I was very excited about this trip as it was my first time to California.
So the day started at about 04:30 with a quick walk around the block to wake up, shower, then jump in the car and head to LHR at 06:00. Traffic was good on M25 but sluggish on the M4 (can’t wait for the bus lane to go!). So arriving slightly late to the DTCI (using a private car), we were “greeted” (the check in agent just stood there gorping) and told “Get your bags out the car”. The porters took our bags all of the 4/5 meters to the check in desk where we spent some time while she was checking in our bags, we had told them in advance how many bags we would be taking but obviously this didn’t make a difference.
Finally, purple boarding card in hand, we made our way to the private security channel, where we would have to queue! Just a couple of people in front, but one person not understanding that you need to take all metal off from about your person, then failing to take his laptop out of his bag, delayed us only a few minutes and we were through into the delights of T3 departures.
Knowing that we didn’t want anything of value from the shops, we quickly got some painkillers and hair gel from Boots, then took the short walk to the Clubhouse. We were kindly greeted and asked if were familiar with the facilities (maybe they should have a system that knows if people have been before?), and were back where we belonged. We decided to go sit down behind the bar and watch the plane movements and enjoy a couple of drinks, after a while we remembered we had yet to print off our tickets for the Alcatraz tour we had booked. So off to the business centre and I was surprised to see how new the laptops were and soon had the tickets printed off. Then it was time for breakfast. After ordering we noticed that the stairs to the sky lounge had be closed off saying no entry and speculated as to why, and being a bit disappointed about not being able to spend some time out on the roof garden (however cold it was). Breakfast soon arrived, pancakes for me and Eggs Benedict with a fruit salad for Guy. Both were great, I found the portion of pancakes just right with the bacon being lovely and crispy. After breakfast we retreated to the seats in front of the projector and watched a bit of the news (after figuring out how to get audio through the headphones rather than a strange beeping). Then, having noticed the sign not letting you up the stairs had gone, it was a quick visit to the roof garden, and then relaxed in the sky lounge. Unfortunately we noticed the VS007 was now boarding so we headed down to the gate.
I can’t remember what gate we had, but it was a bit of a walk. It was great to see a priority lane for UC (I think this is more guaranteed than ever now at LHR), but upon entering the UC line one person from the long Economy line shouted “Oi, we’ve all be queuing, get to the back” to which we politely ignored and soon had our boarding passes scanned and wished a pleasant flight. Boarding hadn’t started but I actually like getting to the gate before to play a bit of “what class are they in?”. We didn’t get to play for long as after about 5 mins they invited those in UC etc. to start boarding. We were again wished a pleasant flight by the member of staff at the top of the bridge, and were warmly greeted onboard and directed to our seats.
This was my first time on a Virgin Airbus (A340-600), and I could instantly see how much nicer and cleaner it looked compared to the 747’s. Once sat in my seat, I instantly noticed that the chair is much smaller and everything was much more cramped than on a 747. Most noticeable was the arm rest, which seemed to be behind me and could only be used in a very uncomfortable position. Never the less, I soon got settled and was offered a drink that arrived quickly (orange juice). The plane was quickly boarded and we were off to the runway.
Heathrow defiantly needs more capacity as it took some time to get on the runway and take off. Another thing that I noticed about the Airbus was how quiet it was compared to a 747. Anyway, we quickly stopped climbing and the crew pounced into action. Being in middle of row A, it took a while for the CC member to get to us and take a drinks order, which again, took a bit long to arrive. In the meantime there had been a hot towel run, that I have now taken to use to “clean” the suite as other have suggested on here. More for hygienic reasons than it looking dirty.
It was time to order dinner and as I didn’t like any of the starters I asked if I could be a pain and have the mini ploughman’s, to which I got an “of course you can”, and then asked for the Braised beef wellington for main course. Guy had the Smoked halibut, salmon and marinated prawn and Fennel and mushroom risotto with paprika and garlic roasted chicken. We were some of the first to be served our dinner, and Tinks was right, the ploughmans was tiny but was very nice, especially the quail egg. We both enjoyed our dinner, though I thought the wellington was a bit big, well too much for me anyway. Plates cleared away and we were asked what we would like for desert. I had the sticky toffee pud, Guy had the chocolate and orange torte and again both were very nice.
After everything was cleared away and table was put back, I asked for a very small drop of baileys which was greeted with a smile and a sure. Then I was presented with half a glass of baileys! (How much would I get if I asked for a lot? A bottle?) I didn’t complain and it soon disappeared anyway. We had a quick walk “down the back” to have a look at the aircraft, to find economy very empty while PE and UC were 99% full.
Time to start up the IFE and watch a couple of films, I didn’t fancy watching most of the films on offer but watch “Buried” and “Despicable Me”. Buried was a bit odd but still a good bit of film, more for the story than the acting (as much as you can act in a box for the whole film…). Despicable Me was great and will defiantly be getting on Blu-Ray. As always ice cream was given out, and to my surprise it was solid! On a side note, have the headphones in UC gotten worse? Mine seemed awful and I was glad I had my own set, although Virgin seem to have their own headphone socket design so I couldn’t power mine through the IFE, but mine work of battery as well so all was good.
I turned the seat into a bed for a couple hours and listened to the music on my phone and had a nap. Waking up just in time for afternoon tea. We decided to have our tea at my table, and this again showed how cramped the seat is compared to 747 standards. I asked for a mini burger and the CC told me, and I was expecting at this time of the flight, she thinks they had run out, do I have a second choice just in case. I was fine with this as opted for the chicken sandwiches as back up, Guy had the whole selection of sandwiches. The lovely CC came back with sandwiches apologising that the burgers had indeed run out and that one PAX had eaten 3. But she also gave us some of the mini cupcakes. As with dinner, everything was nice, and the chicken salad sandwiches were great, I would pay for them in a shop!
Soon it was time to buckle up and we made our descent into LAX. It was a bit scary looking out of the window to see the sea approaching as we were getting lower, but landing was smooth and we slowed very quickly and turned off the runway. We then had to wait to be towed to stand but this didn’t take too long. We got to stand and the door was quickly opened. On disembarking we thanked our CC member who was on ‘A’, as she is a great asset to Virgin and we have let Virgin know how good she was to us. Though I think they already knew as I think she was Senior CC.
Now the fun of immigration. Having only experienced US immigration at Miami I didn’t know what to expect. We joined a short queue and they were processing people quite quick. When we got to the front we had to go off separately as we are only considered “friends” for the purposes of US immigration. I was second to be seen and was asked the normal question of how long are you here for, and put your hand on here. But was also asked who was paying for “all these vacations” (3 times in 2 years…), and then once I told him I was paying, “what do you do for your job?”. He seemed very accusative in the way he asked but still let me go and wished me a good stay. Once through to the baggage hall, bags were already coming round and ours were some of the first so we got away quickly.
Once out of the airport we had to work out how to get to the car rental, this was easy and well signposted. We soon got on a bus to Alamo and very quickly got our car. This was a great “Welcome to LA”, compared to the madness of the “you’re in Miami, good luck”.
Overall it was a great flight, shame that the seats have to be that little bit smaller to fit on the Airbuses.