There is a Vlog to accompany this review. You can find it over on YouTube.
This is a Trip Report from the Upper Class cabin
Food & Drink
Forgive the length, but there’s a lot to cover…
Back in September we decided it would be good to get away ahead of Christmas so we booked a trip to Barbados. Originally scheduled to fly out on Wednesday, that got rescheduled to Friday when the Wednesday flight was cancelled three weeks out. Then six days out, the Friday flight was cancelled and we were rescheduled to Saturday. The return flight was also cancelled; annoyingly they proposed to move that forward a day, cutting two days off of the trip. Two hours on hold to VS before the return got moved back a day, so the trip remained as planned, just shifting back a day (or three) from the original plans. There had also been a few changes of flight number, from VS131 (LHR-BGI) to VS186 (LHR-BGI-ANU) and back. Hotel reservations and covid tests had to be moved around as a result.
To enter Barbados you require a negative covid-19 PCR test taking three days prior to arrival. I’d originally arranged tests with Boots at their Liverpool Street branch for £120 each. Unfortunately these couldn’t be rescheduled following the last flight move, so new bookings were made with Harley Street Health Centre for £175 each. Harley Street were very efficient with the full visit only taking about fifteen minutes. Results came back a little after 6pm the following day.
Test results in, there was then an online immigration form to complete, which needed photos of passports and test certificated uploaded.
So on to the day itself. We got an Uber to Heathrow. It breezed through London in under an hour. On arrival a Terminal 2, there was a queue to enter the building. This was moving at a walking pace and only took a few minutes. Inside the terminal was chaotic! It wasn’t clear where you needed to go for which airline, or where queues started and finished. Virgin’s check-in desks were in the back row with no indication how to get to them. After about five minutes searching around, we finally joined what everyone believed was a queue for Upper Class check-in. I say believed because no-one in the queue appeared to be 100% certain! And there weren’t any staff around to assist. The queue took almost two hours and it was impossible to maintain any form of social distance in the crammed in terminal. The flight time kept getting pushed back. I overheard a Heathrow manager tell someone that the airport had asked airlines to delay departures as they were struggling to check people in. Most of the Virgin staff seemed to be on their first day back post-furlough and were using different Terminal 2 kits to what they were used to. Check-in took a few minutes whilst we waited for the system to be updated with a new flight time so that our bags could be checked-in; it had just passed the system cut-off time for baggage.
On to security. No Fast Track and fairly long regular lines. At the automatic gate to enter security it flashed up that I must proceed directly to the gate. I joined the queue expecting it to take about twenty minutes. But then a manager walk up to the rope line next to me, opened it and sent me to the front of the queue for a newly opened belt. So security only took two minutes. Everyone is asked to remove shoes currently, rather than just those who fail the first screening.
Upper Class passengers can use the Plaza Premium Lounge. But as we had to go straight to the gate, there was just time to stop at Pret for a few bags of crisps.
The flight was departing from gate B39, the furthest gate on the satellite. At pace it took nine minutes to walk. At the gate they had already boarded passengers, so we were straight on board.
Boarding the flight, the warm greeting from the crew started to ease the stress. We were finally onboard an aircraft due to fly to Barbados! What’s more it turned out to be a brand new Airbus A350-1000 on its maiden passenger flight. ‘Purple Rain’ G-VRNB.
There were no welcome drinks as part of the reduced service because of covid precautions. However the FSM did come over, introduce herself, and welcome us back as frequent fliers – the nearest thing to a frequent flier given a nine month hiatus.
There were still other passengers to board – about 50 – so the flight time push back a couple of times. Cups of water were offered around. Finally at about 12.45, the doors closed and we pushed back. By Heathrow standards we had a short taxi before we were in the air with a flight time out eight hours.
At the seat, there was an amenity kit, plus a new personal health pack containing hand sanitiser, wipes and spare masks.
There was a video to reassure about onboard cleaning and hygiene, and a crew member made a couple of announcements about the procedures followed. This included ‘malicious cleaning’ of the bathrooms – I think she meant ‘meticulous’ but it did amuse me.
Shortly after takeoff a drinks trolley came down the aisle. I assume this was also part of minimising contact so that a crew member only comes into contact with you once. Champagne, two red and two white wines were available, plus beers, miniatures of spirits and cans of soft drinks. The spirits weren’t the premium brands previously served in Upper; standard Jack Daniels rather than Gentleman Jack for example. No snacks were offered with the drinks. Pre-armed with this knowledge from another trip report, the Pret crisps served a purpose.
The meal service came through next, with everything served in wrappers on one tray.
There was no start, a choice of three main courses, plus a dessert and cheese. The main course choices were:
• Duck leg confit with garlic roast squash, potato dauphinoise
• Braised fillet of Atlantic cod with chive mash, wild mushrooms, plum tomatoes and white wine butter sauce
• Lemongrass and ginger rice cakes with mild sweet potato curry sauce
The dessert was a coconut lemon tartlet and the cheese selection was Cheddar, Brie and Stilton.
The main course tasted better than it looked. But eating from a cardboard box was a great experience. Particularly when the plastic cover was really hard to open.
After the meal we sat in the Loft for a while drinking miniature of JD from plastic cups. Family groups were allowed to socialise in this area.
I didn’t use the entertainment system but instead binged old episodes of Spooks on my iPad. The middle section of the flight was uneventful.
About ninety minutes out, a second meal service came around. Again all pre-wrapped on a tray. There was no choice. It consisted off:
• Brie and chilli jam malted roll
• Sweet potato falafel beetroot wrap
• Scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam
• Chocolate and salted caramel éclair
• Passionfruit slice
• Yuzu macaron
Tea and coffee were offered alongside.
After the afternoon tea, preparations for landing started. There were the usual ‘pack your things away and use the washrooms’ drill and then reminders about entry requirements for Barbados.
We landed just before 5pm local time. Disembarkation was through door L1 onto buses to the terminal. Groups of about twenty were allowed on each bus. Unlike BA flights I’ve taken over the summer, there was no attempt to keep people seated to maintain social distance until it was their turn to leave.
All things considered, it was a good flight. Striped of much of the premium service, but with an FSM and crew trying their best to maintain that sparkle of the Virgin Service. The Heathrow element was really bad. I can’t see government agreeing to relax flight rules if the airport can’t maintain social distancing. Virgin really needs to move back to Terminal 3 quickly, because their T2 experience is very poor compared to BA at T5.