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#927686 by walesflyer
22 Oct 2016, 12:10
Ground Staff
Food & Drink
Cabin Crew
So, sitting here in the beautiful Florida sunshine in our most amazing villa in Naples, starting to think about our flight home later today and so thought it best I write up our trip report for the flight out. Having read so many trip reports over the last few years, am pleased to be contributing my first! It is quite long, so I've split it in to sections do you can just skip to the bits of interest rather than read all of my waffle!!

Getting to the airport
Our journey started on the Friday evening on the train up from South Wales. We traveled in first class which we normally do when travelling up to Heathrow to start our holiday in style.
We packed a picnic and a bottle of bubbly and sat back to enjoy the journey. We were both feeling a bit tired and emotional as this trip was our 10 year wedding anniversary holiday but which had been delayed by 2 years due to the long Illness and subsequent passing of my mum in law. To top it off, 8 weeks before the holiday my hubby broke his ankle and so whilst he was the model patient, I was pretty exhausted from looking after him, our land, chickens, walking our energetic puppy plus working full time in a hectic job. I digress slightly, but the point is that whilst the plaster cast came off two weeks before we traveled, his ankle is still very swollen and sore and he needed crutches to get about. I was therefore a bit anxious about how we would cope, with me (5’2” and not particularly strong!) transiting the airports with two big cases plus hand luggage and only one of us with a free pair of hands! I took the advice of you guys on v-flyer and called ahead and booked special assistance.
Anyway… I'm getting ahead of myself! We arrived at Paddington station at about 8pm to the find the platform full of beautiful music – the Great Western Railway Paddington Band were in full swing and it was a beautiful thing to hear. I am normally leaving London on a Friday evening as opposed to arriving so had never come across this before and it was a real treat. We listened for a while and made a donation to their pot, before heading over (slowly) to the elevator in the corner from where we went up to the Hilton Paddington Hotel. This is an old favourite of ours, as it is so convenient for weekends in London from South Wales as it is located almost at the end of the platform. We checked in and were upgraded (think is was the crutches!) to a great room. It was pretty much bath, coffee and bed though, none of our usual exploring.
The alarm went at 6.30, with the original plan being to jump on the Heathrow express. However, to make things even easier for us, and as a surprise to hubby, I’d used up some spare miles and booked the chauffeur and DTCI. I had planned to keep it a surprise until we went down to the lobby, but whilst I was in the bathroom, reception telephoned to say that the car had arrived and I could hear P sounded confused and insisting the car wasn't for us! I jumped out and just nodded and put my thumbs up so he got the message! Phew!
So, in to the car we got, with plenty of help with our bags and P sat up front so he could stretch out his leg. A lovely quiet drive through Hyde park, Kensington and Chiswick before out to Heathrow. At this stage, P still thought we were just going to be dropped off outside the terminal building as he didn't know there was such a thing as DTCI, so there was still an element of surprise when we went up the ramp and into the blingy circle!

The ladies and gents who greeted us were fantastic, cases whisked away and boarding passes in hand in no time (1A and 2A). However, we then had to wait quite a while for the wheelchair to show up, I was starting to get anxious as this was eating in to clubhouse time! I started contemplating it might have been quicker for us to hobble there on the crutches, but after a chase up call by the Virgin staff, they duly arrived and we were on our way. By this time, quite a lot of people had arrived from the upstairs check in, so the security channel was busier than I expected. P was quickly wheeled through to the clubhouse with me trotting alongside him, and this was our only time we were out in the main bit of the airport as we didn't leave the clubhouse at all. Up in the lift with the wheelchair, and to the desk, where they booked the wheelchair to the gate to return to pick us up at 12.10, which would be on the first call. P could luckily manage on crutches here as the clubhouse doesn't seem very wheelchair friendly.

