/5. There was already a huge line for group 1, ten minutes before scheduled boarding time, and about 15 people in the line for groups 4/5—I was group 4, so just joined.
On board the A320, the plane looked different than the Aer Lingus flight I had flown out, but was pretty similar in terms of the experience. There were five rows set up for business class, and standard European seating – no televisions or outlets on board. The flight ended up being completely full, and I had picked the closest-to-the-front seat available at check-in, which was row 24. The food and beverage service was completely buy-on-board, though it didn’t matter, as I slept the entire flight. We pushed back at 7:05am, were wheels up at 7:17am, and on the ground at 8:21am.
Once on the ground, though, the gate at T5 was occupied, and we didn’t get to a new gate until 8:50am. Then when disembarking, there was a woman at the end of the jetbridge checking boarding passes for connecting flights and directing people, very slowly. I didn’t have one but she didn’t seem to mind. It held up the process though, and I wasn’t off the jetbridge until 9:06am.
At Heathrow, I was scheduled to have nearly 3.5 hours for my layover, which didn’t end up being very long because of the connection process from T5 to T3 – which is insane because that would have been the case even if I was on a ticket with two BA flights or BA to AA.
At 9:11am, I was on a very long confusing line for a bus to T3. There was a podium for AA passengers to check in at, but they then merged back into the main line, causing confusion. Thankfully, buses came more frequently than every 5 minutes as scheduled. I got on the third bus at around 9:20am, arriving at T3 at 9:33am. This meant it took me longer to get from wheels down at Heathrow to T3 than it did to fly from Dublin to London!
Heathrow T3 and Club Aspire Lounge
Once at T3, there was a massive security line. It took me about 20 minutes to get through, where I stopped at the Virgin/Delta desk to pick up my boarding pass, before heading to the lounge.
Since I’d used the No. 1 Lounge a year earlier, I figured I’d try the other Priority Pass option, the Aspire Lounge. I got there at 10am, and it was a zoo. The lounge was so full I had to wait a bit to be let in. Not great pictures due to how crowded it was, but I definitely prefer the layout of the No. 1 Lounge. The breakfast spread was sparse, and I wondered if they had just already run out of things, as there was no bread or cheese—just hot English breakfast items and some pastries.
Everything at the lounge was complimentary except champagne/prosecco and showers, so I had a screwdriver with my second breakfast. The lounge then emptied out a bit as people made their way to flights in the 11:00-11:30 bank. The breakfast buffet was replaced with a lunch buffet around 11am. The food was pretty good looking, although very carb heavy, with mashed sweet potatoes, pasta, pasta salad, orzo salad, green salad, wraps, cheese, and a chicken bacon casserole. I wasn’t that hungry, and new I’d have food on the plane, so only tasted a bit.
Virgin Atlantic Economy, London-Heathrow to Washington-Dulles
At Heathrow, they don’t even post the gate number for departures until an hour before departure, annoying as boarding time was scheduled to begin 5 minutes later. They ended up posting a little earlier, and I booked it to the other end of the concourse. They were already boarding when I got there. I wondered if the plane would already be full, but I was still one of the first passengers on board.
The Virgin A330 was the same layout and everything as my outbound flight. The only thing I’ll add is I made the mistake of choosing the second row in economy without realizing the personal TV from the bulkhead seat in front takes up some leg room. Ah well.
We pushed back at 12:28pm, with wheels up at 12:48pm. Menus were distributed 10 minutes later. At 1:15pm, the drink cart came out. I settled in with a vodka tonic and pretzels and watched The Farewell. A hot towel was passed out at 1:43pm, followed by the meal cart.
The main meal choices were chicken with mushroom sauce, a paneer and pea curry, or pancetta mac & cheese. Had I known what 2020 would have in store, I would definitely have gone with the mac & cheese, but I was still pretending healthy eating mattered, and went with the chicken. It completely lacked flavor, and the cucumber and wilted lettuce was also…. not good. The Gu cake pot was tasty though.
I slept on and off for the flight. Tea service was served two hours before landing, which was honestly better than the main meal. In a single box, there was a small sandwich, a scone, jam, and clotted cream, served along with coffee, tea, or juice.
We ended up making good time and landed at Dulles early, where things didn’t take that long. I was on a bus into the city within the hour, unprepared for the hellscape that 2020 would bring.
Well, it only took eight months for me to do that trip report series. Next up, I’ll start my series covering my trip to Japan just before the pandemic became a pandemic.