Friday, January 21, 2011

London Heathrow: Terminal 3

Don't expect to get through LHR quickly for international flights out of T3.

One you get past security you will find the "World of Shopping". I don't know
what it this area is really called but it is extremely annoying. The bright lights and strong
smells of perfume stop people in their tracks. Eyes glazed over, they
stare around while blocking the narrow winding pathway through the
mega-duty free shop. If you can muddle through and pass up all the
lovely (fake) deals, you come to an open seating area where a sign
clearly informs you that if you are headed to gates 20-22 you may want
to plan for a 20 minute walk. Son of a .....

I made it to my gate in 10. I also think I knocked over at least one
person along the way. Folks have a tendency to lollygag in Heathrow.

Don't get me wrong - I actually like London Heathrow overall. But the
standard international flight rule of getting to the airport two hours
before departure is a bit misguided for this airport.

The Star Alliance Lounge is nice but always very busy. The World of
Shopping is extensive but I've never had time to browse. Food stops
seem good but again: no time to stop and enjoy.

Really, my biggest complaint is just the sheer size of the place and
the comatose passengers wandering aimlessly. Due to these factors, I'd
get there a bit earlier than two hours. See my note on Virgin Atlantic systems
on more reasons why you might need the time.

-- Happy (Fast!) Travels

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In flight experience: Virgin Atlantic

I do not know how United Airlines manages to make their seats so
hideously uncomfortable, but they are indeed masters of making even
simple things complex and horrid.

It was therefore a nice change to have an economy seat that was at
least comfortable on my bum. While I am never happy to fly economy,
the in-flight experience on Virgin Atlantic was a big change.

The seat bottoms were more comfortable and they have about one more
inch of pitch than United. The in-flight entertainment is a larger
screen than I expected and all of the movies, games, audio and TV were
free. The headphones were even slightly better (though still cheapies)
than what you would receive on other airlines. The audio quality was
good and clear. My only major problem was my system freaked out and
went to a command line and would not reboot. I rang for an attendant
and she immediately reset my system. The game / remote controller was
a bit touchy and took a bit to get use to. I could see some non-techie
travelers getting frustrated with it.

The amenities during the flight were very nice. Food was of decent
quality and alcoholic drinks are free on all international flights. A
kit was handed out that provided you with a eye mask and socks.

An upgrade to Premium Economy is really much closer to being in
Business class. The seats are bigger and wider - it isn't just about a
few extra inches of legroom on this airline. Beverages, including
sparkling wine are served before take-off. The food is a bit better
and the amenity kit includes earplugs. I was seated in a bulkhead
 and the flight attendant brought us footrests after take-off.

Finally, the Virgin staff are lovely people. Very helpful, very
friendly. They seem to like their jobs, enjoy working with people and
want to help make your flight pleasant. In a time where most airlines
seem staffed with bitter, jaded individuals, this attitude was a
welcome change.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Virgin Atlantic: You can do better with your systems

I have frequently discussed how much I love Virgin America and how
much I loathe United Airlines even though I am a Premier Executive
flyer with them. On a recent trip to London I decided to fly Virgin
Atlantic. One month before I had flown United to London and as usual,
it was horrid. Their seats are super uncomfortable and despite having
status I was trapped in horrible coach seats both directions.

In another post I discuss the in-flight experience with Virgin
Atlantic. This post is about their systems. Compared to the ease of
use of the America line, Virgin Atlantic has a way to go. Check-in
online is not intuitive. When asked about your checked luggage, it
shows you a graph of your allowed bags and then asks you how many
EXTRA bags you need. Once you decipher this, you check-in but cannot
pick your seat until after you have checked in.

I changed my seat after check-in and received a confirmation saying if
I had changed my seat, it would not be reflected in this confirmation
message. Really? How incredibly backwards.

Next issue: upgrades. They are available but not through online
check-in nor at the check-in kiosk at the airport. When I inquired at
the bag drop counter (which had a very long line at both airports) I
was able to upgrade to Premium Economy. The agent there assigned my
seat then directed me to ANOTHER line to actually make the payment and
get my boarding pass.

And this is why I was knocking people over as I hurried to my gate in
Heathrow, despite getting there early.

I expected better from Virgin Atlantic given how smooth systems are
for Virgin America.