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.
Hainan Airlines are one of 11 5* rated airlines and seeing as I had already flown on two 5* rated carriers (Qatar and JAL), it was time to tick off a third. Hainan Airlines recently started flying between London Heathrow and Changsha in Hunan province so I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test out the private Chinese carrier. I have made a full video review which you can see under this but it misses out some things. To get the full experience I suggest you watch the video and read the article.
Hainan are expanding at a rapid rate and have recently implemented new reforms in their onboard product which I was excited to test out. The first of these changes is in the design of the bed. Hainan have adapted to offer a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing bed design which I found to be fantastic on this flight. The second change was in the food and the third change is in the uniform.
Business class passengers of Hainan Airlines have the possibility of using their limousine service but so far this is only available at selected airports and London Heathrow is not one. My brother therefore saw me off at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and I arrived with around 4 hours until departure to see the finishing touches being added to Hainan’s check-in area. After a short wait, I checked in my bag, received my boarding pass and ventured to fast track security upstairs.
The fast track line at Heathrow’s T3 was really impressive this time around and I was through within minutes of entering.
The best prices i found to fly Hainan’s business class and even their economy class came from SkyScanner. These prices were extremely competitive so I advise you to have a look for yourself.
Hainan has no lounge at London Heathrow but instead offers passengers access to the No.1 Lounge. This lounge also accepts Priority Pass entries and pay to enter passengers which meant that it was a little busy and after queueing for around five minutes, I walked in to find a seat by the window.
The lounge is very spacious with lots of seating areas, a free bar and many private rooms including a library and a cinema. On this visit, lots of the private areas had ‘reserved’ signs on them which was a shame as it meant I had to sit in the main area which was very loud. In terms of food, I originally asked for a beef burger but they told me they were out so I instead went for the ‘Asian broth’ which was very bland and a poor choice.
After spending an hour working on my laptop I then ordered a salmon salad which I saw the person next to me eat and it restored my faith in the lounge a little. The salmon salad was excellent and a really good choice if you’re in this lounge.
The drink options were good but restricted. I originally asked for champagne and the barman told me I had to pay but when I looked disappointed he pointed at the sparkling wine and said this was the free alternative. I opted for the sparkling wine and to be honest it was actually really nice.
While it is a shame that Hainan don’t have a lounge of their own at London Heathrow, I think the No.1 Lounge is a really nice area to relax, eat and drink so all in all, I really wasn’t too disappointed. Remember you can see the full tour of the lounge in the above video.
As I left the lounge, gate 29 was called for flight HU422 to Changsha so I headed out on the 15 minute walk to the gate and was met by a completely empty business class queue. I walked straight up to the desk where my boarding pass was scanned and headed into the waiting area. I was really happy I arrived early as I ended up chatting to two cargo pilots who were positioning to Changsha to fly a 747-400 to Chicago via about five other places. It was really cool to chat to them and after around 20 minutes, we were called to board the plane.
Seeing as the plane was only a 787-8, only one jetbridge was used and after a short walk I was greeted by Orson who was the day’s cabin manager. The crew had been in London to attend the annual SkyTrax ceremony in which they were confirmed as a five star airline. The success was evident in their buoyant moods!
I headed into the first business class cabin of two as the only passenger and was greeted by two smiling faces. One of the girls to greet me was Dorlia who served me throughout the flight. It was extra special to have Dorlia serving me as she knew who I was and followed me on social media (major ego-boost moment).
Hainan has 27 787s in their fleet and today we were flying to Changsha on B-2722, the oldest of the lot. Being a 787-8 and not a -9 model, the aircraft was fitted with the old business class model instead of the new one. What this meant was that the seats were laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration instead of a more private 1-2-1 setup.
With this in mind, I was praying for a free seat next to me and believe it or not, my wish came true. When the doors shut, the seat next to me was empty and I can’t tell you just how happy I was.
The front business class cabin has only three rows and is therefore, very private. What makes the cabin feel even more spacious is the lack of overhead bins in the middle row. This is a tactic many other airlines use on the 787 such as Qatar Airways and something I really like to see.
Behind the first cabin are two toilets for business class passengers and a galley. Behind this is the second of the business class cabins which has three more rows in the same 2-2-2 configuration. Behind this cabin is the economy section of the aircraft.
As soon as I sat down, Dorlia was around with a choice of hot or cold towel. I haven’t seen the option on many airlines and so it was nice to be able to choose. I obviously went for the hot towel and before I could finish using it, the welcome drinks came around.
