On March 9th I had the honour of flying to Dubai with Gulf Air on their new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in economy class.
My aircraft really was new. Being delivered in July 2018, it only had 8 months on the clock and overall I was really impressed with the product.
Upon booking my ticket (3 hours before departure) I took the bus to Heathrow Terminal 4 and arrived with around 2 hours and 30 minutes before departure. I was nervous as to the line of the queue for check-in as my boarding pass wasn’t available online. I headed to the check-in area which was surprisingly quiet and after a 5 minute wait I checked in and was given my boarding pass all the way through to Dubai. Seeing as I had booked so late I was given seats in the middle row, right at the back in row 50 odd. I asked to change but he said it was a full flight.
I could, however, see that rows 20-27 were blocked on ExpertFlyer. Not wanting to bother the check-in agent, we headed through security which took mere minutes due to the late night flight time and went to the flight connections desk to try and change seats. The woman here was much more helpful and said that the seats were blocked because of balance issues and that I would have to wait until I got onboard to change.
With this new information, we headed to the observation desk in Terminal 4. This place isn’t the best at night but in the day its a real treat and a great way to kill some time.
Once boarding was called, we headed to the gate and boarded very swiftly and efficiently as some of the first passengers in economy. Upon boarding, I asked the crew straight away if we could move seats and she said she would let us know after takeoff.
Upon arriving at our seats we were given blankets which I could see being utilised as passengers fell asleep straight after boarding the plane.
The Boeing 787-9 is set up in a 3-3-3 configuration of modern, slimline seating which feature 17.5″ of width and 32″ of pitch. These figures definitely aren’t industry leading but for a 6-7 hour flight, they were OK.
Each seat is equipped with a tray table, personal monitor, USB port and very flexible headrest which helped to get comfy while we slept.
The IFE monitor was super impressive and functioned with amazing responsiveness. I spent most of the flight with the screen on the map feature because the selection of films and TV shows wasn’t very good at all.
After boarding was completed, I had a walk to see if the seat were still free and could already see people moving to the empty rows so I once again asked a member of cabin crew if we could move and she said of course but to be quick! We grabbed our stuff and moved to the exit row 40 at the front of the cabin and I was surprised at how easy it had been.
We took off from London Heathrow on-time and once the crew were released, they begun to hand out headphones and small amenity kits. The amenity kits were great and had an eye mask, socks and earplugs inside a little pouch. I thought this was a lovely touch for a night flight.
After the kits were handed out, the meal service begun with a choice of chicken, beef or vegetarian. I opted for the chicken which i have to say was one of the best bits of the whole flight. The meal was fantastically presented and tasted amazing.
As a drink I opted for water and Pepsi. Gulf Air do serve alcohol but seeing as we were headed for Dubai, I opted against drinking to stay on the safe side.
After the food and drink service I headed to sleep, utilising the extra legroom seats to try and get comfy. Once I found a position, I drifted in and out of sleep until we began our approach into Bahrain.
Overall, I had had a very enjoyable flight in Gulf Air’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The product was modern and slick which made the cabin feel very spacious. The food had excelled and the amenities were great for economy passengers. The only touch that hadn’t been as good as I had hoped were the cabin crew who were quiet lackluster in their jobs.
WOW Air has been a pioneer in the transatlantic market in recent years, even being named as the CAPA Low-Cost Airline of The Year 2018 – praised for its innovation and ability to bring inexpensive, long haul flights to the mass market. The airline has grown rapidly and today faces many challenges, but I found that the innovative spirit and modern take on flying at WOW Air are as strong as ever.
Flight Profile: WOW Air 118 – Reykjavik (KEF) to Baltimore/Washington (BWI)
Aircraft: Airbus A321 (SL), TF-NOW
Seat: 2A, in WOW Air’s Big Seat cabin
Having previously arrived from Dublin, I got the chance to sample the connections experience that had made Reykjavik so famous for stopovers. Both Icelandair and WOW Air have taken advantage of the airport’s strategic location to offer transatlantic flights and this showed. Reykjavik Keflavik was orientated almost entirely around the connecting passenger – the process was so simple. WOW Air checks your hold luggage onto your connecting flight and there is no requirement to pass through border controls or security. The departure hall was sleek and easy to navigate, with all gates being within a five-minute walk of each other. I could not recommend connecting in Reykjavik, as opposed to a US airport, enough.
Once onboard the aircraft, the modernity of the cabin was evident. Although TF-NOW is not one of WOW Air’s A321neo aircraft, it is only 1.6 years old and reflects the youthfulness of the airline’s fleet. In fact, the average fleet age over the entire airline is just 2.9 years.
The cabin featured mood lighting, and strikingly purple Recaro seats – all of which were fitted with adjustable headrests for passengers’ comfort. The seats offered ample comfort, with suitable recline for the 6-hour flight.
WOW Air’s Airbus A321 aircraft are configured with 8 ‘Big Seats’ at the front of the aircraft and 200 standard Economy class seats. ‘Big Seats’ at the front of the cabin, which I sampled on this flight, are in a 2-2 configuration – similar to a US-style First Class cabin. These seats offered 37″ of seat pitch (more than many legacy airlines offer in Premium Economy), with a footrest and headrest. Each seat also provided charging ports, to keep your devices powered up for entertainment purposes. This is increasingly important as we live more of our lives through technology, so I was glad to see WOW Air offering this.
In rows 3-7, WOW Air offered extra legroom seats. The ‘XL Seats’ in the first few rows also offered a 2-2 configuration, with the middle seat blocked by a tray table. This is a similar product to an intra-European Business Class on airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa. These seats are fantastic value, as they also offer significantly more legroom at the front of the aircraft.
