Review of Virgin Atlantic
Without question I am a demanding and exacting flier. I find this to be tremendously ironic when you consider the fact, having been raised poor, I have suffered through my fair share of what "the cheapest" flights have to offer. Basic courtesies such as a bag of free peanuts or pretzels are gone (Really American Airlines?!? JERKS!), and this after boarding the impoverished last after a soul-draining six-levels of cattle calls into the cabin. "Diamond." "First Class." "Preferred." "Emerald." "Ruby." "Your first child was sold for these tickets."
I know I am not alone in my frustration and dismay at the derogatory nature of economy class flights yet still I find this unbending distain grating, as if airlines were forced to fly me rather than appreciating the fact I parted with a thousand of my hard-earned dollars.
Now, as time has changed my travel opportunities from "worse than economy" to the diametrically opposing scale of unrelentingly grand luxury, my swift ascent into ingrating airline service has created a monster of purposeful perfection. I expect cleaniliness, newness, freshness, wi-fi, electrical outlets, cold beverages, strong drinks, friendly smiles, access to modern entertainment and food as good as any restaurant. No mistake, however small, is overlooked -- and no one overlooking me is left unscorched.
I have become the "Tiger Mom of Travel."
PHOTO: The View from 35,000 feet on Virgin Atlantic (c) Sery Kim
Yet, to date, I have yet to find an airline whose level of service in economy class is worth even mentioning. The only one even remotely close is SPIRIT Airlines, the latest low-cost carrier, but that is simply because they get you to where you want to go at the bargain basement rate of $29 one-way.
But quality? Excellent food? Great entertainment? Kind service? NOT. A. CHANCE.
So, when I found myself with the gripping opportunity to experience Virgin Atlantic for the first time, I boarded my 787-9 Dreamliner "Miss Chief," the first of 21 Boeings Virgin Atlantic has on order, expecting the average and wholly disappointing economy class service. Yet what I experienced with Virgin Atlantic was an economy class which would put most other airlines' business class service to shame.
This begins with the seats.
Like most carriers, Virgin Atlantic has a Premium Economy section with added legroom and more spacious seats. What is unusual about Virgin Atlantic is that once you are wheels-up, they will let you freely move from regular economy to premium economy without any additional fee. NO ADDITIONAL FEE?! Shocking! I gamely took advantage of this feature and settled into my quite luxurious premium economy seat. My dieting body had plenty of room on the spacious seats but I would dare say the sumo wrestler sitting the row behind me was equally as comfortable as I was, a novel thought.
PHOTO: Premium Economy Seats on Virgin Atlantic (c) Sery Kim
Additionally, even though my seat was literally right next to the engine, Virgin Atlantic's Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine created almost zero noise. In fact, this engine is so exceptional Virgin Atlantic has literal received a certificate saying their engine make the same amount of noise as an airplane 60% smaller. Fascinating and charming.
Of course, whatever charm an engine may have, for me as a foodie, the most important aspect of a flight is the food and here also Virgin Atlantic did not disappoint.
PHOTO: Virgin Atlantic's Orzo Pasta Salad (c) Sery Kim
My exceptional three course meal began with a fresh and zesty Orzo Pasta Salad. Leafy greens which seemed plucked from the earth rather than hosted 35,000 feet into the air laid a light foundation to the salty tang of the perfectly seasoned pasta salad. As a born-again vegetable-lover, my bowl was miniscule for my preference and I would have readily ordered another one if I wasn't too embarrassed -- or steadily growing full from my white wine/lemonade chaser.
From the salad, I moved on to the Veggie Bolognese. "Nutritious soy pieces in a rich bolognese sauce topped with shaved Italian cheese. A filling vegetarian option" is how Virgin Atlantic describes this dish and I would concur. The dish arrived piping hot, as if I were at my favorite New York City Italian Restaurant Carbone,
While the analogy to Carbone might seem drastically excessively, it is the nature of airline food to consistently disappoint. Food is always too cold, too stiff, too tasteless, especially the pastas. Whereas what I found with Virgin Atlantic's pasta dish was the exact opposite. It was a revelation in how airline food COULD be delivered and SHOULD be delivered, and this is why I mention Carbone. For me, Carbone was a revelation -- a step-back into the sublime world where food reigned more supreme than the Cult of Chef Personality (copyrighting that phrase for sure!) -- and despite the cult of personality around Richard Branson and the Virgin Brand, just based on food alone I would pick Virgin Atlantic.
I even liked the bread for crying out loud. THE BREAD.
PHOTO: My economy meal on Virgin Atlantic (c) Sery Kim
Equally charming is the "Afternoon tea" service on the way back to Washington, D.C. from London. In addition to the regular meal, Virgin Atlantic also gives you a choice of wraps and my Virgin Club Wrap: Chicken and bacon with sweet chili mayo is yet another glorious food choice. The wrap was very fresh, without the stale quality of being inside a freeze. How does Virgin do it?!?
Then, as if this experience could be any better, the unending choices of on-demand entertainment helped the time fly (pun intended) by! I really enjoyed every minute of this flight and can not wait to fly again with Virgin Atlantic!
PHOTO: The view of an unusually frozen Washington, D.C. from Virgin Atlantic (c) Sery Kim