Did OLCI the day before at a little over T-24hrs. As I mentioned before, the OLCI process on the DL system is mush faster & slicker than it was on the old VS system. A journey to Manchester followed with an overnight stop in a PremierInn near the airport.
This is a Trip Report from the Upper Class cabin
Food & Drink
Got a taxi to MAN and walked up to the UC desks – all 3 had pax at them, but was dealt with within a minute or two. Bags gone & paper BP issued (even though I had the OLCI one on the phone). There was a notable armed police presence in the check-in area, but that is to be expected given the current climate.
Up to security and as usual, Manchester Airport could not organize a pissup in a brewery here. Ignore the Priority Lane sticker on your boarding pass & use the normal lanes – they are faster. I would be annoyed if I had paid for Fastrack & saw the normal lines moving faster. The problem, as always, is that Manchester airport merge the Priority Lane with the families / special assistance lane when you get to the scanners. So you have families who maybe travel once a year & are not familiar with what to take out of their bags / special needs passengers who take longer to screen merged with frequent flyers who know the drill & could be through quickly. On more than a few occasions the x-ray scanning line just ground to a complete halt. Once through the bodyscanner & waiting for the bag to come out of the x-ray, the problem was clear – there were so many bags needing manual secondary screening, the lane the trays get pushed into for a manual search was full, so if the next tray out of the scanner needed a manual search, the line just stopped until space became available in the manual search lane. Or course it’s good that security are being thorough, but if that many bags are being flagged for manual search, employ more screeners to do this.
From check-in to clearing security had taken about 30mins – 25 of which were spent in the security search area. If it is like this today, I would not want to be flying from MAN T2 in a few weeks time when the school holidays will be in full swing.
Once through security I picked up some duty free I had been asked to get & went to buy papers, but noticed that Manchester Airport have clearly got a deal of some kind with News International, as there were several places where you could pick up The Times & The Sun for free – bet WH Smith love that. Picked up the free papers (both of which were the ones I would have bought) and headed up to the Escape Lounge.
The “Sorry, no [whatever pass] admissions, only pre-paid & business class passengers with an invite” sign was up at the entrance and I could see why. The lounge was full. We found somewhere to sit only because 2 passengers were leaving at the same time. There was a Virgin rep in the lounge (pregnant crew member who is grounded) and she came round and chatted with us & explained we could have anything off the breakfast menu free of charge – just show our boarding pass at the order point. As it happens we just settled for juice & pastries. The rep even advised us to ignore the green “Go to gate” on the monitors & only head down to the gate when it goes orange “Now boarding”. We heeded this advice.
In the past boarding at Manchester has been another pissup in a brewery experience (on behalf of Swissport) – but I am pleased to say today they got it right. As above we headed down to the gate when it said “Now boarding” – got to the gate and it was not boarding, but within a minute there was a call for Upper Class only to board – not the old “Priority boarding” call which would result in a scrum of Upper, PE & appropriate FC / DL frequent flyer card holders. Straight onboard Barberalla & forward to the Upper Class cabin. Bags stowed & champagne was served – it was not long before the cabin was full, so proves that 14 UC seats on the MCO route may not be enough.
Champagne top-ups were offered whilst general boarding continued. We’ve got an expected 8h12m flight to Orlando, with 396+7 onboard including someone with severe nut allergies, so we’ve been asked not to eat any nut products. Interestingly, we have a 2nd FSM onboard today – the main FSM is male (who made all the announcements) but there is a second one working in Upper, seemingly under the CSS.
Takeoff was uneventful & the flight routing is over towards Belfast, cross Ireland then head for Goose Bay, down to Boston, over the eastern tip of Long Island then down the eastern seaboard to Florida.
Service started as normal & drinks and crisps have been delivered. Lunch orders are being taken front-back & I suspect the beef has run out at row 9, as when I ordered it there was slight hesitation & a quick count of orders on the sheet. It turned out that my choice of starter was the problem as it had run out – but it was the only one I would eat. The CSS went round other passengers and managed to jiggle things round so I got my choice.
