No one wants to fly Economy, we all dream of Lie Flat Beds and being served Champagne as we soar above the clouds. But the reality is sometimes you need to fly in the back with the other peasants…like us. The prices in Economy can be so tempting that dream trips are suddenly a reality. But is the economy product offered by Virgin Atlantic any good? Is it survivable? We review our latest flight from Manchester to Orlando on one of Virgin’s aging 747’s.
We Fly Economy more than anything else and have even flown Budget (jet2) transatlantic. We are good at suffering the basics for a few hours in order to get to the dream destinations affordably. And in short Virgin’s Economy offering is one of the best ways to cross the Atlantic on a budget.
UPDATE – It is wiith Sadness we must announce Virgin have now Retired their Iconic 747 Fleet so this review is not entirely relevent any more. We keep it up though for nostagia and posterity as the 747 is one of the most icnic planes ever to fly! Look out for our up-to-date-review of Virgin’s Economy Class on it’s other Fleet of Aircraft.
We Booked this flight as part of a hotel deal and we got a bit of a steal at 9 nights for £620 including a hire car. Booking on the Virgin website really couldn’t be simpler and we like the fact Virgin is still throwing most things in with the base price. There are not many add-ons to purchase like Budget operators. The exception is seat selection. This is charged extra or you can choose for free 24hrs before the flight (48hrs for flying club members).
As there are just the two of us we find the 48hrwindow normally gets us decent seats next to each other so we don’t pay to book seats. We do book seats as soon as the free window opens though. We are always amazed at hearing passengers whining how they have been split up despite leaving it to check-in and arriving late!
On this occasion we were lucky there were seats available in the Bubble so we booked them straight away.
Virgin’s 747 Configuration provides a number of economy seats up in the upper deck or “The Bubble” as it has been dubbed. While the service remains the same sitting in the upstairs section has several perks and bonus’s not enjoyed by the rest of the Economy class.
You will need to pre-book your seats to secure economy current rates are £30 each way per person. and £60 for an Extra-legroom seat. While these prices are very high to choose your seat in the main cabin it’s a steal to get yourself sat up in the bubble.
The first main advantage of sitting in the Bubble is the boarding process often has you on and off the plane first. This is done to accommodate the premium economy passengers who are also seated up there. At busy airports getting off first is quite a bonus as it gives you the jump on immigration queues.
Second, the Layout is a 3-3 layout instead of the 3-4-3 employed in the main cabin. This gives you a much more personal feel more like a small plane than the cattle class feel of downstairs. It is often although not always adults who are sitting up here so the atmosphere is much more relaxed. Of course, anyone is free to book seats in the Bubble so there is no guarantee, but this has been our experience (but we have heard different).
The Service by the Cabin crew is always much more prompt and personal too as they have far fewer passengers to serve and they are often the better crew members who are given the good “gig”. And Finally, the Elevated position gives much better visibility out of the windows. This is slightly offset by the fact the window seat doesn’t touch the side of the plane and instead, there is a large storage bin. so it’s plus points for storage but minus points for having to lean over to enjoy the view.
Overall the Bubble offers a much-improved experience. We would book it without hesitation every time we fly economy as it makes the experience really not feel like economy at all! The downside is. Only the very few first people to book will have access to the bubble. It sells out super fast so if you are not booking the first few weeks the flight is on sale you are likely to miss out. If you see a seat available book it without hesitation.
Holidays can take months and months of planning and you become highly invested in them. So when things go wrong it can be highly stressful. It pays to have a good company on your side who are actually able and willing to assist. So this flight gave us the added bonus opportunity to see how Virgin cope when lady luck takes a sh*t on your plans.
In the days leading up to our departure, we were very busy but this didn’t stop us from noticing that the 2017 hurricane season was fast getting out of hand. With a week to go, Hurricane Irma was picking up power and taking aim right at our destination. With us, due to fly on Monday and the estimated landfall being the Monday it was time to call it quits and see what Virgin could do for us.