Now instead of asking which drink you would like, Hainan brings round a selection to see which looks best for you. On the tray was orange juice, grapefruit juice, champagne and a seasonal drink called blue coastline. Dorlia explained to me that they have a drink for each season and this one was effectively a non-alcoholic cocktail. I went for the seasonal option as I knew I’d be on the champagne very quickly afterwards. Alongside the drink, Dorlia gave me a small bowl of nuts.
Less than a minute later, another tray came round. This time I was presented with noise cancelling Bose headphones (yes Bose!!) which I have to say pretty much cancelled any noise very effectively.
Also on the tray was a selection of red, light grey and dark grey ‘phone handbags’. That’s right, Hainan knows that losing your phone on the plane is all too easy so they hand out cute little felted wallets to keep your phone safe. I chose red but Dorlia gave me one in each colour.
After this, more kept coming. I was given a choice of medium, large or extra large pyjamas, shown to my slippers which are stored in the footwell and shown my Samsonite amenity kit.
Before taking off I was paid one final visit by a very special member of the team: the Chef. That’s right, Hainan Airlines has one member of staff who is the chef and she came around twice before takeoff. The first time was to surprise me with a special drink of coconut juice and baileys which looked like milk and tasted incredible. The second time she came round was to take my order. She wanted to know what I wanted for starter, main and dessert but also took orders for drinks and asked exactly when I wanted them. It is clear that Hainan tailor this service to be exactly as you want it. The food options were so varied and you can see the full menu below.
Finally, the amenity kit by Samsonite was shown to me and oh boy was it packed. The bag has everything you’d expect from a business class amenity kit such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, lip balm, eye mask, ear plugs and socks but also throws in a couple of unusual items which I haven’t yet come across in an amenity kit. The bag came with a comb and a heavy bottle of what looked like perfume. You can see all the items below.
The old business class seat is by no means a bad one. The seat is 22.5 inches wide and provides you with 74 inches of legroom. I am 6”2’ and I could comfortably stretch my legs out which was a massive perk.
The footwell in front of the seat is very deep and when in a lie flat position, can be used as a storage area.
Beside the TV you have a storage area and a hanger for a jacket or shirt although I asked the crew to hang my shirt up when I was in my pyjamas.
In the middle of the two seats is a shared armrest with a small table at the front for a drink.
The armrest is pretty large but too small to be comfortably shared by two people. This middle section is where your seat controls are placed. The seat controls cover everything you could want. You can turn your seat fully lie-flat or fully upright and anything in between. You can also raise the leg-rest and adjust the headrest. One awesome feature is a little blue button you can press which gives you a lower back massage!!. After pressing the button the area on my lower back moved around a lot and gave a very pleasant massage!
Underneath the armrest is a USB charger, a power plug and a headphone jack. This area also stores your remote control.
We took off from runway 27L around 20 minutes late which was impressive. Just four hours before, the Heathrow control tour was evacuated due to a fire alarm and departing and arriving aircraft were all put on hold. Some aircraft had to wait upwards of an hour.
As soon as we were airborne I was given reading material such as The Economist and National Geographic.
This complemented the newspaper I had been given on the ground.
Pretty soon after takeoff and having taken our orders on the ground, food service began and my favourite part of the meal was brought around: the Chinese shrimp dumpling. Now I love a good Chinese dumpling but something about this one was just amazing and I could have eaten 100 more.
Secondly, I was brought a bowl of Chinese soup. I had been given the option of Western or Chinese and I of course went for Chinese. The soup was nice and hot and pretty flavourful.
Thirdly, I was brought a small salad with a sweet dressing on the top. If I’m honest, this was the low point of the meal. The salad was freezing cold and crunchy and I really didn’t enjoy it.
Onwards to the main course which I have to say was presented amazingly and didn’t disappoint in taste either. The dish I chose was ‘Szechuan pork with ginger and chili’ but it came with lots of Chinese style side dishes which were incredible. The crew also come around with choices of sauce. Dorlia suggested that I don’t eat the really spicy one (as she could see I was a bit of a weak soul, obviously) and so instead I went for the sweeter one.
The dish was so filling that I actually skipped the offer of ice cream and even when the Chef came around with what looked like sugar tart, I listened to my stomach and said no.
By this point I was starting to feel pretty tired and so I asked Dorlia to show me the new bed design so I could test it out. The new design is aesthetically very pleasing with its gold lining.
