Live Blog Day 1 – Virgin Atlantic London Heathrow to New York City

December 1st, 2021

So after a seriously stressful build-up, we spent the day before frantically packing and finalizing plans, printing out a forest full of documents, to make sure we had paper copies of everything, and then finally hit the sack, still very stressed about the constantly evolving Omicoron Variant.

The Alarm went off around 7:15 for our 16:15 flight, a full 9 hours before we flew. This was mainly as we were flying out of London Heathrow and we were still in Manchester. So a long drive lay before us and we wanted to be ready for any eventuality.

Terminal 3 Heathrow Tree

We loaded up the car and headed out. Normally this would have been a joyous drive. Christmas Tunes on full blast as we headed off to the Airport in high spirits for our amazing adventure in the Big Apple. However due to the uncertainty surrounding the trip we were definitely still in a defensive mode. Just ready for something else to go wrong. We had joked we would not be confident of getting there until we exited Immigration at JFK, the truth was even that didn’t convince us we would be allowed to stay. Things really were moving that fast.

Still, while we were reading for the disappointment you still have to act as if everything is going ahead, so we plowed our way down the M1 towards the Airport. As we joined the M1 the Sat Nav told us we had 3 hours to go. That would see us arrive 4.15 hours before the flight and tons of time to get through security, past the myriad of document checks, and into our lounge to try and believe we were actually getting on the plane.

3 things occurred that nearly put pay to these plans. First, shortly after joining the motorway, an alert popped up on the Sat Nav of an accident at the M1/M25 Junction, this was only showing 20-minute Delays but would need watching.

Sure enough the further we went the longer the Delay and the later the planned arrival time! It got to the point we would only get to the airport 2 hours before the flight and was getting worse, and then at this inopportune time, the Tire Pressure Warning light blinked on, Argh!

Pulling into the next services an initial inspection showed no especially flat tires and a quick top-up of air seemed to alleviate the issue. We had planned a stop anyway so grabbed a coffee and bathroom break while we were there, and then plowed on, still concerned about the approaching traffic situation.

As we got to around 40 miles of the 2-hour tailback at the M25, google decided there was another way around the smash and routed us down the A43-Banbury then the M40. This ould take a little longer than planned but a whole lot less than the huge tailbacks around the M25!

So 2 Crisis averted and we were heading for Heathrow. We arrived at the Parking Garage around 3.45 hours bore the flight with tons of time to go, but then we checked the news and there were reports of further tightening of restrictions coming into the USA. Panic set about but after careful reading, these were just rumors and nothing was likely to happen today, leaving us in the clear.

We left the car in the capable hands of Purple Parking and headed for the Terminal. Virgin are back in their T3 home and we could not wait to fly with them again.

T3 Check-in

Terminal 3 Heathrow

Virgin use a new Fly Ready Programme and we had pre-loaded all our documents to the App and as such Check-in was a breeze. All our Vaccines, Tests, and information were all Pre-Approved and we just went straight through check-in with no Delays.

Security was fairly quiet and again we breezed through there. We hit Duty-free to grab some Rum for our customary Egg-Nog drinking sessions in the States and then headed to our Lounge.

Finally, as we sat down with a Runway Facing Seat and a Glass of Bubbly (Just Sparkling English Wine) we started to believe… a little.

Still, there was little joy, this travel experience had been so nerve-wracking there was a no eureka moment just a series of small wins but an expectation something was still going to go wrong.

But we enjoyed our lounge and tried to relax and get in the holiday mood and by the time boarding came around nothing had imploded and we headed for the gate. There was a slight confusion at the Gate as our Boarding Passes had not been marked as Fly Ready and they wanted to see our docs again, which would have been no issue, but there were happy with the Fly Ready Confirmation and we were onto our flight.

Virgin Atlantic Economy to New York JFK

Phew, this flight was a long time in the making and has been canceled and rescheduled at least 3 times officially and probably twice that unofficially, along with another flight we have with Virgin that has been rescheduled about the same. We have been thwarted so many times in getting to the states it really was hard to believe it was happening.

We were booked into Economy and we had toyed with getting upgraded but wanted to know what the experience was like post covid for most of the passengers that fly Transatlantically. We wanted to see what had changed and what was the same along with how well the Covid Protocols are enacted on the large flagship carriers. We have had far too much experience of late with the budget carriers we want to see what the Flag Bearers were up to.

