This is a Trip Report from the Premium Economy cabin
Food & Drink
Beware my friends, this is probably the longest one I have ever written.
For most of 2016 my friend and I had been looking at going on a trip. After an introduction to the Upper-Class way of life, we had both been keen to redeem my companion ticket from gold renewal and find somewhere to go and relax.
We bounced ideas around for many months. Cancun? The Caribbean? Back to New York again? So many choices.
A couple of years ago I paid my first trip to Dubai, staying at the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa. I floated the idea of a trip for her and her boyfriend and myself to go on a trip back to that hotel. My first visit there was great, but it was a little odd being there by myself originally, so for purely selfish reasons it would be great for me to actually travel with some friends for a change, being typically a solo traveller.
In an ideal world we would have done the full Upper Class experience there and back. But alas, the ideal price never really materialised, plus other factors of life had to be the priority, meaning it took us a while to book. But when we did, we finally settled on the RAK Resort Hotel, flying PE out overnight, and UC back, All Inclusive with Sea View rooms. My friend was happy that her partner could get the full UC experience on the return during the day (his first experience was on an overnight return from JFK, so not much to see apart from the seat), and I was happy to have my 10% discount for Virgin Holidays come to use!
Fast forward a few months and through wisdom on this board I learnt that not one but both of our flights had been cancelled to lighten up and consolidate the November schedule. We were originally rebooked to depart one day later and return one day earlier. Not interested in losing two days of holiday, thanks!
After much waiting and back-and-forth between Virgin Holidays, we managed to reschedule the trip for one week later. By a stroke of luck, this actually made the trip about 10% cheaper, meaning our break was almost all paid off due to the change!
After what has been a difficult year for my travelling companions, this was a very, very much needed break for all of us and really the timing could not have been better. And so fast forward to December 2nd...
Taking a punt on a taxi...
Given the 21:55 departure time, there was of course no need at all for a hotel at Heathrow the night before. Not too interested in the prospect of a two and a half hour transfer on the train and underground, we were all keen on splitting the cost of a taxi and getting to the airport with a little more speed. We weighed up the options and considered booking a fancy Tristar car through Virgin, or taking a punt on an untested, but well-reviewed local taxi firm. The latter won out through cost alone.
Any concerns we had swiftly evaporated after our taxi arrived bang on time and with a friendly driver, who whisked us to Heathrow in about an hour and a half. His tip was well deserved!
Returning to familiar ground
I'm no stranger to Heathrow, and no stranger any more to the Upper Class wing and Clubhouse (except the door clicking open to the UC Wing, I'll never tire of that). But the experience becomes a different beast when you are travelling with friends who are looking forward to sampling everything, and you can't help but get caught up in the excitement, it's quite refreshing.
And so we finally arrived outside a chilly Terminal 3 at about 1:30pm, a solid 8.5 hours before the flight. Note, my "record" time in the Clubhouse is about 7 hours (by myself) so this trip would exceed that! Good thing I have company.
Zone A was not especially busy, and the Upper Class desks even less so. We were hardly waiting at all before being called forward by a friendly check-in agent. He originally had some minor concerns about taking our bags so early, but in the end was happy to take them, and placed all three bags under my name, rather than one each. Perhaps it was easier for him to do it this way. I was in 25D, one of my preferred aisle seats, my friends in 25A and 25C. In the days prior to departure I noticed that our aircraft had changed to an "old config" A330, perhaps related to the wing-clip incident at JFK. Given we were all in PE the only difference we would see would be a lack of Wander Wall, but not really enough to get upset over.
And so up the fabled lift and through the door to security. There was only one person ahead of us, so as always there is never a wait. All of us got through without issue!
To make life a little easier once we arrived in the UAE, my friends decided to grab a little bit of currency for tipping and small cash exchanges. As such our first stop was the Travelex counter right after security, and whilst I winced at the terrible airport exchange rates, my companions were unfazed, and so on we went, meandering through Duty Free to the Clubhouse, our home for the next eight hours or so.
Last year I was able to renew with sufficient tier points to receive two Clubhouse guest passes. Once these eventually arrived I set one aside for my friend's partner to use to get all three of us in, despite all being in Premium! I showed my friends some of the changes that had taken place earlier in the year, as this was only their second visit, their first being over a year and a half ago.