If you don’t want to pay the full ticket price for WOW Premium, guests can also take advantage of WOW Air’s new initiative – ‘WOW Me Up’. This allows you to bid for XL seats or ‘Big Seats’ at a lower price prior to your flight – yet another example of WOW Air’s trend-setting attitude.
When in the Big Seats, guests receive complimentary drinks and snacks. Prior to the flight, you can also purchase the WOW Biz bundle, which includes drinks, snacks and checked baggage. The cabin crew were proactive in asking me whether I wanted a refill and efficient at completing the meal service. Passengers can choose from Margherita pizza, the WOW club sandwich or a Ham & Cheese Baguette.
On my return flight, the cabin crew allowed me to choose anything from the breakfast selection as my complimentary meal. WOW Air also offers Icelandic ‘Skyr’ yoghurt onboard, which is a nice nod to the airline’s home nation. The crew passed through the cabin with drinks many times throughout the journey, offering refills, which was fantastic, as it kept passengers hydrated throughout.
On the subject of the cabin crew, there is almost nothing to say. The crew on my flights with WOW Air were truly exceptional and had a real passion for their job. Daniel and Iris were especially attentive and provided service worthy of a world-class airline – keen to offer Icelandic chocolate to passengers and to explain the iPad renting scheme WOW Air offers.
The crew also emphasised that guests onboard should push their call button should they need anything at all, which is something you wouldn’t hear on many transatlantic carriers.
The crew were also extremely proud of WOW’s achievements to allow more people to travel across the Atlantic and explained the fare customisation that WOW Air offers. WOW’s pricing structure allows each passenger to pay for only what they want, whilst still achieving cheaper overall costs than conventional legacy airline competitors. If you want a cheap flight to Europe (with fares as low as $49 one-way!) or the US, travel light. If you want a luxurious flight, book a WOW Premium fare. Today, as more and more airlines introduce ‘Basic Economy’, flying with WOW Air is the obvious choice as you get better service, for a lower fare.
One point to bear in mind, however, when flying with WOW Air is there is no in-flight entertainment system. Despite this, WOW AIr rents iPads loaded with 16 games, information about Iceland and 10 movies with a range of genres to guests onboard.
Additionally, I really like the fact that WOW Air embodies Iceland in the air. Although not the country’s official flag carrier, WOW Air acts as an ambassador for its home nation. From Icelandic chocolate, to allowing passengers to ‘take a piece of the blue lagoon’ with them, WOW Air had a wide-range of duty free items available on board that reflected Iceland.
My flight arrived into Baltimore/Washington ahead of schedule and I was sad to leave behind the memorable crew who made the flight so enjoyable.
My experience with WOW Air was almost faultless. The airline’s ‘Big Seats’ are a fantastic cost-effective, yet comfortable way to fly trans-atlantic – without the eye-watering prices of Premium Economy tickets on legacy carriers. Moreover, WOW Air guests receive service that is polished, proactive and worthy of a world-class carrier. Of course, there are elements that could be improved – such as the onboard meal selection, but WOW Air achieves what all passengers want: a low-cost fare, without the low-cost service.
Disclaimer: This flight was provided by WOW Air. All opinions expressed are my own.
The Concorde Room is notoriously hard to enter. Either rack up 5,000 tier points a year to receive a membership card to the room or spend £5,000 and fly first class out of London Heathrow and you will be able to enjoy the elite room of Terminal 5.
On a recent day-trip to Berlin, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by someone who had racked up enough tier points to have that card. Luckily for me, members can take in one guest with them so when Paul rocked up with me, not a single eyebrow was raised and we walked into T5 paradise. See my full video review below!
There is no other way to describe the CCR than luxurious. The moment you walk in, luggage is taken from you for storage, your coat is hung up and you are personally welcomed to your seat. Paul passes through the lounge so often that Mo (the lounge manager) knew him by name and had a lengthy chat with him as we walked to our seat.
Once seated, he brought us two glasses of cold Laurent Perrier Vintage champagne which retails at a whopping £110 a bottle. It was the perfect way to sit down at 8am.
The lounge isn’t huge by any stretch of the imagination but it also doesn’t need to be. There were probably 10 people inside when we got there but that number did increase over the three hours we were inside. Once you walk in past the storage area, there is a piano sitting there waiting to be played.
To the right of the piano is the large seating area which occupies most of the room. To one side of the seating area is the bar.
To the other side is the Concorde dining room.
The dining area has a handful of small booths where passengers can dine in ones or twos.
We opted to dine outside the dining area which the staff were completely ok about.
Outside the main room is the terrace. As Mo explained to me, the terrace is filled with ‘Moroccan style furniture’.
It was extremely colorful and the seats were as comfortable as inside.
Finally, in the corner of the lounge is a corridor which takes you to the cabanas and washrooms.
There are four cabanas. The cabanas are available for up to four hours and give passengers the opportunity to sit back and relax during their layover.
Each cabana is fit with a sofa/bed and TV
A table for eating on.
And a bathroom fit with a shower. There would be no need to leave the cabana as each one has a button for calling a member of staff.
In terms of food options, the meals are fantastic. Seeing as we were there so early, it was the breakfast menu we could use. You are given two breakfast menus, one for the lounge and one for the dining area.
The lounge menu included croissants, cereal and yogurts while the dining menu had hot food options such as a full English which I tried.
The English was good but wasn’t served with toast which I’m sure I could have requested. During breakfast, the staff made sure to keep refilling our glasses so that we never ran out.
After seeing me filming the menus, a member of staff asked if I would like to see the lunch menu too. When I agreed he came back with every single menu they had and talked us through each one. What it showed was that you’d struggle to go hungry in a lounge like this.
The Concorde staff were really what made the lounge stand out to me. They were welcoming and friendly throughout and knew the regulars by name. This really helped to show me how exclusive this lounge is. Once we had finished eating, snacks were brought to us which tasted fantastic. My personal favourite was the stuffed red peppers.