They quickly and offered us a choice of full cancellation with a full money back or rescheduling any time in the next two months. You can’t say fairer than that really. The phone conversation took over 3 hours but we were far from the only people virgin had to deal with that weekend so fair enough. The holiday was moved for two weeks, and a complimentary upgrade on our hotel was offered as there was no room at the original inn… err Hotel.
The whole ordeal was highly stressful and we lost quite a bit of money on other non-refundable bookings we had made but at least Virgin was not a pain and helped us out in our hour of need. The only downside was we lost our reserved seats up in the bubble.
It also took an incredible amount of time to reimburse us for this but we got it back eventually.
Because of this, we needed to check-in within the 48-hr window(for flying club 24hr otherwise) to get our seats. We tend to do this as soon as possible to secure the best seats for us. At 48hr +1min they still wanted £30 a seat but as the clock rolled over it went to £0. There was still a good selection available and we booked a window and a middle seat together for the trip out. We would have to remember to do this again when in Florida. With this, we went through the online check-in procedure which is a doddle and saves time at the airport.
As we were checking bags we still had to visit the check-in desk at manchester’s terminal 2. Here they re-issued us a proper boarding card took us back and we were off to security in no time. Security was fine, well as fine as it can be. And then we headed to the terminal building for some breakfast and shopping.
Gate and Boarding
There isn’t a lot to say about this the crew are very organized and call you onto the plane in an organized fashion. We are not pushers and simply sit comfortably until we need to. We have our seats booked and don’t understand the Scrum to get on the plane. We are going to be on for a while.
The crew does a great job of getting everyone sat down. The 3-4-3 meant we were sat with a random person which can be a gamble but he seemed pleasant enough. More annoying were the people behind who seemed unable to work the touchscreen without punching it, and they seemed to find the FREE seat-to-seat text messaging very entertaining!
Once in the air, we noticed some free seats so kindly asked the air hostess if we could move. To which she agreed. No more headbanging.
In the main cabin, the seats are in a 3-4-3 formation which is a fairly poor configuration. The Cabin feels fairly claustrophobic despite being actually a huge space. This layout means no one really gets personal space and you are almost guaranteed to sit with a stranger. While this isn’t the end of the world if your seatmate is friendly (and Clean!). But even then it becomes problematic as most single travelers like to get some sleep. This means disturbing them every time you need to pop out for the toilet, or to get a drink from the galley.
This is just one of the downsides of flying economy and most operators have a similar layout for long haul.
The 747 uses older style leather seats that have seen better days now but for an 8-10 hour flight are comfortable enough. The legroom is fine for us but at 5ft10 and 4ft11 we are not giants! Taller people may well struggle. But there is the option of extra legroom seats as usual.
After watching virgins, frankly Odd, Safety video we were faced with a rather large queue to get out of Manchester. it took over 30mins to wait for a free runway before we were off into the blue.
Very quickly the crew came round with the first service offering a choice of drinks. Gin and tonic is my go-to Airline drink and Kate had Bacardi and coke. Accompanied by some Cheese and onion mini Pretzels, of which you get far too few! We then started tucking into Virgin’s excellent IFE system. More details are below.
After a short while, the crew began the Meal service. Virgin’s main meal offering is nothing to get excited about but it’s perfectly edible. We both opted for a teriyaki chicken dish out of two meat options and a veggie. The Penne pasta offered to vegetarians made us glad we eat meat! The starter was a bowl of leaves and not very inspiring. The main meal was basically a microwave meal. It went down fine but you wouldn’t ask for more! this was accompanied by some bread and some cheese and crackers of sorts. For dessert, we received a small pot of deliciously salted caramel mouse from GU. It was sublime but We must stress the TINY part. You are meal is also paired with a choice of Wine but we use the term pair loosely. It’s red or white.
The dishes are cleared away quickly and then they bring some after-dinner coffee or tea. After a while, another drinks service comes round, and then you are left to your own devices for a while. It is worth noting that while not advertised you are quite welcome to make your way to the galley and ask for extra drinks. We find the drinks service on a long flight to be a little sparse but this is easily remedied by asking. You could even use the call button but we are a little too British for this.