The feel of it once I got in was also pretty impressive. The two layers of cover mean you are lying on a very soft surface and you are kept warm by the thick duvet above you too. Once I got changed into my pyjamas, Dorlia was even so good as to tuck me in. What a lovely crew member eh?
With my bed comfortably set and wearing my fresh pyjamas I decided to lie down and see what was offered on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.
Seeing as the screen is far away from you there is no point it being touchscreen and it is controlled by the remote control which is found next to your seat. The control is easy to use and also controls features such as the light above your head and calling cabin crew. The system is very responsive and has a little feature which I found incredible useful. While watching a film, you can press the little airplane button and the flight map will appear in the top right corner of the screen. This is a really nifty way of seeing where you are without leaving your film. I watched one film but then stuck the map on for pretty much the entire flight.
The selection of TV and films is good but nothing to brag about. Noteworthy films include all three Lord of the Rings films which you could probably just about get through in 12 hours right? Other films include the Dark Knight Rises and some old classics too. The system also has a selection of Asian films and TV series.
With the Dark Knight Rises playing on my screen, my tiredness got the better of me so I paused the film and nodded off pretty much instantly.
After around three or four hours of sleep I woke up and was almost immediately asked if I wanted a cup of tea or coffee and some fruit. Within a minute or two I was given a cup of coffee and two hot towels. This service was so quick that Hainan must check very often if you’re awake to be ready to serve you.
Soon after waking up I set to work on my laptop and something extremely strange happened which you will have seen in great detail if you watched the video! All of a sudden, my nose started bleeding very badly. My table was up so I had to chuck all my laptop stuff onto the seat next to me and run to the toilet by which point I was already bleeding pretty badly and had ruined my new pyjamas!
It was a very weird situation and has never happened to me before. The way the crew dealt with it was fantastic. As I was holding my nose they wiped down my hands which by this point were covered in blood and got me a set of new pyjamas to put on. What was also very sweet was that after I returned to my seat, the chef came up with a bowl of cherries saying that they would help my blood. This was another example of how Hainan crew took initiative throughout the flight.
Before landing, the crew came round with one last meal option. For this service I went for the noodles and was not disappointed.
The noodles came with a side soup, a hard boiled egg, some sauces and a sweet bread which the crew said was very popular in China. I’d never had it before but it tasted fantastic and I almost asked for more.
Once I had finished my first breakfast dish, they brought a second one on me. This time I was given a plate of fresh fruit which tasted really amazing and was the perfect way to wrap up the food service.
After this final dish I got changed into my clothes and headed back to my seat to watch the stunning approach into Changsha play out. Just before we came into land I was then surprised by Dorlia as she brought me a little Hainan squidgy toy plane which doubled up as a turtle! Madness!!
This gesture may have only been little but it summed up to me just why Hainan are a five star airline. When I flew London-Changsha the crew were simply unbeatable. They spoke fantastic English, they were caring, genuine and thoughtful and it didn’t seem like they were doing things because they had to which you see with so many airlines today.
The food was amazing and when I said it trumps any other airline food I’ve had, I may have been a little brash but it is definitely up there.
After landing, I was met by my limousine driver who took me to my hotel in Changsha. This was a very nice welcome to a foreign city and I’m glad Hainan offer this limousine service.
Hainan Airlines has a charm about them which you don’t see a lot of nowadays. They are classy, visibly Chinese in attire but at the same time very western in their service. The crew don’t seem like they do it because its their job but because they enjoy it and that is what I love to see in an airline.
Finally, do Hainan deserve to be a 5* airline? My answer is yes, they do. My experience was not 5* worthy because of one thing: the seat and cabin. While the seat was good, it was no way near a 5* product. I am eager to try Hainan’s new business class product as I am sure that the new seat mixed with the amazing crew, fantastic amenities and incredible food will be about as 5* as you can get. Based on soft product alone, my flight was 5* by all means.
Love LondonSpotter reviews? Be sure to subscribe below to be notified each time we publish.
disclaimer: this flight was provided by Hainan Airlines. I was under no pressure to state any particular opinions and all views are my own and based on this flight.
When I knew that I was going to be flying onboard Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product, I knew that writing a review wasn’t going to convey just how cool this experience was going to be. So, in order to really show you just how awesome this experience is, below you can see my very first video flight review! I hope you like it and I hope it complements the written review well.
