Earlier this year, I needed to fly to Orlando for a work event. Normally I fly from Virgin Atlantic’s home base – London Heathrow. But that didn’t make much sense for this trip given there is a flight to Orlando from Manchester, which is more convenient for me. I knew that Manchester had nothing on Heathrow from a lounge point of view (more on that later), but I was willing to give it a chance as Virgin is growing its Manchester base. This trip also gave me a chance to give the A350 another try. I wrote a review on my first experience of this aircraft here.
I booked this ticket the same way I book most others. Premium Economy cash fare, plus an upgrade voucher. The voucher allowed me to upgrade for just the difference in taxes, with no points to pay. More details on the Virgin Atlantic vouchers here.
- Carrier – Virgin Atlantic
- Aircraft – A350-1000 (Non-leisure config)
- Route – Manchester to Orlando
- Seat – 1A
- Flight Number – VS73
- Departure time – 14.15 local time
- Arrival time – 18.15 local time
- Ticket type – Premium Economy (K) upgraded to Upper Class reward (G)
Getting to Manchester & Check in experience
I was going to use Uber to get to the airport, but I decided to try the Blacklane chauffeur app. I’d used Wheely on a previous trip, which was very good, but that isn’t available in the north of England yet. Pricing for the trip was actually less than Uber and since Uber offers no loyalty program, it made sense to try a change. My driver arrived promptly at the booked time and even parked up to come and help with my luggage.
I’d flown from Manchester T3 recently and it wasn’t a great experience, so I was a little apprehensive of giving the airport a second chance. However, T2, where Virgin fly from, was very new and well laid out for the number of passengers it has to serve. Check in was reasonably quick (not Heathrow Upper Class wing, quick) and soon I was on my way to security. As I was flying Business Class, I had fast-track access, although regular security looked fine too.
Soon enough, I was through security and on the way to the 1903 lounge.
Virgin doesn’t have a Manchester Clubhouse (although there are rumours one is coming), so it uses the 1903 lounge for Flying Club Gold & Upper Class passengers. To access the lounge, you have to queue to check in with the front desk staff. When I was visiting, there was a bit of a wait due to the number of passengers. The lounge is shared, so it was pretty busy.
Manchester 1903 lounge seating & self service bar
There was an open bar with various alcoholic options and the usual tea, coffee, soft drinks and juices as it was breakfast service. For food, there were pastries, toast and a cooked breakfast buffet. I indulged in a cooked breakfast, orange juice and a cookie.
Manchester 1903 lounge pastries
I left the lounge just after 1 pm to head to our aircraft – G-VTEA. The walk was a bit of a distance from the lounge, about 10 minutes, so glad I left in good time. There was a bit of a wait for boarding to commence, and the gate area is not really big enough for a full A350, but soon enough I was on my way to seat 1A.
We were late boarding due to the aircraft being late to arrive, but not enough to really affect our arrival time into Orlando. I thought this would have an impact on crew service as that’s sometimes the case, but not today.
A350 Upper Class Suite
I first reviewed the A350 on my trip to Los Angeles earlier this year, and I wasn’t a fan of the seat. I’m sad to say, that has not changed. The big benefit to row one on the Virgin A350, is the footwells are significantly larger than the other seats. However, there is a drawback. The screen slots sideways into the seat structure unlike the other seats and this mechanism is constantly broken. My screen worked but wouldn’t stow away, the screen across from me (1D) was stuck inside the structure so whoever sat there had no in-flight entertainment. I’d witnessed similar issues on my previous flight.
So clearly, this screen has some design flaws, which is a shame because the IFE on the 350 is a huge step forward and one of the things I like about this aircraft.
The rest of the seat was the same as I last reviewed it. That being said, it was a huge upgrade over the Premium Economy ticket I’d actually purchased!
A350-1000 Upper Class Suite (1A)
Meals & onboard service
I was really impressed with the service on this flight. Menus and amenity kits were at the seat when I got onboard. While we were waiting to depart, I asked for a sleepsuit as they were not proactively offered. This lack of proactiveness is probably the only minor niggle with the crew for the entire flight.
The Flight Service Manager was quick to welcome me back as a Gold member and he was a local chap so we chatted about that. Another one of the crew in Upper Class actually went to the same school as my Dad, so that helped elevate the experience. We gossiped about how much we both didn’t like this aircraft and what routes may return to Manchester in future.
I already knew what the menu was as I’d pre-ordered my choice of meal prior to the flight. I wasn’t sure I’d have a starter, but decided to pick the salmon just to give it a try.
Salmon gravadlax with pickle cucumber
On a previous flight, I’d had the chicken option from this menu. So I opted for the fish main course this time, I have to say, the meal was delicious.
Baked North Atlantic cod with sea salt & cider vinegar potato
I don’t normally eat every course on my flights given I’ve usually eaten in the lounge. But I was peckish today so opted for the desert course as well. It was a rather lovely warm apricot and almond cake with honey and cream. After this, I was pretty stuffed.
Warm apricot & almond cake
Later in the flight, I had the cream tea. I’m not normally an afternoon tea kind of person, but I was glad I did this time as I hadn’t enjoyed a Rodda’s cream & jam scone for a while. BA also use the same brand of cream for its afternoon tea menu items.
The service generally on this flight was spot on. I was kept refreshed with cocktails and drinks throughout. I’d recommend the cranberry spritz (orange juice, cranberry juice & sparkling water) if you’d like something refreshing but non-alcoholic.
We were soon approaching Orlando, landing on runway 17R. I got a fantastic view of this approach thanks to the camera located in the belly of the A350. Something unique to these aircraft as no other Virgin planes have cameras fitted.
I stand by my reservations about the A350 seat. But it’s still worth the upgrade and all of the extras you get make it a no-brainer most of the time. As is usually the case, the crew did a brilliant job of taking this from what could have been a bad flight, to a great flight – thanks to their attentive service.
Watch out for part 2 of this review, coming soon.