The lady at the front desk pointed out the main areas to us. First impressions – wow! We headed straight down to book treatments – I wanted my nails done, and I persuaded P to go for the mini facial. Treatments booked, we headed to the brasserie for brekkie. It was reasonably busy, but service was fast. I ordered the eggs benedict and started with a mimosa as was still a little early. P ordered the eggs royale, and a glass of prosecco – if he didn't already have an injured ankle I would have kicked him under the table! Why are you ordering prosecco when you can have champagne I hissed!? He rectified that on his next order…. Breakfast arrived and was delicious. I then went up to the deli to get P some bread and smoked salmon, and I got some of the yoghurt and granola. It was soon time to head off to our treatments. I got the shellac nails done which takes about 45 minutes. I tracked P down to a seat in the area in the middle with all the power sockets, he was enjoying a latte and had enjoyed the facial. We moved to sit in the gallery area, but found it a bit drafty so moved to sit in the big blue triangle shaped chairs just the other side of the glass. By now the clubhouse had really filled up and there were not many spare seats, it still didn't seem crowded though, and not noisy, service was still swift - out of curiosity we ordered a couple of red-heads, but both found them too sweet for our taste. We moved back on to the champagne, and with half an hour to go until boarding decided to order a couple of items off the menu as a snack. P opted for the cockles and sausage rolls, and I had the gyoza. All were delicious.
It was about this time they announced that there was an hour delay due to a technical issue. I can't say we were too disappointed… More time to enjoy the clubhouse! We headed upstairs to the loft, which P managed very slowly on his crutches, there was only one other person there so was serene and peaceful. I did have to go back down to get someone to take our order – we ordered a couple more of the sausage rolls which were our favourite, and a couple more glasses of bubbly.
As the revised boarding time approached, we took a seat near the hanging egg chairs at the front desk so we could spot the wheelchair support when it arrived. P insisted on one more glass of bubbly which he then thought he had to drink quickly as the wheelchair arrived…. Although the guy was great and told us no rush, take your time!

Boarding the plane
Champagne finished, we were taken back down in the lift and transferred to a buggy along with some other passengers on our flight who had not been in the clubhouse. We were driven the short distance to the gate and dropped off. This is where it got a bit chaotic. It seems there would be a further delay, but by this stage the gate area was full and there were no seats. It also seems that the plane was not at the gate as I could see the dreaded buses lining up outside. The VS lady at the desk was great, and directed us to the gate next door where P could sit down, however this was locked, but the staff managed to wheel a stool out from somewhere for him, which was great as it looked like we might be here a while. There were two airport staff there providing the special assistance and they were absolutely brilliant. When the plane was eventually ready to board, they took us and two other ladies out through a special door, and through to a special high lift vehicle. This was to prove a very interesting experience indeed, and not a typical way of boarding UC! We stood on a platform at the back, which was then raised up in the air from where we moved in to the main body of the vehicle where there were seats. ! The guys had said that the plane was at T5, I had thought they were joking but we drove for what felt like a very long time and under a long tunnel so maybe they were right? We arrived at the plane (Dream Girl) and the entire body of the vehicle was raised up to be level with the door. We then had to wait a while as the crew couldn't figure out how to open this door, and the captain had to come and do it! We then boarded right by the bar, at the opposite door to all other PAX, so had to turn right as opposed to left! An interesting experience.
There were only a few other pax on board at this time,, we were swiftly welcomed and settled in our seats, with the crutches safely stowed. Champagne, water and juice offered, plus seconds…we didn't actually take off until around 3pm, so 2 hours delayed. Apparently the technical fault was the air conditioning and the engineers were still busy on board for quite some time after we boarded.

Service, food and the bar
UC was full. There seemed to be about 4-5 crew working upper at various times, we were mainly served by a very young looking man called ***, pwho was absolutely fantastic. Drinks orders were taken soon after take off, along with lunch orders. A G&T was swiftly delivered with a bowl of crisps. We asked if I could join P at his seat for lunch, purely for the novelty of being able to do so. They laid up the table for two, and it was a little cosy but reasonably comfortable. I started with the tomato and mozzarella salad, which was good, although inevitably too cold, while P raved about the chicken satay. P also enjoyed the seafood linguine, and I absolutely loved the lemon and thyme chicken. It was all beautifully presented and served, and much better than the food on my recent Emirates flights in business. Water and wine were kept topped up throughout. I was too full for pudding, P devoured the salted caramel pudding, and then we shared a cheese plate with port. One thing I really enjoyed was then having a mug of tea in a proper mug!

We asked to be woken for afternoon tea if we were sleeping, but when it was time for this I still wasn't hungry and neither was P. I was disappointed as had wanted to experience the afternoon tea but really had no room. I was also feeling a little thick headed (possibly due to champagne consumption!) so opted for two mugs of tea instead which helped enormously!

We didn't order anything off the light bites menu but I noted quite a few people did throughout the flight.

After lunch, we took the opportunity to sit at the bar, again just for the novelty of doing so really. We were soon joined by two American guys who were interesting company. We were quickly served by our CC *** and were enjoying our drinks and a quiet chat. After a few minutes, a different CC came by and asked us all quite loudly were we UC passengers. I realise that they have to check, but her tone was quite accusatory, and I think perhaps she could have asked in a more subtle and friendlier way. Also, I know CC can't be expected to remember all faces, but it was the same CC that had greeted us and shown us to our seats and helped stow P’s crutches. Satisfied that we were all UC, she did stay and chat to us for a while. She had a bit of a whinge about cuts to crew numbers, I mentioned that it was our first time in UC and thought the service had been excellent, she replied (a little defensively) that it was because they all had such pride in their jobs. *** also returned and chatted to us and was super friendly and interesting and answered all our nosy questions about life as CC! We left the bar after about 30-40 minutes as is thought it fair to free up the seats in case anyone else wanted them, and also my seat was calling! The bar did seem to be reasonably busy throughout the flight, with different people coming and going.