Background: Virgin Atlantic
Living in London, I always had the urge to fly Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product. In London, it is hard to go a day without seeing an advertising board showing the incredible service or luxury lounge. Last year, as James went to San Francisco, he had the privilege of flying Virgin Atlantic’s economy product and the review is still one of our most read reviews ever! With that in mind, I thought that you guys must LOVE Virgin Atlantic so on my trip to JFK, I tried the famous Upper Class product and fell in love.
Virgin Atlantic flies six times daily between London Heathrow and New York JFK while partner airline Delta flies two times daily. This means that flights depart at pretty much all times of day which gives flyers fantastic flexibility when booking. The first five flights of the day are on Virgin Atlantic’s A330-300 aircraft but seeing as I wanted to fly onboard the Boeing 787, I was happy to takeoff in the afternoon so booked a ticket on VS9.
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.
Living in the south of England makes getting to Heathrow pretty convenient by train but seeing as my family were flying from LHR about an hour before me, we opted to get a taxi together. The taxi arrived at 11.00am and the traffic was absolutely miserable meaning that we didn’t arrive at Heathrow until around 13.00pm. I headed straight to the check-in desks to drop my bag.
Virgin Atlantic’s check-in desks occupy the left side of Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and the entrance hall is buzzing with red-dressed staff eager to help. I walked straight into the Upper Class section which had no queue, checked-in, chose my seat, dropped my back and went on my way to security. Upper Class customers have a separate security lane just next to the check in desks but as my family were waiting for me at the normal security, I headed upstairs and was through within minutes.
Once through security, Upper Class passengers should follow signs to ‘airline lounges’ and head through the departure lounge to the lounge area. Here, you will see the lounges of British Airways, Qantas and many more airlines.
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is world famous for its style. As soon as you get near the lounge, you can tell you’re in for a treat. The stairs are beautifully decorated with marble which is just a teaser of what is to come.
Once you get to the top, you are greeted by friendly Virgin staff who take you inside and explain the different features of the lounge to you in detail. This was a really lovely touch and made me feel very welcome.
Because this lounge was just SO incredible, I will actually be writing a separate article on it to go into more detail. Below are some pictures of the lounge for you to get an idea of what it is like.
Gate 21 was to be the setting for today’s flight to JFK so I made my way out of the lounge and started my walk.
The screens said it could take 20 minutes to reach the gates but I arrived after about 10 minutes. As I arrived, boarding had already started so I dropped into the speedy Upper Class line and entered the gate area. Soon after, Upper Class passengers and Virgin Atlantic gold members were called forward and within a few minutes of arriving, I was finally onboard.
Boarding takes place behind the Upper Class cabin and into the bar. This allows passengers who aren’t flying Upper Class to see the bar and instantly regret not buying a ticket!!
I was greeted by the Flight Service Manager (FSM) who directed me straight to my seat, 5K.
Virgin Atlantic have 47 aircraft in their fleet including 17 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. These state of the art jets were first delivered to Virgin towards the end of 2014 and have steadily continued to be delivered since then with the most recent delivery (G-VNYL) arriving in April 2018. My aircraft (G-VOOH) was actually one of the first to be delivered and arrived in February 2015.
The 787s are configured in a three-class configuration with 31 Upper Class seats leading onto 35 Premium Economy seats and 198 Economy seats at the rear. Today’s flight had only one free seat in Upper Class and a handful in Premium Economy.
The Upper Class seat is different to any business class product I have flown before. It is set up in a 1-1-1 configuration with the seats angled to face into the cabin.
This means that if you want to look out of the window, you have to uncomfortably turn your body to face backwards. My first impression of the seat was that it was actually rather narrow but as I sat down I found that it was very comfortable and easy to relax into.
There is a foot stall to put your feet on which is a fantastic edition to the seat. It has a mini belt to strap your feet in and a nice storage area underneath.
The features of this seat are really nice. To your right, you have a personal monitor and remote control.
Both the remote and the screen are fantastically responsive which I loved.
It almost felt like I was swiping on an iPad. While the screen wasn’t the largest, it was perfect for watching something while eating or lying in bed. The screen tilts to make it easy to watch in all positions and moves out of its right-hand side position very easily.
Next to the seat you have a storage compartment which has noise cancelling, single-pinned headphones, a safety card, a help sheet explaining how to connect to the WiFi and two inflight magazines. The headphones are absolutely fantastic as they are noise cancelling. I also loved how they were only single-pinned!!