The Plane was one of Virgins Brand New A350-1000, well we say brand new these have now been in service for over 2 years now but a lot of that time they have been pretty much idle, we have seen the lying around various airports as we have flown to various European destinations. Our flight was to be on Virgin’s Red Velvet, a particular poignant name for us and our love affair with the cake.

Virgin Atlantic A350 1000

We are putting together a full Review so will keep this a little brief.

Full Review found here

The Cabin – we really like the cabin. Even though we were in economy the finish is really nice. The In-seat screen is HUGE, and the seat is comfortable with a really nice adjustable headrest the really does allow some great sleep and almost removes the need for a head pillow. There are some really cool features in the IFE too such as the Tail cam and great tracking map, which best of all does NOT require you to stop your movie to keep track of progress.

The Plane – Getting a bit plane geek here but the aircraft itself is not a patch in its major rival the 787 Dreamliner at least from a passenger perspective. Maybe the Pilots or bean counters at the airline like the plane, but to fly in it feels like a step back from the Dreamliner.

The Engines are really noisy, the plane feels far less powerful than the Dreamliner and seemed to be constantly on power, however, this is not the case and it actually has more powerful engines, There were also many other noises that are almost inaudible in the Dreamliner so we think there must be reduced sound deadening. The Flaps were really loud when actuating and there was a real audible clank from the parking brake, something we have never heard on any plane!

Really it just feels less polished, but as we say we are not pilots, and the airlines love the specs of the plane and the economy and range are both improved over the Dreamliner. Let’s be clear, for the average passenger the Cabin is 100% the most important factor and we loved it, but we expected the plane to feel much more modern and it just felt a bit rougher around the edges.

The Service – We have been reading some really bad things about the Service on Virgin post Pandemic. The Shutdowns have been really hard on airlines and with Virgin making most of its schedule up from transatlantic flights it has been harder hit than most. So we worried the legendary service may have been trimmed down to save cost.

We were actually experiencing this prior to the pandemic as little things like breakfast and drinks service seemed reduced.

This was an issue. There was only a single drinks service, followed by dinner, then tea and coffee, with afternoon tea arriving shortly before landing.

The dinner service was a little trimmed down, but we had a dessert service just afterward which seemed a little odd, but made up fr the light dinner, we actually thought we were just getting biscuits for dessert! The Plant-based dessert was a nice idea but had a funky taste that was not so good.

The main was a choice of vegetable pasta or chicken pasta. We both chose the chicken which came covered in pumpkin seeds and some sweet potato, the pasta was almost jelly as was the chicken and the flavor was fairly bland, it was certainly not great even by airline food.

Along with dinner came a wine service, the offering now comes in a can which causes quite a stir among dome people. The White claimed to be a Sauvignon Blanc and the Red was Malbec. It is a little disconcerting to have red wine fizz when you open the bottle…sorry can.

Really we are not fans and Canned wine is definitely in the “it ain’t broke so don’t fix it” category for us. We hope they bring back the individual bottles soon, or better still serve it live out of full bottles! However, we have certainly had worse wines and we managed to make it vanish easily enough.

After the initial drinks service and wine with dinner, no more drinks were offered. We called for an extra sometime after dinner and we were rather begrudgingly provided with another Gin and Tonic and a Vodka and Coke and informed that was about all that was left. We were glad this was a short flight, only 6 and a half hours and not a longer push over to the west coast.

Afternoon tea was also disappointing. We received a small sandwich and some biscuits, along with another tea/coffee service and there was the obligatory scone and jam…but no CREAM.

I am sorry Virgin, but it’s not TEA if there is no cream!

Of course, we say this a little light-heartedly, but also NOT. It is really criminal, for us English to not get clotted cream with our Teas and it really is one of the unsung heroes of Virgin’s service. If this is not brought back it will be a big miss! Seriously just charge us all a Cream Tax if you must, but bring back our clotted cream!

Overall the service is definitely reduced, there was a whole snack service missing, plus a single drinks service is quite mean even on a short evening flight, and the fact we were not really expected to call for more meant this is definitely a cost-cutting measure. Hopefully, as things improve then these extra touches may be re-added.

Crew – Cabin Crew have to be exceptionally rude or incompetent for us to say a single bad word about them and we have never seen anything close to that from a Virgin Crew. If anything the crew seemed happier and friendlier than ever and seemed as joyous as us to be finally back in the skies. The Cabin Crew are one of the joys of flying Virgin and this flights Crew was no different from any other Virgin flight.

IFE – The IFE was also disappointing. The System itself is amazing. Easily the best IFE system we have used. However, there were quite limited film options. Our Past experience with Vera has been amazing with almost limitless choices. But we found the library loaded up was pretty poor.