Once we were ready to leave, Paul asked the staff for two of his favourite drink. I had no idea what was coming but suddenly two Espresso Martini’s arrived and I was over the moon! The drink is amazingly presented and tasted just how it should.
After knocking back the Martini we were ready to go and left the lounge feeling slightly less sober than when we had entered it.
The Concorde room is exclusive and very hard to access. It is probably the most luxurious lounge I have ever been to even though the food and drink were no better than some business class lounges (ie: the Clubhouse). The staff were the best I have ever seen and I can’t wait to come back here in the future.
Throughout this year, I have embarked on a quest to sample every major low-cost airline in Europe. Previously, I have flown with Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air & Norwegian – though there was one notable exception: Vueling. I reviewed Vueling’s new ‘Space Plus’ seats on the airline’s Manchester-Barcelona route to find out how Spain’s largest budget airline compared with the competition.
Vueling 8749: Manchester (MAN)-Barcelona El-Prat (BCN)
Aircraft: Airbus A320SL, EC-LVS
Seat: 2A (Space Plus)
EC-LVS would take me from Manchester to Barcelona that day; an Airbus A320, fitted with emission-reducing sharklets, that has flown with Vueling for 5 ½ years (barring a brief stint with Jetstar Pacific in 2016).
My aircraft was one of 114 in Vueling’s fleet – comprised of Airbus A319s, A320s, A321s and A320neos. Currently, Vueling operates just three Airbus A320neo aircraft, with 44 further examples on order. My Airbus A320 was configured with 180 seats in a single-class configuration, with Vueling’s more spacious seats in a sub-section at the front of the cabin, marked by a ‘Priority’ divider behind the seats in row 4.
After arriving at Gate 44 in Manchester 15 minutes behind schedule, getting the flight pushed back on-time would be a challenge. This was not helped by the fact that the boarding pass scanners at Manchester were dysfunctional, meaning that all passengers had to wait for traditional boarding cards to be printed. Additionally, minutes prior to boarding, it became apparent that the doors to the front hold of the aircraft were broken – all checked luggage would have to be stored in the rear holds of the aircraft. This meant that all passengers seated in rows 28-31 had to have their seats reallocated at the gate, causing further confusion and chaos. However, all of this was handled professionally, and the flight pushed back just 20 minutes behind schedule – an impressive fact given the challenging circumstances.
Once onboard, I settled into my allocated seat: 2A. Rows 1-4 are marketed as ‘Space’ seats.
Rows 2-4, specifically, offer 10% more legroom than other rows on the aircraft and can be paid for onboard for just €15. If purchased prior to departure, these seats include priority boarding in addition to more space – allowing me to comfortable work throughout the flight with a large laptop. This new concept replaced Vueling’s previous answer to Business Class – ‘Excellence’ where the middle seat in the first row was blocked, allowing for a 2-2 configuration.
The new ‘Space Plus’ offering is more affordable and accessible to Economy Class travellers and still offers significantly more comfort. For a low-cost carrier, it is refreshing to see an airline allocate more real estate to comfort rather than profit, available at a reasonable additional fee.
The option of selecting roomier seats, including priority boarding, is a fantastic initiative, and I would recommend them to anybody considering flying with Vueling.
If these seats are not available, the exit rows (12 and 14) can be reserved for the same price and offer 20% more legroom.
In terms of pricing, Vueling follows the ‘pay for what you need’ model. This allows customers to fly for less and only pay for the amenities they want. If a passenger, chose a ‘TimeFlex’ fare with an extra-legroom seat, the Vueling experience is akin to or better than that of almost any legacy airline across Europe. When comparing Vueling with other low-cost airlines across Europe, it is important to note that extra fees for luxuries like selecting your own seat or checking in luggage were inexpensive and the baggage allowance of 23kg was very generous.
The slimline Recaro seats were sufficiently comfortable, and were well padded, offering a good amount of recline. To provide more legroom for passengers, the lower seatback pocket has been removed and replaced with a literature pocket behind the tray table at eye level. Also provided was a coat-hook at each seat. It would be good to see Vueling take steps to install power-ports at each seat in the future allowing every customer to stay powered-up on the go. As our lives our increasingly conducted online too, Vueling could install Wi-Fi on newly delivered aircraft – catching up with competitors like Norwegian who are already rolling out the technology.
As part of this change, Vueling also introduced two new fares designed to meet the needs of the modern traveller: ‘Timeflex’ and ‘Family’. The airline’s new Timeflex fare offers priority check-in, fast-track security, priority boarding and free seat selection in standard seats, all in addition to flight time and date flexibility.
The Family fare type includes a dedicated check-in area at Barcelona, 1 checked luggage bag free of charge (with an allowance of 23kg), priority boarding with children under 2 and guaranteed seats together onboard.
This sort of innovation in air travel is something to be commended – making the entire experience easier for families travelling together and business people who frequent airports.
Vueling’s onboard menu was equally impressive. In addition to the conventional buy-on-board options, Vueling offered an ‘Iberic Box’ containing Gourmet Iberian Ham and Breadsticks – a nice touch that alludes to Vueling’s Spanish roots, proving that any trip starts onboard the aircraft.
The Gourmet Snack Box contained dark chocolate, rosemary crackers, chickpea hummus, olives, dried fruit and nuts for €7,50, with the option of adding wine for €12,50.
On my flight, I chose Vueling’s Nachos which come complete with Tomato Salsa in a handy travel box. As with almost all low-cost airlines, no beverages or snacks were complementary – if you don’t want to break the bank onboard, you may want to buy ahead of your flight at the airport. My seat neighbour did exactly that and when the cabin manager, Lela, observed my neighbour about to eat an airport-bought meal deal, she offered a napkin. This was a pleasant touch, showing that personable service doesn’t cost anything.
