The new developments at OR Tambo may finally be starting to come to completion, but for airport-weary travellers, the departure terminus remains a nightmare. The drop-off point is shambolic to say the least, with queues of vehicles battling to get up the access ramp, and chaos prevailing once there. Point and pray seems the operative procedure. Once inside, the old architectural long line of desks remains, and even though the Virgin check-in desks are clearly demarcated, one needs the patience of Job and the perseverance of Hercules to get to them past the throngs of all the night-time departing passengers and seemingly thousands of ‘waving-off’ family members and friends. Two pieces of advice for departing passengers – go four hours early – at least – and try and take a sense of humour with you. Virgin’s check-in staff are all fast and friendly and super efficient. There’s also a dedicated Premium Economy Class check-in. Thank you.
Premium Economy is a godsend for people whose businesses won’t pay for a Business Class seat and those who can’t stand sitting in ‘the village’ at the back of the bus. There’s a good seat pitch on all Virgin’s aircraft in this class – a solid 95cms – and with a width of 53cms – both of which compare with many airlines’ business class – you really can see and feel the difference immediately. (Business Traveller internationally has voted Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy as the best in its class in the world)
You’ll love the leg room and the feeling of space immediately, and will also appreciate the adjustable lumbar support and flexible headrest. The seating configuration in this cabin on the 747 aircraft we flew in each direction was 2x4x2 – which means you need to pre-book well in advance to avoid sitting in the middle section. Interestingly, thanks to the seat configuration, when the passengers in front reclined their seats, there was no resultant feeling of claustrophobia which is all too common in standard economy class, and I felt I could move around in and out of my own seat quite freely. Pre-flight drinks are on offer as you board, and meals are chosen from a menu and even come with real cutlery on the tray. To my mind the meals could have been better –they still retain an economy rather than business class feel to them.
DURING THE FLIGHT:
It would appear that Virgin’s people love to work for the airline. The crew tends to be chatty, helpful and fun – although, as with most other airlines, they still mysteriously disappear once the lights go down.
Water and soft drinks remain available in the galleys and, for the most part, people seem to hunker down and sleep anyway (as opposed to being in economy class where passengers always want to extract maximum value from their ticket price by eating, watching, drinking and eating everything they can get their hands on).
Seat back TVs offer a great selection of entertainment to the point where I felt spoilt for choice – and decided on one movie for each leg of my journey – but could have easily watched several if I were so inclined.
My biggest bugbear, though, with paying for a Premium Economy seat has to do with the available toilet facilities – which are few, small and cramped. Sited next to the economy class passenger toilets, the small sign that says ‘Premium Economy passengers only’ is completely ignored by everyone, to the point that by the time the plane is approaching its destination the state of these facilities leaves a massive amount to be desired.
Heathrow Terminal 3 is feeling and looking a little tired. I, on the other hand looked better and felt better after a good night’s sleep. I appreciated the priority baggage handling and was off to my land destination fairly smoothly (priority baggage delivery did not happen on the return landing inJohannesburg).
Well worth the extra overall – but please beware of the toilets.
A return fare will cost around R16 000.00 per person for travel midweek in mid-January 2009 returning at the end of the month. The fare quoted at the time of going to print was R9 200.00 per passenger with ‘taxes, fees and surcharges’ making up the other R6 800.00. Upgrading to Upper Class would cost an addition R21 796.00 on the flights quoted to me.
Your travel agent for more information or go to virgin-atlantic.com