I was originally booked to fly home on Monday 11th – but thanks to a lucky phone call to the Virgin Call Centre, I managed to get moved to fly home two days earlier to avoid the hurricane. An initial sigh of relief was felt as MCO was not expected to close until Sunday morning.
This is a Trip Report from the Upper Class cabin
Food & Drink
Then the rumour of a Saturday 5pm closure started to circulate. Apparently MCO put this on their Twitter feed, then deleted it – but not before a lot of people had seen it. Sure enough, the emails and texts from Virgin followed saying that operations may be impacted on Saturday 9th. Called the Call Centre again and was unable to change to fly home any earlier via any route, so I’d have to take my chances.
Whilst getting ready to go out for dinner on Wednesday, I received texts and emails advising the VS76 would operate today, but with an earlier departure time of 15:30. To say I was relieved is an understatement. Further messages followed advising that Disney Springs check-in would be closed, so it was airport only. Virgin are flying in 3 empty aircraft from the UK to get people home ahead of MCO’s closure and the arrival of Irma tomorrow.
Woke up this morning and went straight onto Flightradar24 to check if the positioning flights were coming in from the UK – thankfully they were (1 from Glasgow & 2 from Gatwick). Checked the VS website – all 3 flights back to the UK still showing as operating. MCO website confirms the same, so time to pack up & leave my accommodation for the airport.
I had bought food & water in for if I could not get out of Orlando. Thankfully I had friends staying on I-Drive so I went to MCO via their hotel to drop this off with them so it does not go to waste. Having seen Horburyflyers’ comments yesterday about the journey time of 60mins from I-Drive to the airport I allowed loads of time. Needless to say it was a clear SR528 and 60mph all the way this morning.
The main VS check-in was busy (hardly surprising given the circumstances). The Upper Class desk opposite was quiet though & I was checked in straight away. Clearly I was far from alone in getting to the airport early as at about 11am I got SEQ 279 (online check-in was not available for the flight last night either – can only assume the earlier departure time threw the system a bit).
The TSA experience was painless – through in under 10mins – and the agents were actually quite cheerful & smiling today. I guess the fact that everyone flying today was happy to be getting out helped (as opposed to grumpy passengers at the end of a 2 week holiday who don’t want to go home). Today’s screening regime was the “everything out of the bag, belts, shoes, watches off etc” and all adult passengers through the body scanner.
So in the airside terminal very early, duty free purchased & up to the Sky Club to sit out the wait for boarding. The Sky Club was reasonably busy, but not stupidly so. Was no problem to find somewhere to sit with a power socket nearby. Broke my “no alcohol before Noon” holiday rule as, needless to say, I am somewhat happy to be getting out of Orlando (but I am also concerned for people still here). After a while I got very cold in the Sky Club as I’d inadvertently chosen a seat under an air-con vent – whilst it’s not on a demon-setting, when it’s blowing at you non-stop it gets pretty cold.
The main departure area of the airside terminal was a complete zoo. Hardly unexpected when you had 3 VS flights, 2 BA flights & 2 Thomas Cook flights all on gates. 1 more Thomas Cook aircraft was waiting on the taxiway for a gate to become available. Everyone has got to get away by 5pm so it was just people everywhere.
The ground staff managed to do priority boarding through the scrum of people for Upper Class, so it was back onto Jersey Girl again (this was my outbound aircraft less than a week ago). The bubbles were offered as a flight time of 6h51m back to Manchester was announced, so a 3:30am arrival – i.e. before my Florida bedtime. It’s going to be a weird flight food wise as the overnight catering has been loaded, so breakfast at 9pm Florida time? Hmm… bet there won’t be many takers for that.
Unsurprisingly the flight is completely full. 467 onboard, plus 14 crew & 2 flight deck crew. Interestingly there are 4 FSM’s onboard. The crew are treating the the flight as an overnight one as all the PA’s have referred to “this evenings flight to Manchester” when you’re still on the ground before 3pm.
We pushed back about 3 mins early and followed a BA777 out to the northerly runway. We’d hardly started moving from the pushback before the Thomas Cook plane on the taxiway was starting to roll towards a now free gate. Took off then immediately turned left to head inland / to the west – there was some nasty looking weather & cloud off to the east. Did a good dog-leg to the west then started to turn east and made the coast around St Augustine. It was pretty bumpy at times and the seatbelt sign remained on for a while. The crew completely ignored passengers who were getting up opening overhead bins during this time, which was odd.
The actual FSM for the flight came round and selectively introduced herself to some UC passengers, myself included, so presumably she was working off the list of Silver / Golds. Had quite a long chat with her actually – needless to say she was pleased to be on this flight (as was everyone onboard).
Drinks orders have been taken & drinks delivered. Food orders taken & true to form certain items have run out. They only load 3 of the chicken kebab salads it would appear. When the crew did the pre-dinner wine service it was interesting to see the corkscrew they were using was not a “safety” one with shrouding round the screw bit so it could not be used as a weapon – it was a normal one that could be used to do good damage to someone.
So dinner is served at 5pm Florida time (90 mins-ish out of Orlando). This would doubtless suit some American passengers as they tend to dine early, but for me it’s too early, hence why I’m only going for the chicken kebab salad.
Passed on a starter & had the aforementioned salad as a main course as I was not hugely hungry – it hit the spot. The Vairhona chocolate cake was fine for desert, especially given that breakfast will be offered in little over 3hrs time.
So now we’re in the quiet part of the “overnight” flight when we’re supposed to want our beds making up. Given that it is 6:45pm Florida time, pretty much everyone is still wide awake.
Due to being on Florida time, I just surfed the wifi for the flight. We did have quite a few seatbelt signs coming on as it was pretty bumpy at times.
One of the FSM’s did make an interesting comment to me when chatting in the galley… she told me it would be dark when we land in Manchester. I’d never have guessed this with an ETA of about 03:30!
Breakfast was served 90mins-ish out of Manchester as normal. As predicted, due to the nocturnal hour & people being on Florida time, there were few takers. I passed and just had water as I don’t even want coffee at this time of day – I’ll hopefully sleep in my friends car on the way back to the East Midlands.
40mins out of Manchester the Captain updated us on the arrival time – 03:20. He apologised for the un-godly hour, but apparently the Thomas Cook plane waiting for a gate in Orlando only had 1hr to load all the passengers, bags & fuel & he does not know if they made it out before MCO closed. (The MCO website suggests that it did).
Uneventful landing & taxi to stand at Manchester followed. UK Border was straight through & all the e-Gates were working (unlike at LHR T5 if you believe BA’s moans in the press). The real let-down was baggage handling. It was over half an hour before a few bags came out (not even a container full in my opinion) then nothing for ages. It was 50mins from arriving on stand before I got my bag back. A very poor show by Swissport here. I know they are not used to receiving a fully loaded 747 on-stand at 3:30am, but this rescheduled flight had been planned for a couple of days so they could have got extra staff in. (Or does very early Sunday morning overtime cost them too much?)
As with the outbound flight, it did what it said on the tin. Nothing wow, but equally nothing wrong on the part of Virgin. To be honest, I don’t think passengers would have minded if stuff was not up to scratch – everyone was just pleased to be getting out of Orlando.
Fingers crossed for all those left in Florida over the next two days when Irma will hit & the aftermath after that.
Last edited by Kraken on 10 Sep 2017, 22:28, edited 1 time in total.