Firstly a brief word of warning about the layout of Orlando airport. The airport is divided into 2 terminals and 4 sets of gates. If you look at this map:
This is a Trip Report from the Economy cabin
Food & Drink
You will notice that Virgin’s check-in desks are on the A side. The gates used for international departures are always in the 60-99 block which are on the B side. If you check for flight status using something like flightaware it’ll happily tell you that your flight is departing terminal B, gate 85. Don’t fall into the trap of then thinking you need to arrive at terminal B, it’s still A you want for check-in and you’ll take the monorail to the gates on the B side after security. If you get it wrong it’s no major problem as A and B are a short walk apart but with kids in tow this is extra distance you probably don’t want to cover.
Check-in was efficient if a little officious. My bag tipped the scales at 23.2Kg and the agent was going to charge me excess until I opened it and moved a set of papers into my carry-on to bring it down to the 23Kg limit.
The lines for security were remarkably short and I have to say I really like the electronic screens above the queues showing the expected waiting time (11-14 minutes in our case) which were pretty accurate. Sadly the security staff were typical TSA automatons who seem to have had all common sense removed from them. I watched with interest as the gentlemen in front of me committed the heinous crime of leaving a paper handkerchief in his pocket as he approached the body scanner. He asked the agent what to do and was told to hold it in his hand. He duly did this only to be noticed holding something by a different agent who promptly marched him off the enhanced screening area at the side with the gentlemen concerned protesting that he was only following the advice of the first agent. Quite remarkable…
A brief monorail trip later (don’t take the wrong one!) brings you to the 60-99 block of gates where I can heartily recommend the Outback restaurant if you want to dine pre-flight and just sleep on board. It is, however, the only steak restaurant I can think of that uses plastic cutlery so factor that in to what you order!
We headed to the The Club at MCO by gate 91 which is just next to central lobby and very easy to get to. The lounge accepts Priority Pass and is clean, modern and very spacious (at least for the passenger load at the time VS16 flies). The food offerings were 2 types of soup, several plates of sandwiches that looked really good and boxes of ‘just add water’ instant pasta and noodle type things along with the usual crisps and bar snacks. You could easily fill up here if you weren’t too picky.
A full service bar provides a very drinkable Sauvignon Blanc and, if you tip the usual $1, the barman will seek you out and ensure you are topped up from the comfort of your seat. All in all a very pleasant place to sit and wait. The only downside is a lack of windows but I’m being very picky, this is among the top tier of US lounges. If Virgin are still using the Delta lounge for Upper then I’d be tempted to say this was quite a bit better.
Boarding was swift and efficient and I soon took my seat in 78C in the economy mini-cabin on the upper deck. I chose this for the relative peace and quiet (there’s only 1 bassinet position upstairs and that’s right at the front of Premium) but you have to balance this with the limited overhead locker space (if you close your eyes and imagine really hard you can convince yourself you are getting the same experience as 6A/K ) so any reasonably sized bag is probably going to have to live in one of the two wardrobes and be handed back to you on arrival.
Shortly after I settled into my seat, the chap across the cabin began to loudly announce to anyone who would listen (which to be fair did include me out of sheer curiosity) all the conspiracy theories he had unlocked with the help of Fox News. Apparently the metro failure in New York was not due to a faulty cable as the authorities had announced but was in fact a shortage of power caused by a lack of coal fired power stations and the wind turbines the Greens had built were designed to exterminate bats at night. By this point I knew I was in for an interesting trip. At least if I couldn't find a film to watch, I had a rich source of entertainment close at hand.
Just before departure the FSM announced that we had a passenger with a serious nut allergy on board and to refrain from opening any packets of nuts we had brought with us. A minute or so later he came back on to announce that we also had a passenger who suffered from an acute allergy to citrus fruit and could we refrain from … um…. errr... eating any that we had brought with us. Now, I’ve heard of passengers attempting to drink their own duty free on aircraft before but never have I come across someone so well prepared that they also packed ice and slice to go with it!
With 438 on board and 15 crew we set off with an estimated flight time of 7h 20, quite a saving on the published 8h flight time.
After take-off came the first drinks round and pretzels. The white wine I was served was just off the boil so I nipped to the galley for a cup of ice to throw into it and a chat to the crew who hailed from my hometown of Glasgow and were very engaging.
Dinner and second drinks arrived about 1 hour in. I chose the red thai curry which was good but not great. I’m not sure who thought that pairing it with carrots and water chestnuts was a good idea – it wasn’t. On the plus side, the New York cheesecake was good, although perhaps not as good as the Gu pud on the outbound. The more subtle flavour of the cheesecake didn’t really stand up to altitude (or the red curry).
Dinner was followed by a tea and hot chocolate run, although coffee was available on request if you really wanted it. As the crew passed through they asked everyone to put the blinds down and the cabin was made ready for the night.
At this point it’s probably worth a few words about the seat. It was comfortable, supportive and had decent but not excessive recline. Perhaps the best bit was the height adjustable headrest that had fixed ‘wings’ to rest your head on. All in all, quite decent and I dozed off when I finished watching the latest instalment of the Grand Tour on my iPad.
I was awoken with a start. Something was terribly wrong. The aircraft felt like it was breaking apart mid-flight. I tentatively opened one eye expecting that I was starring in my very own instalment of the opening episode of Lost. A brief scan of the cabin revealed nothing but sleepy seat mates and a distinct lack of flames or other excitement – what on earth was going on?
It eventually transpired that the trouble was the occupant of the seat behind had decided to play solitaire by stabbing away at the IFE screen on the back of my seat with all the grace of an orangutan trying to open a coconut. A long and very British stare did little to resolve the problem so I rolled out the big guns and went for a loud tut.
My relief was to come some 20 minutes later as breakfast arrived. I know it was breakfast because it said so on the box but in all other respects it was unrecognisable as a pleasant meal to start the day. The pain au chocolat had been turned by witchcraft from a flaky treat into a tasteless stodgy lump that stuck in your throat. The fruit salad and blueberry yoghurt were better but pretty uninspiring. I know catering breakfast on an aircraft isn’t easy and it’s even harder still when you have to do it for the numbers required in economy but there was a serious lack of effort going on here, there wasn’t even anything savoury on offer.
The picture is a bit dark, but don't worry. There's nothing worth seeing in it anyway :(
Judging by the level of wastage as the boxes were collected my fellow travellers shared my low opinion of the meal. Such a shame to end on this note as up to that point I’d been fairly impressed.