The crew on both of my flights with Vueling were amiable and warm. Throughout the flight, they made very little interaction with the passengers, closing the curtains frequently at the front of the aircraft – creating a sense that they were unapproachable. When they did interact with passengers, however, they offered a smile, with quick and efficient service. This said, the entire Vueling experience, including comfort and crew, was clearly more polished than many of Vueling’s no-frills competitors.
The Bottom Line:
When looking at Vueling through a low-cost airline lens, it is clear that the airline is innovative, polished and convenient. Vueling’s ‘Space Plus’ seats mean that enjoying extra comfort onboard is easy and affordable and their ‘Family’ fare type is something I would like to see more airlines replicate. Additionally, Vueling offers an unprecedented network across the length and breadth of Spain, easily accessible from its UK gateways in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester & Edinburgh. Whilst there is some way to go before Vueling achieves a ‘Best Low-Cost Airline’ award, I would recommend Spain’s largest budget airline without hesitation.
Disclaimer: This flight was provided by Vueling. All opinions expressed are my own.
After flying on Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Upper Class only five days earlier, I was very excited to fly home from New York on the Airbus A340 and see just how they compared. Alongside this written review, I also uploaded a video review to my YouTube which you can watch below this paragraph.
Booking This Flight
If you want to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class then what are your options? Revenue fares can be quite high, especially at peak times of the year, so I advise to use miles and points. If travelling at peak times, Virgin will charge you £371 and 57,500 miles to book this flight. At off peak times, you can get it for as low as 47,500 miles and £371. However, those fuel surcharges are still very high.
The flight is also bookable through Delta SkyMiles who are an American Express partner with a 1:1 transfer ratio which can help to reduce the surcharge.
If you have read my previous reviews extensively, you’ll know that sleeping before morning flights has never suited me all that well. After returning from watching the New York Yankees at midnight, I wasn’t too keen on going to bed for a few short hours before making my way to JFK so instead, I packed, showered shaved and did some work and before I knew it, it was 3am and I decided to head to the airport to see what was going on at this ungodly hour.
I arrived at around 4am to find it dead. There were people already in the Virgin Atlantic queue who had been there all night having missed their flight the night before and I listened as they told me how cold the airport had been all night… I wasn’t jealous at all.
To my annoyance, I realised that check-in didn’t open until 5am so I found a coffee shop and joined the other half asleep passengers while sipping a terrible flat white.
At 5am, check-in opened and I made my way to the Upper Class line which was empty. I ventured through Fast Track security and by 5.10am I was in the quietest airport departures hall I have ever seen. There were barely any passengers around and those that were there looked half dead from lack of sleep.
The signposting at JFK’s terminal 4 was noticeably poor and after walking around the terminal for a good 10 minutes, I finally found the sign for airline lounges. The lounge at JFK is actually really nice and I arrived to find that I was the first customer of the day! You can read my review of the JFK clubhouse here.
With boarding already in full swing, I headed down to the gate which is around about a 10 minute walk from the lounge. The queue was very large which was surprising as the lounge had still been pretty full when I left it, this shows why Virgin use the A340 on this route which has two Upper Class (business class) cabins instead of just the one on the B787.
As I explained thoroughly in my 787 review, the seating configuration is very different from many of the newer business class products on the market today. The seats are set up in a 1-1-1 configuration with each of the seats facing inwards. I found the cabin nice but at times a little claustrophobic. For a more in-depth review of the cabin, see my 787 review.
What makes the A340 different from the 787 is that the cabin is noticeably outdated. While the seats could be said to be comfier, the technology is outdated to say the least. The screen is not touch-screen but controlled by an annoying, hard to use control that lives under the screen. This was a major downside and it became so fiddly and hard to use that I simply stuck the screen on map and left it for the whole flight.
Another annoyance is that the headphones are double pinned. This means that you can’t use your own without an adapter. This isn’t too much of a problem as the headphones given are noise cancelling and work perfectly well.
The last thing that made this aircraft noticeably old was the lack of power ports. To charge your laptop, you had to ask the crew for an adaptor which went into a plug socket (not a normal plug) under the remote control. Unfortunately, this adaptor was only for a US plug. This meant I couldn’t charge any electronics on the flight.
As soon as I got to my seat I was offered a welcome drink. Breaking with tradition and because I was so tired, I went for an orange juice and a cup of tea and before I knew it I had fallen asleep to be woken by the crew for my first meal service.
Around an hour after takeoff, the crew brought round a bacon baguette and offer of a second drink. The baguette was nothing special but a nice breakfast dish for those who hadn’t visited the lounge beforehand for breakfast.
After eating this, I got changed into my pyjamas and and fell back to sleep for another three hours before being woken again for my main meal service. Being woken up isn’t normally what happens on flights but seeing as I was reviewing this flight, I made sure the crew woke me up for every service.
The second meal service exceeded my expectations and started with a lovely salmon poke. To see the full review, see below.
The dish was served with tortilla style crisps and avocado and was an excellent dish to start with. I somehow failed to take a picture of this dish so check the video out to see it.
For my main course i opted for the ‘charred steak’. The dish was served with vegetables and was cooked very nicely.
I decided to skip dessert as I was ready to burst. To finish the meal I went for a cup of tea and headed back into the lie flat position for a couple of hours.
Upper Class passengers are given amenity kits by Herschel. Herschel are an awesome brand that Virgin have teamed up with and the amenity kits definitely didn’t disappoint. See the full contents below.
We came into land on time and I changed out of my comfortable pyjamas just in time before the cabin was set up for landing.
Overall, I had a great flight with Virgin once again but couldn’t help feeling that the aircraft was highly outdated. The technology onboard is simply embarrassing compared to that on the B787 and the bar is nowhere near as nice. I love Virgin Atlantic but if you are trying to fly this product, avoid the Airbus A340-600.
