This is a Trip Report from the Upper Class cabin
Food & Drink
For anyone interested, here is the 'TL;DR' of my report. This was without a doubt one of the best VS flights I have had. Everything from start to finish was absolutely top notch. Except for perhaps waiting for the rest of my (non Global Entry'd) party to make it through US customs... alas.
This was my first trip back to Orlando since I was perhaps 14 or 15 years old. As a child I was lucky enough to twice go to Disneyland in Florida courtesy of, what I learnt later in life to be, very generous grandparents. My mum and her partner, both as keen golfers, had mentioned the possibility of an Orlando golfing trip for quite some time. It was to be the two of them, my sister and her partner. Whilst the rest of us couldn't quite get into the sport we were all too happy to come along with flights being the only expense! At 31 years old it was the first holiday with my mother and sister for quite some time
An early start
Given I was on a 'Z' fare and no DTCI to experience at Gatwick North I opted for public transport. Thanks to engineering works on the Peterborough-Hitchin rail route, I was faced with another very early start in Huntingdon to catch my rail replacement bus to Hitchin, departing at a delightful 4:42am. I always feel horribly self-conscious wheeling my noisy suitcase along quiet sleepy streets in the middle of the night...
With a strange turn of fortune, the bus service took nowhere near the hour and a half scheduled and I was at Hitchin within an hour. Here followed a train journey to Finsbury Park, followed by the underground to Victoria, and then finally the Gatwick Express to LGW.
I feel quite fortunate to be one of the first people to use Virgin's new Gatwick North home, even if I was late to the party by a week or so. After stepping off the shuttle and avoiding the EasyJet masses, it's a short walk to the far end of the terminal. The outside of the terminal is rather dominated by the Emirates branded chauffeur dropoff point. Nonetheless, it was through the doors towards Zone A. The first thing that greets you is the brand new, very striking self check-in area.
Self check-in area
After taking in my new surroundings I was quickly approached by one of the few wandering staff to ask if I had checked in, to which I replied that I had. I continued on and was greeted by the brightly lit new bag drop & check-in desks, but not before I spotted some more decorations which I thought were a nice touch, though I wonder how up to date it will be kept as routes come and go??:
Swish new decorations
And the new bag drop desks:
Upper class bag drop. Same as the rest!
As has been noted elsewhere there is no longer a dedicated separate area for the Upper Class passengers, which is a shame but perhaps something will crop up in the future. Nonetheless the area looked "very Virgin". There were two manned desks and a couple of people queuing in each line. Whilst it was barely a five minute wait it still felt like an eternity!
The lady at the desk was very friendly and adorned my boarding pass with a Priority security sticker. Given that the rest of my party were still in-transit, not to mention split between PE and Economy, I decided to get a move on to the new Clubhouse. Security was an absolute breeze with no queue or wait time at all.
To the Clubhouse!
Whilst the land-side half of the North terminal is clean and modern looking, the air-side half was awful, as well as it being horrendously busy, it just screamed too small and unfinished. I'll admit I'm not privy to any improvement works going on in the North terminal, but I certainly hope there are some in progress, or at least on their way. The Clubhouse, along with the other lounges, are located at the far end of the terminal. One must traverse past the duty free mire, first!
The Clubhouse and V-room are tucked away on the third floor, and you cannot miss the sign telling you what is where!
Clubhouse, or V-room?
The Clubhouse desk was manned by two ladies. As has also been noted elsewhere, the wonderful welcome has not been lost in the move to the North terminal. I was given a quick show-around by one lady, who I assume was the CH manager given her different outfit. Gumshoe's thread did an excellent job of describing the new layout, so I won't repeat it here, but I did grab a few more snaps to add to the collection:
FIFA 17, anyone?
The view from one of my many different locations
Whilst helping myself to numerous cocktails and items from the food menu (I'm afraid which ones allude me), I received a text from my mother saying that her national express bus had broken down! At the same time, my sister and her partner had just arrived, so a quick break was in order to go down and say hello. My CH guest pass was reserved for Mummy Dearest, and Sister didn't like to sound of paid entry. So we soon parted company and I was back in the CH with a Telegraph to hand.
Service flowed perfectly, the food was fantastic and the cocktails equally so. The crowds ebbed and flowed as flights were called. There was only one service to MCO at 13:00 so I was going to be one of the last.
Mum and partner eventually arrived, and another break was needed to go down and greet them. This time, returned with Mum and guested her in. She was delighted! Alas, I had to leave her quickly to keep my Facial appointment! For those wondering, unfortunately like the previous incarnation there are no haircuts in the new CH.
On my return I found Mum had dutifully availed the bar of several glasses of champagne and had befriended another lady sat nearby. I was pleased that she was making full use of the guest pass It transpired that her new friend was sat next to me!
And so the time came to depart toward Gate 571. Barbarella was to be our 747 today.
Time to go!