Above the storage space is one of my favourite little areas. The small tray table can be released with a simple push and is the perfect size to store your drink or phone. It can also stay down when converting the seat into a bed.
Above this is one of two lights. They emerge with a simple push and are very bright. I would have liked to see an option to dim the light a little bit.
Behind the seat is a small storage area. It is where the crew store your pillow before the flight but I also used it to store my camera, amenity kit and chargers throughout the flight.
To the left of the seat are the seat controls. The seat controls are on the basic side but certainly get the job done.
You have the option to move the seat while in the seated position to suit your desire and also to eject the tray table. On the right side, near the aisle, are the controls used by the crew to put the seat into a lie-flat position.
One of the main selling points in this cabin is that each seat has direct aisle access. What makes it even better is that you can leave your seat even while you’re eating. The tray table is designed so that you can push it back far enough to sneak out next to it but you can also pull it close enough to you to eat in an upright position while watching something. The table is very large and sturdy which I really liked.
After taking my seat, I was immediately offered a welcome drink but having drunk more than enough I went non-alcoholic and chose water. This stint of not drinking alcohol lasted for approximately 15 minutes as we taxied out of terminal 3 and took off from runway 27R for JFK.
After we hit the skies and the seatbelt sign turned off, the crew came around with the offer of champagne and crisps! This is trademark Virgin Atlantic and they compliment each other really nicely.
Alongside the welcome drink we were also given today’s menu. The menu lists all the drinks onboard and the options for the meal service. You can see the full menu in the slideshow below.
Not long after the crew had taken our orders, it was already time to eat. The meal service began just as I started watching a film but I was already getting hungry by this point so put the monitor away. What was great was that I could continue watching my film as the food was brought to me.
Firstly, my table was set by one of the crew. The layout is lovely and it was lovely to see the famous salt and pepper shakers.
Very soon after my table had been set, the starter arrived. I opted for the Tomato and Mozarella carpaccio starter and it didn’t disappoint. The dish was excellent with my favourite part being the rich dressing.
As soon as I was finished, the starter was cleared away and cutlery arrived for my main course. There were lots of options for the main course and I went for the lemon and thyme roasted chicken. The layout was fantastic and the taste didn’t disappoint either. The chicken had been cooked to a perfect texture and was fantastically complimented by the sides it came with.
After my main course I was stuffed but it would be wrong to not eat dessert, right? There were two options for pudding and I opted for the burnt sugar custard tart. The flavour was overwhelming and very sweet! I ate half of it but couldn’t finish it off.
Overall, the meal service had been a phenomenal success. The starter and main went together incredibly, the layout was fantastic and the myth of airplane food being inedible was completely debunked!
After I had eaten and my meal had been cleared away, I decided to go and do some work in the Upper Class bar.
The bar was probably my favourite feature of this aircraft as it so nicely laid out. There are for fixed stools set up around the table area which mean you can sit around with friends and share your meal or do some work. In my case, I did both!
After lunch and before I had a sleep I spent a good hour working up at the bar and was fantastically looked after by the crew. They offered me drink refills, snacks and when I was ready to go to sleep they brought me pyjamas and offered to change my seat into a bed as I was getting changed. I was eager to see how the seat could be transformed so watched them. In an interesting process, the seat actually tips forward and essentially lies flat so that you lie on the back of the seat.
After my bed had been made I went and got changed into my pyjamas which were nice and soft.
I was sceptical about how comfortable this would be but after getting changed into my pyjamas, putting on my warm socks and lying down I was very surprised. The bed is made with a soft, padded layer which really adds to the comfort. The only problem is, you’re limited once your bed is made as you can’t then adjust the recline or lift yourself up a little higher which was slightly annoying as if I didn’t push myself all the way up to the top of the bed, my feet stuck off the end by an inch or so. I guess most of you aren’t 6’2 though!
Probably due to the large amounts of alcohol I had been consuming that day, I fell straight asleep while watching ‘The Death of Stalin’ and woke up a couple of hours later to watch a documentary on my favourite cricket player, Sachin Tendulkar, which was very interesting. As soon as the crew saw that I was awake, I was offered a cup of tea and shortbread which was a really nice touch. The tea comes in the most fantastic mugs which makes you feel like you’re in bed at home!
With around two hours to go until landing I went back to the bar area to get my clothes which the crew had hung up for me. It was then that I met three guys who were interested in why I was taking so many photos and videos during the flight. I explained to them what I was doing and we ended up chatting for the next hour about using credit cards, miles and points and all else flying! It was really awesome to see how enthusiastic they all were and we shared details so as to stay in touch!