Virgin Atlantic is known for its super stylish lounge product at London Heathrow. I reviewed this lounge early last summer and found it simply amazing. You can read all about it here.
Having spent a week in New York, it was time to fly home and as an Upper Class passenger, I was allowed access to the clubhouse at New York JFK. I have made a video review of this lounge which you can see below.
I arrived at JFK bright and early with the hope of properly checking out the lounge before my flight to LHR but found that security didn’t open until 5am so had to kill around 30 minutes in the departures hall before heading through.
At 5am, I checked in my bag and headed through security before hunting for a sign for airline lounges. It wasn’t for 10 minutes that I found signs to the lounges and found that I had walked in the completely wrong direction.
I eventually made it to the lounge and was greeted by a very friendly woman on the door who apologised for the closure of the spa. She said that as this was the only morning flight out of JFK, the lounge was only running at half capacity and then would close again once we departed.
I entered the lounge to find that I was the first passenger inside which was an awesome feeling.
The lounge is set up in a really nice way. It has a central bar area which acts as a division between the restaurant/sit down area and the more social, relaxed area.
As soon as you walk in you can see the pool table that is also in the Virgin Atlantic lounge at LHR. I love a game of pool and thus far haven’t played with anyone inside a lounge so I look forward to ticking that off my list shortly!
The middle area is filled with comfy seating, each seat has a table with a menu on it. The menu being displayed was the breakfast menu which I sat down with to have a read.
I chose the eggs royale from the menu and as I was still the only person in the lounge, it came within minutes along with my orange juice and latte.
I re-positioned from the middle area to a more relaxed area in front of the window. From my position I could see the ATC tower, an El Al B747-400 and it allowed lots of natural light in.
Just around the corner from my new position was some more funky seating and two Apple computers for those who needed to work.
Toward the back of the lounge are the toilets and showers. The little bathrooms are fantastic if you want to shower and come equipped with all the amenities you would need. I didn’t shower this time around but I’m sure I will next time I visit.
The food and drink in the lounge were spectacular. My eggs royale was made to perfection as was my latte. Seeing as it was so early in the morning, I opted to stay away from the alcohol and instead buckled down to do some work on my laptop.
The staff came around to clear my plate and mug and often asked if I wanted refills of any drink or more food.
The lounge at JFK may not be quite as good as the one at LHR and I definitely didn’t visit when it was operating at full capacity but it has the same stylish vibe as the LHR clubhouse. The food and drink were excellent and the staff were polite and friendly.
I would love to see what the lounge is like in the evening and next time I fly Virgin Atlantic out of JFK, I will be sure to take the night flight to see just that.
This is a guest review, written by George Delfas, detailing his experience onboard Air Baltic’s new Airbus A220-300 aircraft.
In early September, I flew with Air Baltic on their new A220-300 aircraft
to return to the UK, following my holiday in Greece. Air Baltic operate a wide
network of flights to major cities across Europe, as well as many seasonal
holiday destinations utilising their fleet of modern A220-300s and
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s – in addition to ageing B737-300 and 737-500 aircraft which are slowly being phased out and replaced.
My flight was from Athens to Riga, and then onwards from Riga to London
Gatwick. Both flights were operated by the A220-300, making for a very
pleasant experience – thanks in part to their modern cabin product and low noise emissions.
I arrived at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport at 22.00, with five hours to wait as my flight wasn’t until 03.15am.
Landside at Athens airport was very noisy, with many people coming and going and cleaning taking place, so I went through security after 45 minutes. Athens airport security was a pleasant contrast to the chaos of the check-in area – there was no queue whatsoever – and I was airside in just over 1 minute,
although this may have been due to the time of night. The gate
area was almost completely empty given the time of day, but an
impressive array of cafes remained open for an airport with only 2-3
flights departing from the ‘B’ gates between 00.00 and 05.00, with a wide
range of food available for purchase. There was a large quantity of
seating at the gates, however loud music was played preventing me from
getting any proper sleep. Thankfully, this was switched off at 1am.
At 02.50 we began boarding from a gate with a bus to take us to the
remote stand where YL-CSA (Air Baltic’s first ever A220-300, delivered
in November 2016) was waiting to take us to Riga. I boarded the plane
through the front door, was met by a friendly crew member and entered the
aircraft to find it lit with cool, pale coloured lighting with soft, relaxing
We departed from Athens at 03.33, 18 minutes behind schedule, with an
estimated flight time of 2hours and 50minutes. After the seatbelt signs
had been switched off, the crew came around with the passengers’ pre-
ordered meals. They then brought the trolley service through. This sold a
range of snacks which could be bought on board at fairly reasonable
prices comparable to other airlines offering a similar service. The service
was fast, but I imagine that on busier flights during the day the service
could take a long time, with only one galley at the rear of the aircraft to
serve the entire economy cabin (the other galley at the front was
exclusively for business class passengers).
The cabin was very spacious, with each seat having a fantastic width of
18.5″and 32″of pitch making for a very comfortable flight.
The seats reclined sufficiently, with the seat base moving forward as well as the back reclining so as not to squash the legs of the person behind you. I thought this was a clever solution to this all-to-common issue. It is worth bearing in mind, that even the back row had room behind it to allow the seats to recline. The overhead bins were also enormous, and dropped down from the ceiling allowing easier access for shorter passengers. The tray tables had a sleek design which fitted neatly into the back of the seat in front of you, but were released by a slightly fiddly metal catch which you had to slide rather
than turn to release the table. This was, however, not a major issue.
The only major downside to the economy cabin was that out of the two toilets
on board, one was exclusively for the business class passengers, which
left just one lavatory for the entire economy class cabin of around 135 people,
leading to queues. There was at least one large window in each row,
allowing all passengers to see out even if seated on the aisle and allowing
a huge amount of natural light into the cabin.
