First I have to come clean, Virgin Atlantic are one of my favourite airlines I have been a member of their Flying Club since 1992 and have travelled in all classes on their aircraft over the years. So I have a lot of experience and a very high expectation of the experience that I will receive whenever I fly Virgin.
I also watched and thoroughly enjoyed the documentary series ‘Up in the Air’ last year as it gave a fly on the wall view of the inside workings of Virgin Atlantic (check it out on You Tube) and in particular the design and commissioning of their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner – we saw close up how much thinking appeared to go into the design of tiny details…so I was excited to fly on this new aircraft to San Francisco.
All of the brand advertising certainly sets the bar high in terms of expectation of the service and overall experience with Virgin and my history was overwhelmingly positive to date – that is not to say they do not have issues but more of that in later posts!
So what happened and what did I discover?
Arrived in my seat in Upper Class and prepared for the flight, the usual announcements started about in flight safety but then stopped, then started again, then paused for a while then started again – it felt like the announcer was having a chat with someone and doing the announcements, not very professional or ..if you are a nervous flyer…very calming!!
After take off I opened the tray table to discover the previous occupants left overs – maybe when cleaning the cabin tray tables should be opened mmm nice ???
Then it came to dinner which as usual was pretty good on Virgin flights, the problem was that I was a little slow finishing my dessert that, shouldn’t be a problem but no one turned up for 45 minutes to finally remove it meaning either I was trapped in the seat or had to call for assistance which I duly did BUT my call button was simply and consistently ignored. This is a fundamental failing not of the new aircraft but of the crew and maybe a sign of the times with Virgin (I truly hope not) the notion of ‘eyes off’ service is already the hallmark of too many airlines where the cabin crew can walk past an obvious opportunity to provide service because they are focussed on another ‘task’, this not only applies to leaving a dinner tray that has clearly been finished. As another example of listening, during the dinner service I asked for a full glass of ice when it finally arrived there were three cubes…this might seem trivial but at 35,000 feet and on a 13 hour flight these things get magnified in your mind as there is little else to really focus on.
On the plus side the new TV screens are a massive improvement….
I then went to the new bar area, it look good and I applaud Virgin for sticking to principles and providing this iconic option and not using the space to cram in a few more seats – something that BA under their new leadership would DEFINITELY be doing!!! That said I am not sure how much road testing was done as a passenger – so as a passenger on long haul I remove my shoes and use the socks provided, when you do that and go and sit at the bar what you discover is the seats look good BUT the footrests are so angular and sharp that it is almost impossible to comfortably rest your feet on them for any period of time. Whilst I was there it was manned for no more than 10 minutes and the absence of crew/staff meant that I even ended up having to serve myself – it really was like the Marie Celeste in terms of Virgin crew.
My final gripe was that there was no bottle of water in my seat a detail but I always saved it for the end of the flight to take into the Terminal ready for a long immigration wait -I know you can probably ask for one but once again that is just pushing the effort onto the passenger.
As a true Virgin loyal I have to say that the new aircraft was great, quiet, comfortable, the bar just needs some fine tuning in terms of the seating – what let this flight down was the Virgin crew and that is one of the first times I have felt a decline in the quality of the in-flight service not something you want to coincide with a big capital outlay on the kit/aircraft.
As ever I am pointing out details here and the general standard remains high but it is in the words of Alan Sugar “with some regret” that I cannot ignore the decline and so my overall score expectation versus reality is 6/10, I truly hope this was a one off time will tell!!