My usual routine kicked in and headed straight for the Spa to book myself a hair appointment, while my comrades found themselves a place to perch up. Unfortunately for the second time running, neither of my favourite hairdressers were in! Given the lateness of my flight I was asked if I would be willing to wait a short while so that they could squeeze in the last of the late-afternoon departures, which I was happy to do. I had waited two months for the haircut, I'm sure I could wait a few hours more!!
I went back to find my friends who had found a couple of chairs in the area near the spa, next to the hanging egg-chairs. Our waitress arrived, who gave us a bit of a frosty welcome and took our drinks orders. We also perused the food menu, and my friends were delighted to see that the Chicken Katsu Curry still held pride of place on the menu. They ordered one each, and I went for some tapas.
The Clubhouse from our seats
Shortly after I was very happy to see that my favourite waiter, who I have written about before, was on the waiting staff today, sporting what looked to be a broken or sprained wrist! We had a short but pleasant exchange as he remembered me too. He mentioned that he would be grateful if I could send along some good feedback as the team now seem to have a target to obtain good feedback on a regular basis.
After I polished off my tapas, the food and drinks continued to come and go, with me ordering a Katsu curry of my own, and a chocolate fondant for dessert. All of which were delicious. We were able to break the ice a little with our originally frosty waitress from earlier who began to open up a bit. To her credit she was efficient and was quick and clearing away our numerous empty plates and glasses.
Next up was a trip to the loft. I had noticed from previous visits that whilst the old games consoles had disappeared during the refurbishment, the pool table had made a triumphant return in the loft. I hold the opinion of "use it or lose it" which such things, and so I was keen to go upstairs and play a few frames with my friend's partner. Unlike the JFK Clubhouse where you had to surrender your passport and boarding pass to obtain the cues, at LHR these were readily available perched up against the wall. The table was in good condition - whether through lack of use or good care, or perhaps a combination of both, I could not say. I was just glad that all the balls were present...
The loft area was looking a little unloved. There were several dirty plates and cups waiting to be taken away, and cushions scattered about. The only sign of waiting staff was a lady who came up to deliver some finger sandwiches to some customers who had clearly moved on some time ago. Despite being full of chicken curry and tapas, I didn't want to see the sandwiches go to waste so took them and helped myself to them during the game.
After being defeated (perhaps deservedly!), I needed some fresh air so went outside to the terrace to watch some of the planes. It is a shame that the wifi signal is so weak out here, I was able to use Flightradar to see what was taking off, but not to much extent. I managed to catch the VS251 from Shanghai pull up at a gate, thinking to myself I would be on it myself in about four week's time.
I had read a little about the VR experience that had arrived recently to the Clubhouse. I spied it on the cocktail menu, and given this was one of my rare visits to the Clubhouse in the afternoon, I was actually able to give it a go, as it is only available after 2pm.
I headed to the bar to ask about it. The barman scurried off and shortly after came back with a VR headset along with a pair of headphones and explained how it all worked. You get to choose a cocktail of your choice, via the headset, and "watch" a scene where your drink is made in a bar that corresponds to your choice of drink. It's a really good experience for those who haven't done it and it's tricky to explain it all in words.
While the scene plays out, the barman in "real life" is actually making your cocktail, and attempts to time it's completion to the ending of the VR experience, such that when you take the headset off, the drink is ready for you. It was great fun and apparently I drew quite a bit of attention...
For the curious, I tried the cocktail made in Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco. Sadly I can't actually remember what the cocktail was called, but it was really good, and it came in a signature glass!
The VR kit and signature glass
Time was slipping away, and we were now well into the afternoon. Before my haircut, I was keen to try some of the other items from the menu and ordered the Butter Poached Cod (with mashed potatoes, spinach, caper and parsley hollandaise sauce), along with a couple of Bramble cocktails and some rum.
Butter poached cod, along with various tapas. Delicious!
The usual ‘haircut followed by a steam shower’ routine was very refreshing. I noticed the shower area still had the spin-dryer for people's swimwear, somewhat redundant now that the jacuzzi has been removed!
I decided to take a break from the Clubhouse and wander around Terminal 3. Exciting, no? Well, the main purpose was to give my lady a call, and whilst doing so I wandered into the supposedly "temporary" connections building that now blocks the views from the Clubhouse (which my hairdresser agrees is unlikely to disappear any time soon), as well as some of the other gate areas I rarely see. I noticed that the new Qantas lounge is now open in the long-vacant Lounge B slot. It's getting good reviews, so it seems the Clubhouse is facing stiff competition for "best in show".