Above each row is a small screen which displays the safety briefing and a
map during the flight. There is no other IFE, and no WiFi on board.
Adverts were played on the screens during the taxi, despite it being 03.30,
which was incredibly annoying, especially as the sound was played
loudly throughout the aircraft.
30 minutes before landing in Riga, information on connecting flights was displayed on the screens, allowing you to see whether your next flight was on time, and which gate and concourse in the airport it was departing from saving you time once you had disembarked. This struck me as a nice touch.
Despite a horrible whining noise when the engines were started in
Athens, the rest of the flight was very quiet once cruising at 38,000 feet,
and noticeably quieter than an A320.
We landed in Riga at 06.19, 16 minutes ahead of schedule, following a
beautiful approach over foggy pine forests into a very, very foggy airport.
Disembarkation was through an airbridge on to concourse C.
Riga Airport is very small and easy to navigate, so it should have been a couple of minutes to reach Gate C9 for my onward flight to Gatwick. However,
there were huge queues for passport control to reach the boarding gates
for extra Schengen flights, meaning that I arrived at the gate after
boarding had started. The queue to board moved fast, and I was soon
walking out across the tarmac to my aircraft for this flight, another A220-
300 (YL-CSJ, Air Baltic’s second newest A220 delivered in July 2018).
The flight departed at 07.52, with an estimated flight time of 2hours
Once we reached our cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, the
meals for those who had pre-ordered them were brought around. I had
ordered pancakes with fruit juice for breakfast, which arrived in a box,
and was warm.
The pancakes were very tasty, and came with fresh fruit
and a croissant and jam. Many options were available to choose from
when booking your flight online, including many traditional Latvian
dishes, ranging in price from €9 to €29, with options for specific dietary
The crew were efficient and friendly, but were quite
reserved and didn’t make too many announcements, which was – at least in my opinion – a good thing.
I won’t describe the cabin again, as the aircraft was the same type as
before, but Air Baltic have made some small changes to the cabin from
the earlier A220-300 models, with small improvements such as the seats
having a plastic back with a pocket that doesn’t bulge into your knees as
much when items are placed into it all helping to make the flight more
We landed at Gatwick at 08.22, 18 minutes ahead of schedule, after
enduring possibly the most bumpy landing I have experienced which
even drew a sarcastic round of applause from many of the passengers,
and disembarked through an airbridge into the South Terminal.
Overall, my experience with Air Baltic was fantastic and I would
definitely fly with them again. They have the prices and service of a
budget carrier, but their cabin product, meal choices and noise levels on
the A220-300 is way above their rivals such as easyJet or British Airways
and provides fantastic comfort even for overnight flights.
I love the A380. It is as simple as that. So when I saw that China Southern operated the Airbus A380 between the two Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou, i decided to jump on the opportunity immediately. Below is my video review on YouTube which you can watch instead of reading the review.
Having flown the Airbus A380 with Qatar Airways and Emirates before, I was eager to see what China Southern had done with the aircraft and how it compared to the 5* offerings onboard the Middle Eastern carriers. I was also keen to see how it compared to Qantas and Etihad who have been reviewed on LondonSpotter by an ex-contributor, James, and as a guest review respectively.
Seeing as China Southern are based in Guangzhou, I decided to use this trip as a way of getting to Vietnam, my next stop on my Asia trip. I booked Beijing – Guangzhou – Hanoi as well as Guangzhou – Shanghai all in one booking for a total cost of £330 in economy.
This is a pretty good price for the three flights and I was lucky to find it. My go-to website for cheaper airfares is SkyScanner – have a go yourself and see just how low you can get the fares of your next trip. Remember to click all the way through to the booking agent as prices often go down from what is advertised on SkyScanner’s site.
I arrived at Beijing Capital Airport with around 2 hours until takeoff and was pleasantly surprised at the small queues and relative ease of getting through the airport. I checked my bag all the way through to Hanoi and walked through security which was right next to the bag drop desks.
To my annoyance, I had packed my bags in a bit of a hurry that morning and put my toiletries in my carry-on case. This resulted in me losing my shampoo and other bottles over 100ml – stupid mistake.
The gate was a two minute walk from the security exit and as soon as I was through, I noticed the huge A380 being loaded up at the gate.
The gate was directly infront of the China Southern lounge so business class passengers could simply walk from the lounge onto the aircraft in a matter of minutes.
People were seated but seeing as i wanted to get on the aircraft early, I started the queue for economy passengers. As is normal on Chinese flights, as soon as one person queued, everyone followed the herd and suddenly I was at the front of a 100 strong line!
Boarding began on-time and I boarded the aircraft as the first economy passenger.
I arrived at what I thought was my seat and sat down until a passenger came and showed me his boarding pass and it turned out I was sitting in 53A when in fact my seat was 53K. I politely moved to the other side of the aircraft.
As I was sitting in 53A, I noticed something very surprising. In the seat pocket was a safety card for a Boeing 787-9 aircraft. The A380 bares absolutely NO resemblance to a 787 so this posed a serious safety threat if the aircraft were to be evacuated in an emergency.
China Southern’s A380 is set up in a three-cabin configuration with economy taking up the majority of the bottom deck and backward eight rows of the upper deck. The lower deck is configured in a 3-4-3 setup which is an immediate setback from their A330 product which sits in a 2-4-2 configuration.
The upper deck, however, sports the 2-4-2 setup so if you get an opportunity to sit there, take it. The A380 can seat 428 passengers and by walking through the cabin I could estimate that it was around 75-80% full.
The seat is relatively large and comfortable although my legs were pushed up against the seat infront of me for the majority of the flight which was very uncomfortable.
The seats pitch is 32″ and the width is 17.2″. This compares to airlines like Qatar Airways who offer 18.5″ of width in economy – a much comfier option.