Arriving at Gate 571 saw one long line to the gate. At first glance there didn't appear to be any priority boarding line for PE or UC passengers. Although I was resigned to queuing for a while, my mother grew a pair and went to the front to ask about priority boarding. Sure enough, it was in play, but just not signed at all. And so on we went! I said goodbye to the folks and turned left to Gate L1. This was actually my second time in the nose of a 747, my first time was way back in 2014 on an old LHR 747 to JFK. But something about the exclusivity of being one of only 14 seats made it quite a bit more special.
Despite being refreshed some years ago G-VROM still looked good.
My view from 10A
Two things confirmed for me that this was likely to be a good flight:
1) There were no children or infants in the UC cabin. In fact, I would say it's very likely that I was the only one under 35.
2) The welcome drink came with a friendly introduction and a smile!
Shortly after settling down, I overheard the FSM going round the cabin introducing himself. Except this time, the name and voice was familiar. Lo and behold, it was the same FSM who took care of my LHR-LAX flight back in August last year. When he reached my seat and said hello, I remarked "I think I've had you before!". It turns out not only do I remember him, he remembered not only meeting me before, but the flight, aircraft type and almost the correct seat. This was such a lovely thing for him to remember and I knew things were off to a brilliant start.
Pushback came on time, and a flight time of 8 hours 57 minutes was expected, with 443 on board. Upper was full, as well as PE, with a smattering of empties "down the back".
I'm not sure if the current UC menu has been posted lately, but in case it hasn't - here it is:
Tomato & Basil Soup
Fillet of Beef
Warn orange marmalade panettone
Cheese and Port
Brie, Aged Gouda and Cornish Blue.
Classic gourmet beef burger
Warm spinach mini quiche Loraine
Mini Lamb Pie
Plus Afternoon Tea (Sandwiches, Cakes, Scones)
After a long taxi all around the South terminal, we were finally in the air. Shortly after the seatbelt sign came off the CC member looking after Upper came round again to take our food order. I opted for the Halloumi Salad and the Crab Cakes. At the same time I noticed on her sheet that the crab cakes were proving popular, so I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of not getting them. I don't really mind as such, given I always struggle to make a decision as everything always sounds so nice!
And true to my expectations, they had proved too popular and I was asked if I would be willing to switch. Good thing I already had a Plan B! I went with the roast chicken instead.
And so lunch time arrived, and despite eating myself silly in the Clubhouse, there was of course the second stomach to rely on to see me through the flight.
Starter - Halloumi Salad - Note, presentation my fault, I was just about to tuck in when I remembered to take a picture!
Both courses were delicious. For dessert I opted for the chocolate brownie as I've never been able to palette marmalade. However, the next thing to arrive was the cheese course. It seems the CC forgot to bring my brownie! I gave her a quick reminder after the cheese course and it appeared right away with plenty of apologies, but we had a laugh about it, so all is well. I'm afraid you'll have to forgive me, this caused me to neglect to take a picture of the dessert. But it was worth the extra wait.
Feeling doubley-stuffed, I decided to try and take in some of VERA. I've mentioned in recent TRs that I've rather gone off plane movies, and this one proved to be no different as nothing really buzzed me on this trip. However I noticed that another episode of Travel Man with Richard Ayoade had arrived, so I took that in to much enjoyment.
Cabin Crew were still as proactive as ever, with refill offers coming in plenty. After my show, I decided to switch things up and take a seat at the bar with my book. A little while later I managed to engage the CC looking after UC in a little bit of conversation, which was nice. Eventually she was called away for turndown duties, and soon after the FSM and I had a chat following our reacquainting earlier. He was really great to talk to. He clearly knew a great deal about flying and commercial aviation, and we had a good long chat about routes new and old, aircraft, Manchester, the lot.
And so the rest of the flight went on without a hitch. I made a few visits to my mum and her man upstairs in PE, and my sister and her man in Economy. I managed to sneak out a few posh chocolates for them as well
One thing to note, that has never happened to me before. Not once did the seatbelt sign get turned on mid-flight. This was the smoothest flight I have ever encountered, and probably ever will!
We followed the Atlantic coast towards Orlando, and eventually begun our descent. Orlando was looking pretty cloudy this afternoon. On approach, I was paid another visit by the FSM who came over to shake my hand and say goodbye. Honestly, this truly put the icing on the cake and has reminded me whilst I type this to send good feedback about him and the CC looking after the UC folks.
Landing and Taxi
We touched down at 17:20 on the most Easterly runway, which meant a very long taxi ride to the terminal. It took ten minutes, in fact. Eventually we parked up next to a TAM A350-900. Never seen one before! We stopped at the gate at 17:30 to the second, so right in time. Disembarking on a 747 starts of course with downstairs PE, followed by UC. I managed to say a second farewell to the FSM, and made my way to immigration. With Global Entry to hand I was the only one making my way to the GE machines, and after the usual questions, was through in no time.
Upper Class bags were first onto the carousel as well. However, I was not travelling alone this time so needed to wait for the rest of my entourage to make their ways through immigration, and then customs.
Overall, a flawless trip greatly enhanced by superb lounge staff, a wonderful FSM and a great pair of CC working in Upper.