As we were chatting, the crew proved themselves once again! They had begun serving scones to Upper Class passengers and instead of simply seeing we weren’t at our seats and ignoring us, they came to the bar, asked us if we would like some and then brought them to us there.
Once we were done, they even sprung some Victoria sponge cake on us! What a treat.
I got changed, headed back to my seat and started packing up as we began our descent into New York. We landed on runway 04R and taxied to our stand before disembarking and heading into JFK.
While judging this flight it is important to state that Virgin Atlantic’s seat is out of date and in no way comparable to business class seats like the Q-Suite. The privacy is ok, the IFE very responsive but limited in choice and the seat is only convertible into a bed by a crew member and limited in options once you’re down. This immediately limits how good this product this.
However, this flight was probably one of my favourite business class flights ever. Let me explain why.
Firstly, Virgin Atlantic’s crew are some of the most genuine and attentive I have ever had. Cabin crew are supposed to be attentive, especially in business class. On many airlines, however, that attentiveness is forced and the connection with the passengers seems a little fake. With Virgin, that is totally different. The crew were able to see which passengers to be formal with and which to show off Virgin’s sassy and cheeky side to. Virgin Atlantic is always presented as a slightly different airline and I could really see that. The flights are more fun and less formal which I absolutely loved. It takes well trained and energetic crew members to carry this out and that’s exactly what I had on my flight.
Secondly, the food was fantastic. Presentation was immense and the flavour was incredibly strong. The layout of the table boomed with ‘Virgin style’ from the tiny airplane salt and pepper shakers to the classily branded cutlery and champagne glass.
Overall, I have to say I was really impressed with Virgin Atlantic and had fantastic fun onboard. If I were to choose between BA and Virgin for flying between London and New York, I would have to choose Virgin. The lounge product is undoubtedly better than the galleries lounges at Terminal 5 and while the seat probably isn’t more superior in terms of privacy, I would rate the soft product and service a lot higher. With an onboard bar, also, Virgin has my money.
disclaimer: an economy class ticket was booked and then upgraded on a space-available basis by Virgin Atlantic. I was under NO pressure to give any opinions and all opinions are strictly my own. The crew were not told I was going to be onboard so as to make this review fair.
For our regular readers out there, you will know that we have tried and tested our fair share of Qatar Airways’ products. Our view of the airline is simple, we love it! In February, Raj was invited on board the delivery flight of the Airbus A350-1000 from Toulouse to Doha. It’s fair to say I was very jealous of this, so when I was given the opportunity to fly out to Doha and cover the opening day of the IATA International Ground Handling Conference, I jumped at the chance!
Qatar Airways fly daily from Birmingham to Doha using Boeing 787-8 aircraft and directly compete with Emirates for the crown of best long-haul carrier from BHX. Flying to over 80 countries and serving more than 150 destinations, Qatar certainly do their best to be the number one choice when flying long haul. Having flown on both British Airways & Air Canada 787 Dreamliner’s in recent months, I had high hopes that this Qatari jet would live up to the standard of those fantastic flights.
As a frequent flyer, I tend to book all my flights through SkyScanner for great prices and Momondo for amazing business class deals. Try it for yourself!
Living only 10 minutes from Birmingham Airport meant I could afford to leave the house a little later than normal when catching a flight. After a short taxi ride, in which I happened to see my aircraft (A7-BCX) abandon it’s approach and go around, I arrived at the terminal. When walking into the building, I made my way to the Qatar Airways check in desks, where to my surprise I found them completely empty. After a brief chat with the girls at the desk, I was given my boarding pass and made my way through fast track security and into departures.
Qr34 birmingham – doha:
Whilst making my way up to Gate 45, I was met by the Airport Manger for Qatar. He invited me to pre board the aircraft, explore the cabin and grab some photos. The cabin is set in a 1-2-1 configuration and my assigned seat, 2E, was in the middle of this cabin. Not wanting to miss the views on our way down to Doha, I had a chat with Ida (the Cabin Manager in charge of today’s fabulous crew) and found myself now sat in window seat 2K. Boarding was relatively quick as today’s flight was only half full and soon after boarding was completed the crew armed the doors and cross checked them in preparation for our departure.