Boarding was completed about 25 minutes before departure and the jetbridge was removed from the aircraft giving me the impression that we were heading for an on-time departure.
How wrong I was…
After around 30 minutes of sitting on the ground, the cabin manager came over the loudspeaker to announce that we were delayed because of ATC restrictions but gave no time estimation on how long we would be stranded for. As this was only 30 minutes, I wasn’t massively fussed.
After about 40 minutes on the ground, the crew came around with the drinks trolley and began to serve drinks. I went for coffee which came in a plastic cup but tasted pretty good.
After this drinks service I pulled out my laptop to crack on with some work when I noticed the next serious failure of this aircraft. Above my head, towels had been stuffed into the ceiling to stop a leaking air-conditioner. While the towels were doing an ok job, drips were still coming through and the seat next to me began getting pretty damp – maybe this explains why it was empty.
I considered telling the cabin crew but I thought they had enough to worry about with the delays so put my headphones on and continued to work.
After around 2 hours on the ground, the crew emerged once again from hiding with breakfast. The option was chicken or pork and I went for the chicken.
The meal came with a side salad or celery, vanilla yogurt, a bread roll and some pickled vegetable in a packet.
The meal was piping hot when I opened it up but to my surprise the chicken dish was packed with celery… I’m not a huge fan of celery so the dish really wasn’t that pleasant for me. The yogurt and bread roll, however, were fine. Although I didn’t like it all that much, it was nice to have a hot meal unlike on Vietnam Airlines.
Our meals were cleared away and around 10 minutes later, we were on the move and finally ready to depart for Guangzhou.
We taxied out and departed out of Beijing for the 2 hour 40 minute flight south.
Having already eaten on the ground, I wasn’t expecting too much from this flight and in fact all we had in the way of service was another drinks service.
Each seat on the A380 is fitted with a personal monitor and remote control. There are also headphones waiting in the seat pocket. While the headphones are better than those given on China Southern’s A330, they were still poor quality and only worked when half way in and halfway out of the plug. This meant that I couldn’t watch the IFE and to be honest, after looking at the film options, I wasn’t fussed. I took my own headphones out and listened to music for the rest of the flight.
Something I found very annoying was the lack of power on this aircraft. I had heard that the A380s had power ports but I couldn’t find a USB or AC port at all.
Lastly, I found the crew on this flight to be very unwelcoming and borderline rude. Apart from one lovely crew member who served the food and drink, I found the others to be quite stand-offish. For the majority of the flight they all stood in the galley chatting with each other as the services had already been carried out on the ground.
We came into land in Guangzhou 2 hours late and the aircraft was empty soon after as everyone finally remembered how it felt to stretch their legs!
While I totally understand that China Southern had nothing to do with the delays, I think the way in which it was handled wasn’t great. We were given very little information and the crew seemed rude throughout the flight. The food may have been nice if you LOVE celery but to me it wasn’t very nice at all.
Having a leaking air conditioning system above a seat is VERY BAD. During the flight I had bits of ice falling down on me from above which was definitely not included in my ticket.
Finally, having a 787 safety card in the seat pocket posed a serious security threat and should not be tolerated on any airline.
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After my arrival into Malaga with Aer Lingus, I found myself with just 50 minutes to connect from one side of the terminal to another. Luckily for me, when I arrived at my gate there was a Primera Air Boeing 737 still waiting for the final few passengers to arrive, meaning my flight to Madrid would be delayed.
UX5049 Malaga – Madrid:
Finally the 737 pushed back and departed for Billund. The gate staff changed the signage over to Air Europa, and invited all Sky Priority + VIP passengers to come forward for boarding, so I did. I had my mobile boarding pass scanned and I was told to walk down the corridor and wait for a member of staff to direct me. It was only when the whole flight was waiting in the corridor that a member of staff came and lead us to a bus that would take us to the aircraft. So much for my priority boarding…
As we drove across the airfield, the plain white ATR 72 came into view. Today’s flight was being operated by Swiftair and not Air Europa themselves. Much like my Iberia flight from Ibiza to Mallorca. As the doors to the bus opened, the rush of passengers to the aircraft steps began, but not before larger cabin bags were tagged and placed into the aircraft hold.
After boarding I settled into “Business Class” seat 17A; I noticed that for other than an inch or two of extra legroom, this seat was no different to the others on-board. Even without my hand luggage underneath the seat, it was a very tight squeeze to attempt to stretch out. The seat width was the same as the Canaryfly ATR, because of this, I knew I was in for a rough ride. I fully understand that unlike their jet engined counterparts, regional propellor aircraft aren’t as gifted with vast amounts of space. However, despite this I have seen many airlines create a dedicated Business Class cabin on aircraft Including the ATR family.
One of the two crew on-board, who’s names I forget, offered myself and the other three passengers in Business a glass of Orange Juice or Water to drink prior to our departure. I chose the Orange Juice and also accepted the anti-bacterial face wipe offered that I believe substituted for a hot towel. Once boarding had been completed the crew introduced themselves by making several announcements in both Spanish and English. The engines of the turbo prop started up and we began our taxi to the runway.
Upon take off from Malaga, we climbed out over the Mediterranean Sea then turned towards the mainland. Once the seatbelt signs had been deactivated, the crew came around to clear the rubbish from the welcome drinks. Offering another selection of drinks, I chose a Coca-Cola and folded down the tray table to begin writing up the Aer Lingus review on my laptop. Only, when it was all of the way down, It rested on my lap and left me with no space whatsoever. After resting my drink on my laptop (being very careful not to spill it), they offered a selection of newspapers that had become very creased from sitting in one of the overhead lockers. Declining this, I was offered my in-flight meal.