There were some of the latest movies and we do acknowledge the movie release schedule the last year or so had been pretty rubbish so there were always going to be limited choices, but it was the back catalog that really let the system down. There were a few “classics” but nothing that made us jump for joy and for a December flight to New York the lack of ANY Christmas Movies was a real letdown!

The Screen was easily the biggest er have seen in an Economy Class, and the touch was super responsive. We are all Smartphone users now so poor touch screens really do not cut it now. But this modern and up-to-date system was perfect. It just needed more content!

Covid Restrictions – There are three main elements to the airline’s Covid Safety, along with the testing and vaccine requirements that make flying pretty safe and completely unfairly targetted by restrictions in our eyes In the UK you can cram into crowded football stadiums, attend packed concerts and pile into tiny unventilated pubs filed with drunk people sweating and breathing all over each other and fave little to no restrictions, but try and get aboard a plane and you are faced with a myriad of measures to ensure safety, but it’s the airlines that are shut down first and reopened last…

Virgin’s main three elements are industrial-grade cleaning and sanitization. We know these are new planes but there were operating surgery clean! Speaking of which modern airliners all have medical-grade air filters that refresh the air in the cabin every few minutes. People think of planes as stuffy germ-filled tubes, but this is some of the freshest cleanest air you will ever breathe, plucked right out of the upper atmosphere and run through incredibly efficient filters to remove all traces of bacteria and viruses, it also comes in above your head and out by your feet so you are not sharing that air with anyone but you closest seat pals.

and finally, there are mask requirements on all airlines at present. From the second toy step into the airport until you leave you will need to wear a mask. This is a big turn-off for some and let’s not pretend ANYONE likes wearing a mask, let alone for hours on end, but it is the price we pay at the minute for our traveling passion.

Virgin does enforce the rule and even got a telling off from the pilot for non-compliance because of the small number who chose to flout the rules. Naturally, we have to unmask to eat and drink but get it straight back on when finished.

The flight was pretty uneventful. The 4:15 pm flight time meant it was almost dark as we departed and stayed that way for the duration, there is not much to see over the pitch-black Atlantic at night.

Around Halfway we had a little celebration, we were now past the point of no return and would be landing in JFK whatever happens, so we were now finally DEFINITELY going to America!

The last hour was a little better and we got some nice views of the eastern seaboard over Boston and long Island. We got a distant glimpse of the city as we came into land but nothing too spectacular.

JFK Arrivals

We were a little nervous about the JFK Arrival halls. We have heard a few tales of huge queues and manic disorganization. But we slipped straight through in a really short time. We were asked to show our vaccine proof, which was no issue, and got through to the baggage in less than 40 mins. Kate’s bag was first off and then we had an agonizing 15-minute wait for Mine.

Normally our bags come through almost together so when they don’t there is that worry that one of them has jumped onto a different plane. But it turned up eventually and off we went.

Getting into Manhattan

We usually use the Air Train and Subway Combo to get into the City from JFK but it was now nearly 8 pm New York time, or 1 am our time and we had been up for 19+ hours so just decided to Uber it. The cost was about $75 and took us nearly an hour fighting through New York’s Gridlock. But was pretty much effortless which seemed like a good deal right now. And it delivered us right to our hotel door.

AKA Times Square

We had decided as we were here for a little longer than usual we wanted something bigger than the usual New York Hotel Shoe Box. So we decided to try out the Long Stay Hotel Brand AKA. for a similar price to a regular NYC Hotel we got out own apartment.

Full Kitchen, Large American Fridge FReezer, giant bed, large bathroom with walk-in shower. Dining area, lounge area, and our own side office where I can do a little work in the morning without disturbing Kate.

It seemed really perfect and cost around $2500 for 7 nights, less than most mid-range hotels. The only thing it lacked was a good view, but we had plenty of those lined up anyway, and we did get a view of the Times Square Ball and the Glow of the square with the H&M Building in the background.

A little Wander

Time Square

We dumped our stuff and headed out for a look around. Finally, back in the Big Apple, we were over the moon. Kate really wanted to head over to see the Rockerfella tree, but unfortunately, it was the lighting Ceremony and it had run over quite a bit and the crowds were still impassable. So we made do with Times Square and the big lights of the City, before heading back to the apartment to crash.

We were really exhausted and knew jetlag would have us up really early tomorrow so an early night was perfect.

Live Blog – Trip Report

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