Seats in the Business class cabin can convert into a fully lie flat bed if required. Adjustable armrests and lumbar support ensure that all can be comfortable when flying with Qatar. A 17” television equipped with the Oryx One IFE System is located above a folding table which can be extended fully when dining or working. Storage compartments are seemingly everywhere but are designed perfectly to blend in with their surroundings and a universal plug and USB socket offer the tech savvy travellers the option to stay charged and connected during their flight. This cabin definitely oozes class but perhaps falls just a bit behind the brand new and innovative QSuite. See the pictures in the slideshow below to check out the awesome cabin.
Unfortunately due to the go around on the inbound sector to Birmingham we had a delay to our scheduled departure time of 16:00, and found ourselves pushing back at 16:45, 45 minutes late. Fortunately due to the close proximity of the terminal building to the runway, we were soon lined up on Runway 33 ready to start our 6 hour 40 minute journey to Doha. Climbing up to 41,000 feet, our routing took us north out of Birmingham and then out east over the North Sea and across Central Europe.
The crew had come around prior to departure and taken our orders from the Business Class Menu. Qatar operate a “Dine on Demand” system onboard with a wide selection of appetising dishes which were made available and would be served fresh accompanied with a selection of warm breads and olive oils. Choosing to eat not long after take off, the crew came around to set my table and offer me a drink before my Arabic Mezze appetiser arrived. This was soon followed by the Paneer Tikka Masala and Gourmet Ice Cream. Most people would have you believe that plane food is disgusting, today this definitely was not the case. Look at the pictures below to see the incredible display.
My attention soon turned away from food and onto the Inflight Entertainment. A noise cancelling headset is provided free of charge for all passengers and is only compatible with the Oryx One system. Oryx offers the latest Hollywood, Bollywood and International films as well as a selection of classics. TV shows are offered although the selection wasn’t as wide as the films and various different music albums covering a variety of genres could be selected. The picture and sound quality on the Business Class screen was second to none.
They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it sure did on this occasion. Our approach into Hamad International Airport was signalled by light chop that even Delta Airlines would be proud of! Flying into Doha guarantees a scenic approach whatever time of the day it is. The bright lights of The Pearl, the city skyline and the Iconic Sheraton Hotel guided us all the way onto Runway 16R.
From the moment I stepped on board to the moment the doors opened in Doha, I was made to feel welcome and recognized by the fabulous crew who genuinely care and take pride in their job. An intimate cabin of just 22 seats allows passengers to relax and unwind in comfort and style. Qatar Airways have got this product perfected, and it is one I certainly cannot wait to fly again!
Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Qatar Airways as part of the IATA Conference trip. All of the views that are expressed in this review are my own and have been in no way influenced by the airline.
When Qatar Airways invited me onboard the delivery flight of the new Airbus A350-1000 I was hugely excited. It was to be my first ever delivery flight and my first flight onboard the new, state of the art Q Suite business class product too. To get home from Doha, I had a choice of flying on the A380, 777 or 787. Seeing as I am flying so many 777s this summer and have flown a fair amount of 787s before I opted to fly on the Qatar Airways A380 business class.
Qatar Airways have a fleet of nine Airbus A380 aircraft based out of Doha Hamad Airport and they operate on only a select few routes. These routes are Sydney, Paris, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Melbourne and, of course, London. The London route is operated by the A380 on both the 1.55am QR9 flight and the 8.00am QR3 flight. I opted for QR3.
My taxi arrived at my hotel in Doha at 5.00am and quickly and easily whisked me off to the airport. Upon arrival he asked if I was flying business class and as I said yes, took a ramp to a separate section of the drop off zone for both business class and first class passengers.
The door was opened and bags unloaded by Qatar Airways staff who then walked me inside to the business and first only check-in area. I hadn’t checked in for my flight online so he entered my passport information and sent me away with my boarding pass within minutes.
Another benefit of flying business class was the private security lane. In many airports you will be taken through a ‘fast track’ lane but with Qatar, we had a quiet room which felt more like a luxury hotel lobby than an airport security hall. They sure know how to make you feel special.
Once through security I headed to the duty free section of the airport to take advantage of the AMAZING prices they have. From tobacco to alcohol and chocolate to plane models, you can find some amazing deals to take advantage of.
Once I had bought enough to warrant another suitcase purchase I headed to the business class ‘Al Mourjan’ lounge for a very early breakfast. The lounges are all up escalators which make them one floor above security and two floors above the main concourse to ensure maximum privacy. This is a really nice touch. My first impression of the lounge was along the lines of “This is HUGE”. The lounge really was gigantic. I found myself a table and placed down my luggage and jacket before going for a wander. Check out the slideshow below to see my favourite aspects of the lounge.