A tray of peculiar looking sandwiches was presented to me, two choices, Chicken or Ham. Choosing the latter, I opened it to find it was quite simply ham on a tomato bread. Talk about fine dining! I was also given a small packet of salted nuts and later offered a bag of ready salted potato chips. It certainly wasn’t the most exciting selection in the world, that’s for sure.
No In-flight Entertainment is offered, so anyone planning to travel with on the ATR best pack a book otherwise you could be in for a very boring and uncomfortable flight. To pass the time, I cursed myself for not choosing to take the Renfe First Class service from Malaga to Madrid’s central train station. At least I would have had a large reclining leather seat, warm meal and most importantly, a cool air conditioned cabin.
Much to the relief of I imagine most people that had booked into this ‘Business Class’ service, the city of Madrid came into view and we began to make our approach. The crew passed through the cabin to collect any rubbish that was lying around and then took their seats for landing.
I have to be completely honest, this isn’t at all what I had expected when booking onto a Business Class flight with Air Europa. The quite frankly disappointing seat space available and very basic food options that were offered, really leave me wondering if the nearly £200 I paid for this 1 hour 30 minute flight was worth it. The only saving grace for my experience was the crew. They were fantastic from take off to touch down, and honestly couldn’t do enough for you.
Many reading this may be quick to point out that, as I mentioned, it was not Air Europa that operated this flight. It is however, the airlines choice to allow fare paying passengers to fly in a Business Class that is no different than the economy product offered.
My advice to anyone thinking of flying Business on a Air Europa service operated by Swiftair would be this; don’t do it. Save yourself the disappointment and discomfort and fly with Iberia instead.
I have reviewed this flight both in writing and video format! Be sure to see my video review below.
Vietnam Airlines fly more than five times a day between the two major Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (yes, I refer to it as Saigon too!). They are in direct competition with Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet who operate a fleet of modern A321neo aircraft. I originally booked a ticket with VietJet for August 5th, but once I got to Hanoi I decided I really wanted to stay an extra night so I phoned up VietJet and they said I would have to cancel and rebook if I wanted to change my date of travel.
Not wanting to book another full revenue ticket, I looked into other options. I could see that Vietnam Airlines operated the route with widebody aircraft such as the B787, A350 and A330 so checked out prices. Being so late in advance, however, I decided to skip this option due to it being too expensive. Just as I was about to give up, I remembered that Vietnam Airlines are, of course, partners with Air France! I fired up my Flying Blue account and searched for availability and right there was a stack of award flights for 11,500 Flying Blue miles and £8.
I originally wanted to book the flight in business class but Air France had no availability so seeing as I didn’t would have had to cancel and rebook on VietJet anyway, I decided to choose Vietnam’s A350.
I arrived at Hanoi International Airport two days after arriving on my China Southern flight. The Vietnam Airlines’ domestic departures level at Hanoi is relatively small but was split between destinations instead of just having one big set of queues for everyone. Seeing as their were so many flights to Ho Chi Minh that day, I ended up in a long queue and after 20 minutes of waiting, I was finally able to check-in and drop my bag.
I asked the woman at check in for a window seat which she was happy to give but the only seat she said was available was 36A. I checked the seat map online and saw that the aircraft had a premium economy cabin. Knowing that no premium economy product was sold on this route, I asked if I could sit there but I was told that the cabin was reserved for SkyTeam elites.
A little disappointed that I was SO far back, I headed through security to find that FlightRadar24 was showing my flight as a B787 instead of an A350 – another setback. I had already missed Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 product on my flight to Taipei because of an aircraft change to a Cathay Dragon A330 so was eager to make this one.
After walking around the small domestic area after security I ended up taking a seat and booking some more award flights!
Boarding started on time and still not knowing which aircraft I was on, I headed down to gate 10 where we boarded a bus which took us to the international stands to board our aircraft.
By the name of this review I’m sure you have guessed what’s coming next: I stepped out of the bus to see the stunning Airbus A350 boarding for my flight to Saigon.
I walked around the aircraft for a while seeing as I would have had to wait on the stairs anyway. It was fun being able to freely take pictures of the aircraft from the tarmac!
I boarded as one of the last passengers through the front door and walked all the way through the aircraft to find my seat.
Unfortunately, the aviation gods dealt me a bad hand and the seats 36 B and C were both nabbed. We pushed back soon after I got onboard and took off straight away to an amazing rainbow which appeared soon after we hit the skies.
Vietnam Airlines’ A350 economy class is set up in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Economy class is set up in two cabins from rows 16-43.
Each seat offers 32 inches of pitch and 18 inches of width.
The aircraft feels super modern and you can definitely tell the plane is new. Each seat is equipped with a personal IFE screen which was overwhelmingly large.
Below the screen is a USB plug which was great as I love to see USB plugs on long-haul aircraft.
The IFE system has a selection of films, TV shows, games, maps and music. I wasn’t able to try any of the video or audio out because headphones aren’t given out on this short flight.
I ended up put the map on the screen and watched as we made our way to Saigon.
Around 30 minutes after departure, the cabin crew made their way through the cabin offering out breakfast. I was expecting a hot breakfast option but the crew simply gave out boxes of crackers.
The drinks trolley followed and I asked for a coffee which they said they didn’t have. I then asked for some orange juice and was told that all they had was coke and water. This was a weird choice seeing as it was very early in the morning and I ended the breakfast still feeling very hungry.
For the rest of the flight I sat back and watched the views as we approached Saigon. The approach is simply stunning as you go over an enormous area of densely packed housing! You can watch the whole takeoff and landing below.
We landed in Saigon on-time and taxied to stand to complete my first flight with Vietnam Airlines.
Overall, I thought the flight’s service offering was poor. For such a busy route, I would have hoped Vietnam Airlines could offer more in the way of food and drink. In terms of the aircraft, I was super impressed. The A350 is super modern and the cabin is more spacious than on other Asian carriers. I hope to try out the business class product next!