The return flight from Austin was scheduled to leave at 18.20 so I headed over to the airport mid-afternoon with plenty of time to review the facilities. Austin isn’t a large city by US standards so getting from Downtown to the airport took around 20 minutes.
Check-in at Austin
Check-in at Austin was not the best. In part one, I alluded to smaller US airports now catering to long-haul flights. One of the issues is that check-in is generally small and designed for domestic travel. Adding to the issue was some IT system problem meaning I waited about 35 minutes before even speaking to one of the check-in agents.
I also grimaced at the fact that right next to the Virgin check-in was a sign for security saying “No TSA Pre-Check available at this location”. Great.
Fortunately, after getting checked in, the agent informed me that there were two security areas and the second one did indeed have TSA pre-check (phew!).
Both the British Airways flight and the Virgin Atlantic flight depart from the same area of the airport. I arrived at the gate area and noticed a Lufthansa A330 on the stand. So it seemed as though all the Long Haul wide bodies get accommodated around gates 1-6. That created another snag… the gate areas are simply not big enough for 250+ people waiting to board a wide body. They’re designed for domestic flights – and boy did this show.
Rather inevitably, boarding was a mess for both the BA flight and the Virgin flight.
Lounge – Delta Sky Club
To make up for the less than brilliant check-in experience and inevitable gate issues, there was a good lounge. Well, good by US airport standards anyway. The Delta Skyclubs are no Clubhouse, but they are good for spending an hour in pre-flight.
One of the things I like about Delta being part owners in Virgin is that the staff are very similar. The ladies on the door were beaming with joy and couldn’t be more pleasant to deal with. After being at the conference, talking so much and dealing with dry air from the hotel air conditioning, my throat was sore. I couldn’t find any cough sweets in the airport shops, but one of the ladies found some out of thin air. Now that’s service!
The Skyclub is located above the gate area you use for BA and Virgin, which is super useful. It spans the width of the terminal. The central portion, which houses a full-service bar, is in a glass spaceship-like structure.
On either side of the lounge is different seating areas. There’s an area with self-service food like sandwiches, pasta, salad, cookies & brownies. I was happy to indulge in the hot options which today were tacos. There was also an outdoor terrace, but given the Austin heat, that’s not an area for the height of summer!
Overall, I was impressed with this Skyclub. Austin is not a Delta hub by any stretch, so to get such a good quality lounge was surprising. Sometimes when you fly to places where an airline only has a small presence, your expectations usually aren’t very high!
Departure & on-board
As I already knew it was going to be, boarding was a mess. But after standing around for a little while and watching the BA A350 depart, we soon boarded. Unlike Heathrow, there was a jet bridge so no need for the ego-removing bus today. It was straight down the jet bridge with a left turn towards the front and comfortably into seat 1A.
Once onboard, the FSM made herself known and let me know which member of the crew was going to be looking after me for the flight. The revamped amenity kit was on the chair again when I got on board and the crew handed out Pyjamas proactively. I already had a pair from the outbound flight, but the Virgin pyjamas are really good so I keep as many pairs as I can!
As with all long-haul flights, there was a full menu and bar available. I didn’t feel like a full meal so opted for tomato soup & cheese toastie. This was the “quick” option that was specifically for people wishing to go to sleep quickly and not endure the full 3-course meal service. I told the crew that I wasn’t in a rush to sleep, but wanted that more basic option. They were all too happy to oblige.
Sometimes food onboard flights can be very bland, but the toastie option was really good.
I did wake up in time for breakfast, but just had a snack and some coffee as I planned to have a full english breakfast in the arrivals lounge.
We departed from Austin on runway 18R and as we climbed out I got a great aerial view of the Circuit of the Americas, where the US Grand Prix is hosted.
Arriving in London
Arriving back in London was the usual approach using runway 27R coming in over the city. I love this approach because you normally do a wide sweeping turn over the London Bridge area. After the turn, you end up aligned with the runway on the glide slope. This gives you a brilliant view of The City of London, as well as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and plenty of other landmarks. If you are using the 27L/R runway (the crew will be able to tell you), the righthand side of the plane offers the best views.
Due to it being the summer, there were plenty of other flights arriving at the same time. Virgin moved some of its Caribbean destinations from Gatwick to Heathrow. As such, there were a lot of leisure travellers transiting through T3 at the same time. Half of the e-gates were not working at the UK border. However, overall it didn’t take longer than 20 minutes to get through.
One of the things I love about flying Upper Class is the arrivals lounge. It’s no clubhouse, but it’s a secluded spot (usually not busy) above the T3 arrivals hall. In the lounge, you can grab breakfast and take a shower, chill out and either wait for your Uber or just enjoy a slow start to the day. It’s especially useful if you’re arriving back in London in the morning and heading straight to an event or work.
I charged my phone and AirPods up before heading over to Euston on the train.
I really enjoyed this trip. I think the fact it was my first since before the pandemic helped with the excitement factor. In fact, after the trip, I was totally knackered. I asked myself – how did I do this 2-3 times per month in the past!?
Due to the heat, I didn’t explore as much of Austin as I’d have liked. I do plan on going back, perhaps for the F1.