Virgin Atlantic recently ordered 16 new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. The first of the 16 new aircraft was delivered in October, with 15 more expected within the next three years. This was the inaugural flight from London Gatwick in the UK to Atlanta in the United States.
The flight originated from Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, but I caught the connecting flight to Atlanta from London Gatwick. The flight was scheduled to depart at 14h00 and check-in commenced at 11h30. The process was seamless, thanks to the dedicated Upper Class check-in counter. I had my passport checked and my luggage weighed and tagged sooner than I expected. I got my boarding pass in record time and I proceeded to the lounge.
Lounge & Boarding
Virgin Atlantic operates two lounges at Gatwick – the V-Room and the Clubhouse. I walked the seven minutes to the V-Room on the first floor, which has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the runway. There was a large selection of food and drink, with waiters offering a steady supply of hors d’oeuvres. The password to the complimentary Wi-Fi was on the menu and logging on was pretty straightforward, whilst I found the speed impressive. The V-Room also offers unique services, such as a ‘Twilight Check-in’, whereby you check in the night before, and then the next morning you proceed straight through the ‘Premium Security Channel’ – avoiding the security queues – to the V-Room. When my flight was called, I walked another seven minutes to the boarding gate. I boarded immediately, along with the other Upper Class passengers, my jacket was taken, and I was offered orange juice, water, wine and champagne.
The new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner deployed on this route has 264 seats, with 31 in Upper Class, 35 in Premium Economy, and 198 in Economy. The ‘suites’ in Upper Class are set in three rows arranged vertically down the aisle, ensuring direct aisle access for each seat. Virgin Atlantic claims to have some of the biggest Upper Class seats in the business, and they can’t be far off the mark. The seats are 22 inches wide, and turn into a 33-inch wide, six foot six inches long, totally flat bed at the touch of a button. The seats are complete with an ottoman, which doubles as a seat for guests and storage unit. There’s also in-seat power and onboard entertainment in the form of over 400 hours of movies, 70 hours of TV and over 285 hours of music. The 11-inch screen is adjustable to suit your seating position. Passengers can connect their own devices and access it via the screen. I was able to charge my iPad from the power source provided just under the seat. The aircraft is equipped with Wi-Fi, so passengers can stay connected at an extra cost of £15 for each flight.
We were in the air as scheduled. The menu was handed out not long after we reached cruising altitude, and I was excited to read that the menu was conceptualised by celebrity chef Lorraine Pascale. On offer were organic spicy lentil soup, ballotine of Scottish salmon, and pear and blue cheese salad for starters; macaroni cheese with pancetta, sweet and sour pork ball with ‘sunshine’ rice, and chili con carne with calypso rice for main course; and salted caramel chocolate pudding and vanilla cream profiteroles for dessert. I opted for the pear and blue cheese salad, chili con carne and the profiteroles. It was all delicious.
We touched down smoothly and on time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and passengers were quickly ushered off the plane into the waiting hands of border control where a long queue was forming. I was pleasantly surprised that I was not delayed due to concern regarding the Ebola virus, even though my trip originated in Nigeria. I was waved through and quickly claimed my luggage.
The acquisition of the Dreamliner has given Virgin Atlantic the opportunity to flex its muscles in the luxury travel space, once again.