For info, current UC menu on VS71, 73, 75, 77, 85, 109, 121, 125, 127 & 163 (June cycle – so in theory good for a couple of months) is;
Parma ham & asparagus
Quinoa & walnut salad (v)
Pea & Mint soup
Above all served with warm breads
Filet of beef in béarnaise sauce
Wasabi roasted salmon
Wild mushroom risotto (v)
Tomato & mozzarella salad (v)
Molten chocolate sponge pudding
Classic gourmet pulled pork burger
Paella with chicken & prawns
Selection of sandwiches
Egg & tomato
Smoked salmon with cream cheese & dill
Gammon ham with Dijon mustard & tomato
I went for the Parma ham & asparagus to start. After the CSS had done some jiggling of orders I got it & very nice it was too. Interestingly, just about all the pax the CSS approached after initially telling me there was no Parma ham starter left were all served soup.
The beef main course was also good – I was about the last to be served the beef and everyone else seemed to get their sauce in a little jug, mine was already poured on the plate. Not that I am bothered, it was a good bit of beef as airline meals go – a few more of the roasted new potato wedges it was served with would have been welcome (you got about 6 – and they were small).
Passed on a dessert but went for the cheese. Passed on the Brie as I can’t stand it & went for the Gouda and the Cornish blue. Gouda clearly does not travel as it was very hard and unappetizing. The Cornish Blue on the other hand was lovely – even went back for more as there was some left over.
So food service over and it’s time to quieten the cabin. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I always find at this time of the flight the UC cabin around row 8/9 (on a LGW/MAN confg) seems really cold. I was far from the only passenger using the duvet over their legs / putting on a long sleeved top of some kind. It was good to see that the crew did not try to enforce a “close the window blinds” policy like some do during this stage of the flight. I always sit on the A side deliberately when flying to the USA as it is the sunny side & the sunlight makes reading much easier then the reading light in the suite.
Watched & thoroughly enjoyed Sulley on the IFE – interesting choice of film for on a plane though! Yes, there is a warning that it contains scenes that may be unsuitable for nervous flyers, but even so.
During this quieter time the crew made frequent walks through the cabin offering drinks, so absolutely no need to use the call-button unless you were desperate.
Currently just under 3hrs out of Orlando & it does not seem like 5hrs since we left Manchester, which is good. So far it has been a pretty smooth flight with the setbelt sign put on only once. To be honest, I wish it would go on again as there are a group of 4 at the bar (1 of whom is the CSS) who are getting quite loud (and I am partially deaf). They’re not drinking alcohol, just getting loud. Bet the pax in rows 11 & 12 are loving it, not.
The aforementioned passengers returned to their seats without a seatbelt sign & the cabin was once again quiet. About an hour later the crew came round offering food – clearly the new afternoon tea service. The sandwiches are still there, as is the scone – the only thing missing is the mini selection of cakes. Personally I preferred the big slice of carrot cake instead of the mini cakes, but each to their own.
A very uneventful early landing into Orlando followed – we touched down about 25mins early and made a quick taxi to the gate (no wait to pass the active runway inbetween the landing one & the terminal).
Our early arrival caught Immigration unaware. There were 3 desks open & kiosks not in use. Clearly the next shift started at 2:30pm & it seems US immigration shift start times mean that is when you wander into the immigration hall, logon to the PC at your leisure etc, setup your stamps slowly etc (you get the picture). We got through immigration in just over half an hour as more desks slowly became manned. I hope the people sitting at the back of economy did not have too long a wait.
Only one baggage belt in use for the flight which was by now overflowing. Thankfully as our bags had been in the Upper Class container on the aircraft, they were at the front of the belt – but bags were backed up 4-deep on the belt. Customs seemed to be giving everyone the secondary screening, but no problem as we had nothing we should not have.
Up to the train to the main terminal and was in the same carriage as the 2 FSM’s off the flight, so thanked them once again for their good service onboard.
So all in all, another good Virgin UC flight – ticked all the boxes I guess. Both the main FSM & the second one were very present in Upper throughout the flight & the CSS in Upper was good (when she wasn’t loudly yakking at the bar!)
It looks like we could not have timed this trip worse – Florida is enjoying pretty poor weather (it’s currently raining & has been most days for a week or two) and a heatwave is due in England for a good few days if you believe the forecast. Oh well, the rollercoasters are better over here!