The seat
I was very pleasantly surprised by the seat, which was much more comfortable and roomy than I had expected it to be. Having recently flown in business on the Emirates a380, I had thought the UC suite looked very narrow and cramped in comparison. Whilst there is less storage space, I actually found the seat much more comfortable than Emirates, which was very hard even with the mattress. I found I had room to curl up my legs watching a movie, although granted I am not very tall! We both converted the seats to a bed for a few hours and I think I slept solidly for about 2 hours before waking to watch another movie.
I really liked being in 1A and 2A and would definitely choose these again. They were very private, and the galley is not as close as I thought and there was no issue with noise or other disturbance from the galley. We were also served first.

The crew
Overall I found the crew to be friendly, efficient and helpful, in particular *** who you felt that nothing was too much trouble for. Service was much faster and friendlier than Emirates. I didn't see the FSM until towards the very end of the flight so he must have been in EC or PE the whole flight. He handed out the landing cards and I took the opportunity to let him know that we had had great service from his team, which he seemed very pleased to here.

Arrival at MIA
Having booked special assistance, I was expecting that we would first be put on one of the shuttle buggies that v- flyers had told me about…. I was wrong! We were met with a wheelchair and so whilst P got wheeled the seemingly miles or so thought the terminal, I had to walk along side…. It is definitely a long way, especially as the airport is very stuffy, but it probably did me good to stretch my legs. The one good thing about P being in the wheelchair was that we were in a special queue at immigration and through in about 10 minutes. By this time, our luggage was off the belt and on the floor. Our helper managed to both push the wheelchair and pull one of our cases, while I pulled the other. We were straight in a taxi and off to south beach.

And finally….
We have an amazing holiday in Miami, Key West and Naples, driving around in a mustang, eating plenty of delicious seafood and enjoying a cocktail or two…. We fly back tonight and whilst I am not looking forward to the dive that is MIA airport, for the first time ever I am looking forward to a flight home from a holiday!
Last edited by honey lamb on 23 Oct 2016, 09:20, edited 1 time in total. Reason: Edited to remove staff names as per forum rules
#927688 by pjh
22 Oct 2016, 13:10
Lovely TR; your enjoyment of the experience (whingy aggressive CC notwithstanding) really shines through. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

I have to say I like the idea of the CDC ride out of Paddington.
#927693 by Traveller2
22 Oct 2016, 15:15
I really enjoyed reading your TR.

Miami Airport is dire isn't it? We had the great pleasure of spending 23 hrs there a few years ago when our flight home "went technical". There were no hotel rooms to be had anywhere in Miami as there was a big sporting event on (the crew had to be bussed to Ft Lauderdale to get a hotel) and quite a few of us had to spend a very uncomfortable night/next day in the terminal building. It was cold, there were hardly any seats and the ones we did find were very hard. Every 15 mins the tannoy belted out "Welcome to Miami Airport; the time is now... so if we did managed to drop off for a few minutes, we were always woken again! Not an experience I look back on with fondness!!!

I hope your flight home is as good as the outbound.
#927695 by marshy11
22 Oct 2016, 16:04
Wonderfully detailed TR, thank you so much for posting. It certainly sounds like despite the crutches/wheelchairs you managed to sample a lot of the CH and UC offerings!

Have a great flight back.
#927697 by hiljil
22 Oct 2016, 16:33
Thank you for a most enjoyable & detailed TR. I am so pleased you enjoyed your experience of the CH & UC outbound and I hope the return trip doesn't disappoint.
#927698 by Maximus
22 Oct 2016, 16:38
Nice report, thanks. Glad you had a great time in Florida.
#927702 by tomthumb
22 Oct 2016, 19:43
Cracking trip report and having travelled long haul on crutches know what a chore it can be, alas I was in Economy, but still jumped the Immigration Line.
#927709 by dickydotcom
23 Oct 2016, 07:39
Thanks for the TR.

I particularly like the picnic and bottle of bubbly. (we do the same and we only live 40 miles from the airport.)
I felt your pain dealing with suitcases and a poorly hubby. Two years ago Mrs D had one broken and one severely sprained wrist and couldn't lift anything. I had to manhandle 4 cases through MCO.

Dick D
Virgin Atlantic

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