After chugging along quite happily for a bit alternating between the IFE and the Views of Canada and the Eastern Seaboard. The highlight of the trip occurs. Ice cream! This flight was a small FAB lolly but we have had Cornetto in the past. And then they serve Afternoon tea, cheese and pickle sandwich followed by a Salted Caramel “treat” and crisps (chips).
We were not hungry but quite happily demolished the offering. Again the desert was fantastic but so so tiny! Before we knew it the captain was winding back the engines and we were losing height ready for our arrival into Orlando.
The IFE system is class-leading. The Seatback touchscreens are a little on the clunky side but with a bit of coercing, they can be made to do as you ask. The Screens themselves are pretty clear and well up to the job. The Vera system is utterly fantastic though. The selection is quite astounding really. With a huge selection of films some still at the cinema and most well before even DVD release. Of course, this limits you to recently released films but that’s what most of us want. There is also a large Kids selection and a large range of TV Shows and music as well. It really is one of the best systems around and a great way to pass the time.
Check out the Current selection here this roster is updated monthly and includes the coming soon so you can see what is coming next month. But unfortunately, you don’t know what will get axed to make room!
On arrival at Orlando, we were held on the plane for quite a while as the Upper and Premium class passengers were allowed off first. Frustrating but it’s just the way it is. Being near the back meant an even longer wait. The Shock of the trip was to come!
As we moved forward through the Cabin we were totally aghast at the STATE of the place. We have hundreds of flights under our belts and I have never seen such a disgrace. It was like a bomb had gone off in the cabin. Rubbish, Blankets, Pillows, Food, Magazines, and even discarded personal belongings. We really couldn’t quite believe the uncouthness of our fellow travelers. This is no shade on Virgin and Our hearts go out to the poor crew who now have to tidy this mess. Seriously people can you not tidy up around yourselves a bit. We struggle to see how these people get through life!
Anyway, in through immigration and we were expecting the worst. Last in line at a busy time when the Airport was undergoing renovations. But really we breezed through without an issue and straight off to Virgin’s Car Hire* provider Alamo to pick up the Mustang. We had used the online check-in so we were straight to the car and off into the Florida sun.
* Observant people may have noticed mentions of drinking on the flight and see the obvious clash with drinking and then picking up the hire car. Well as the driver I had stopped after the first drink + wine with the meal (6+ hours before driving) and subsequent drink services were only for Kate. I stuck to coke…and made up for it once at the hotel!
We were on a red-eye back home which left just after sunset and arrived just before sunrise.
The Return leg was much like the first. There were fewer drink services but we were still welcome to ask for more at the Galley. We had not been assigned a seatmate so getting in and out was fine. The meal service was the same only we were also offered a light breakfast just before Manchester once it had got light instead of the Afternoon Tea on the way out.
The Remarkable thing about this flight was the speed of it. On red-eye flights we tend to have dinner/supper then a few drinks with a couple of films then fall into a horribly broken sleep until the sun comes up. We attempted the same procedure but as the second film came to an end and we were beginning to think about sleep, the horizon began brightening. within about 30-40 mins the sun was up and it was daylight again. we were still a few hours out from Manchester but had barely had a chance to get any sleep.
This isn’t meant as a criticism or compliment just an observation. It was pretty staggering how fast we had gone through the night.
Upon Arrival, in Manchester, the disembarkment procedure was similar to Orlando. The cabin was in a slightly better state than the outward leg. We guess people make less mess asleep?
Overall the product offered by Virgin Atlantic is very good. There are all the little frills that Budget airlines have robbed from us in recent years and things keep happening on the flight to keep you entertained and the journey broken up. An 8 hour + flight is a long time to spend in one small seat but with the exceptional entertainment and constant food services the flight whizzes by. Overall when Flying with Virgin, even in Economy we still look forward to the flight, unlike many carriers who have eroded the experience until it’s a chore, something to be suffered.
Have Your Say?
Let us know if you have traveled with Virgin recently. Did you fly Economy or one of the upgraded services? Were you on a 747 or a different plane such as the 787 (Dreamliner)? Just leave us a comment below if you have anything to say about our review. Or ask away if you have any questions.