Upon my return, my friends were still in the same spot I left them in, with them wondering what took me so long! With boarding soon approaching I availed the bar of a few more glasses of rum, with an announcement coming over the speakers about the rules of no smoking! Tut tut. Perhaps someone had been caught in the terrace...
My apologies, with such a long stint in the Clubhouse there was much to talk about! There is a flight in this trip report, I promise. Our boarding call finally came a few minutes after 9pm, and we had been called to Gate 29. I was concerned that this branch of gates (typically used by the OneWorld airlines) would be a long walk, so we set off straight away. I thanked the barman who helped me with the VR experience. I apparently was the only one who had used it that day!
On our way...!
The walk to Gate 29 was not as long and arduous as we originally expected. When we arrived, there was quite the queue already. We couldn't tell at first if priority boarding was in effect. Fortunately it was and we managed to avoid the long line of Economy passengers snaking its way out of the gate area. The chap scanning boarding passes seemed to have some trouble, and that trouble continued when it came to scanning us through.
It seems that there were some issues with our baggage. When I originally checked us in in the morning, I specified that each of us had one bag each. However, as all three had been put under my name, there had been some confusion given the app said we had bags, but never loaded them. The scanner then also lost connection so checking in had to be done manually. It looks like the turnaround staff had their work cut out to get everything moving forward.
I managed to spy on the gate agent's computer that the aircraft had changed once again - back to a refurbished A330! Again, not that it mattered as we were in PE, but I felt a little sorry for those in Upper having their seats changed around at such short notice.
Our aircraft today was to be G-VNYC, Uptown Girl, which had been doing most of the Dubai roundtrips lately.
There was not much of a queue at the aircraft door and we were quickly at our seats. Whilst settling in, the lifejacket seemed to detach itself from under my seat and roll onto the floor! I put it to one side while I cleared away the small mountain of items that had been left on the chair - the blanket, pillow and headphones.
I was quickly approached by a member of cabin crew and offered an Orange Juice or Champagne. I cannot remember which I took, but it was offered with a friendly smile. I mentioned to her the lifejacket situation, and whilst she mentioned that we would be flying over mostly land and that I likely wouldn't need it, she attempted to refit it but to no avail, and so it sat in my seat pocket instead.
By 21:45 the three of us were all settled in and ready to go. It was starting to become apparent that tonight's trip would feature a lot of infants and young children. I lost count of how many headed past us into Economy, and I counted one baby and one toddler in Premium, the latter poking her head through the gap in the seats to say hello to the older couple sat behind them...
The doors closed were finally closed with a minute to go before scheduled departure. Flight time announced of 6 hours 50 minutes, and 258 on board, meaning only six empty seats in the end. Perhaps there were some very last minute bookings as the check-in agent suggested there was room for another 30 when we checked in!
We pushed back a little late at 22:02 and our taxi lasted nearly another twenty minutes before we finally took to the skies and headed West, before turning around to head to the Middle East.
View from 25D
It didn't take long before the seatbelt sign disappeared, and after a quick trip to the bathroom, I returned to find my menu on the chair. For the interested, here is the Premium Economy menu, September rotation. Note that this is apparently for the VS400 only, but I would assume that some of the meals are found on other routes.
Chicken and bean casserole
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Chilli con carne
White chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake
Cheese and crackers
A little while later, the FSM dropped by to pay me a visit and welcome me back on board and asked if I would like anything. She stayed for a couple of minutes and chatted to me and my friends, which was really nice. This was the first time I have received recognition on an overnight in Premium, so it was great that she took the time to come and say hello. I opted for a glass of Port by way of a welcome! She seemed surprised but impressed with my choice.
After browsing the IFE I decided to try Wakefield, which I had not heard of before. Just as I started the hot towels were distributed. Though in all honesty, "hot facial wipe" would be more accurate rather than towel. Still, my neck appreciated it and they were quickly collected.
I decided to go and grab a snack from the Wander Wall. Whilst I didn't get a picture, it is a little smaller than the 787, and set into the corner of the galley rather than the full wall.
Dinner service got started around 90 minutes in. We were "entertained" by a chorus of babies crying from behind us. I cannot imagine what fresh hell would have awaited us had we been sat in Economy, especially by the bassinets.
The food trolley slowly rumbled along. I wondered if the lady serving our side of the cabin was new or a little slow, as it took a solid 20 minutes for her to get from the front of the cabin to the back. Her counterpart on the other side of the cabin had long since finished.
When she arrived I decided to opt for the Cannelloni main. I do sometimes like to take a punt on the veggie options as sometimes they can be really good. Mine was decidedly average today. The salad starter was nice and crisp and I liked the Waldorf mix on top The cannelloni though was a little dry and the veggies had gone a bit soggy. Perhaps a by-product of sitting on the trolley for so long. I looked over at my companions, especially at my friend’s partner who had opted for the Chilli. I’ll have what he’s having, please. Nevermind. We were all stuffed from the Clubhouse food so it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been well fed for pretty much the whole day prior…!
The cheesecake dessert was simple but tasty. I decided to leave the bread and crackers, though.
Premium Economy with veggie main
It was now 00:40 and with dinner over with I decided it was time to bed down for the night. One thing I noticed was the lack of after-dinner Premium drinks. No Amarula or Cognac was offered, which is a first for me. Instead, coffees or teas were offered. At the same time I noticed that there had been no first-round of drinks offered after takeoff. I don't want to cry "cutbacks", so I'm going to assume that the Dubai route is slightly more dry than the others. Still, bit of a shame as I love Amarula!
A quick sleep
I managed to sleep for a good couple of hours, thanks to the usual blanket + pillow + music combination. I slept fairly well, my headphones managing to drown out any residual baby noises from behind. When I woke up we were just straightening up after rounding Iraq, and the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. My friend who was sat in the window had kept her blind up so I was able to see the sunrise. Which was nice of her!
Very arty, no?
Switching to Dubai time, the cabin began to come to life at around 7:30am with people milling about. The babies thankfully were still quiet. Breakfast started at 7:50 and consisted of the usual affair I've seen on previous flights. Namely, fruit and yoghurt with a little packet of granola, along with a warm pain au chocolat. I finished it up with a cup of tea whilst I continued with my Wakefield movie.
If anyone is travelling in the next few months I would recommend Wakefield if you like dramas.
The captain came over the PA announcing that we would soon be starting our descent and there were no anticipated air traffic delays. He mentioned that the weather would be a sunny 25 degrees, and I started to wish that I had packed my shorts in my carry-on so I could get changed immediately!
Just as we began our descent, the Love Hearts made an appearance. We flew over mainland Dubai and turned to give those on the left hand side of the cabin a good view of the Burj Khalifa, and afforded my friend a chance at a few pictures as we descended. Our touchdown at 8:54am was nice and gentle thankfully, and we taxied towards Terminal 1, where we finally pulled up next to a BA aircraft about five minutes later.
The experience arriving into DXB is an odd one, that involves quite a long walk from the gate, up and down a series of escalators, and eventually onto a shuttle that takes you out of the building entirely, and into the main Terminal 1 building containing the immigration area. After a bit more walking and a few more escalators, we eventually made it to a completely empty immigration hall, which mirrored my previous arrival a couple of years earlier. One wonders if it ever gets busy in here??
After little to no scrutiny I was waved through. We then went through a relatively gentle security screening (some kind of customs screening perhaps?) and then onto baggage collection where all three of our bags, tagged with Upper class labels, made it off in fairly quick succession.
I quickly grabbed some cash from one of the many ATMs, and then we headed through customs and managed to quickly find our Virgin Holidays rep. He greeted us, ticked our names off of his list and gave us a welcome back. We decided not to fork out for the private transfer to our hotel, and so after a short wait we were called to join the rest of our travel contingent. We ended up in a pokey little coach with around 15 others to begin the journey North. We all agreed that next time we would pay the extra for the private transfer. Thankfully we at least had air conditioning and left the airport at about 10:30am. We fortunately only had to make one stop at a golfing resort, but otherwise everyone else was headed to the RAK Resort with us. We finally arrived a little after 12 and were quickly greeted by Zerin, the Virgin Holidays Concierge there.
Overall, the flight experience was very good. I tend to manage my expectations for short overnights in Premium Economy as there is not much to them really. But the crew did very well and were probably one of the friendliest I have seen, and not to mention the personal greeting from the FSM being the proverbial cherry on the cake. The only let-down was the squealing babies making sleep very tricky for my friend, but what are you to do really!
If you have read the whole way through, I hope it was worth your time. Our return trip in Upper Class was good, but not great, and a review will follow. But probably not for a few weeks.