At 7.00am, 15 minutes before boarding, I headed down to gate A5 – a short walk of around 5 minutes. While walking towards the gate it was almost impossible not to appreciate the huge A380 standing at the gate ready to ferry us to Heathrow. The gate has two check in areas, one for economy passengers which had a pretty long queue and one for business and first passengers which had a tiny queue and led passengers to a private waiting room upstairs. This was a really nice touch and another way of ensuring the premium passengers had privacy.
Boarding began on-time and I headed down to the aircraft where I was met by the lovely cabin manager Fiona who led me to seat 18A, a standard business class window seat towards the back of the cabin. Once I had taken my seat I was immediately asked what drink I wanted and if I wanted a hot towel. I asked for champagne (which was an odd choice seeing as it was 1am in the UK) and was almost immediately brought a glass of ‘Lanson Black Label white champagne’ from France. It was a fresh tasting champagne with ‘aromas of flowers and a touch of honey’.
The Qatar Airways business class seat is the pod seat and is the same seat featured on the B787 and A350-900 models. It has now been outdated by the Q Suite which will be fitted onto all new aircraft apart from the 787s from now on. The seat features 80″ of pitch or bed length which when seated is more than enough to stretch out and store a bag and when lying down enough to fully stretch out in comfort.
The width is also sufficient with 22″. The seat also has a reading lamp and document storage rack to the left of the seat. In front of the rack is a table with storage space and to the left of that, two extremely deep bins. All in all, you’ll struggle to fill all of the storage space which is a huge benefit of flying the Airbus A380.
The seat has a personal monitor of 17″ which features the highly regarded Oryx One system. The screen has fantastic in-flight maps, films, TV shows, games and much more which is all controllable from your personal remote control on your left.
The seat features full recline and a very large table which suits both the bold eating spreads they lay out for you and the ability to work.
Finally, business class passengers are given amenity kits by BRIC’S. The kit includes socks, eye masks and a range of sprays, creams and gels. All perfect for comfort in long-haul travel.
So the A380 is huge – there is no two ways about it. Each airline chooses to lay the aircraft out in different ways and here is how Qatar have chosen to operate it.
The upper deck has stairs at the front and two enormous toilets for first class passengers of which there were two on this flight – one each! The First class seats are open suites and are set up in two rows of a 1-2-1 configuration. Behind first class is another enormous galley with two toilets which leads on to business class.
The business class seats are also laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seats cover rows 10-22 which makes for a total of 48 seats. Behind the business class cabin is my favourite A380 feature – the bar.
For both first class and business class passengers, the bar features sofas with small tables for drinks and a huge amount of space to walk around in. This is such a nice addition to the aircraft as it means you have somewhere to stretch your legs and have a drink or in my case even do some work.
Behind the lounge comes a small economy cabin which differs from the other economy cabins. The cabin features only 56 seats and is laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration. This is a drastic change to the normal 3-4-3 offered downstairs and if flying economy with Qatar Airways, is a trick you should definitely look out for. One of the crew members did mention to me that they try to reserve those seats for OneWorld status members and elderly people, however.
Downstairs is all economy. I headed down to take a look and the layout is a standard 3-4-3 setup. The seats feature 32″ of pitch and 18.5″ of width. On today’s flight there were 150 economy seats free out of the 461 capacity!
After boarding was completed, ground staff left the aircraft and we pushed back and departed at 8.20am. Taking off in the A380 is an amazing feeling unlike that of any other aircraft. The sound is amazing.
The crew had taken my breakfast order before taking off and around 10 minutes after we hit the air Leo, who was looking after me for the day, brought me my drink, a bowl of hot nuts and the meal. Qatar Airways always lay out the meal in a lovely way with a small tray of salt, pepper and butter for the bread basket and even some small candle decoration. It’s lovely to see how much pride they take in their layout. I went for the cheese platter which came with four different cheeses, three types of crackers, some more bread, a pate, some grapes and some small vegetables. Leo also assured me that to compliment the meal I had to try some port wine as they go fantastically together.
The meal was lovely and a great choice if you’re not overly hungry. Once I had eaten I headed off to explore the aircraft. I started by stretching my legs in the bar before heading downstairs to chat with the crew operating the economy cabins. It was downstairs where I met the amazing Prashant Agarwal from India. He was so sweet and even though he was working in economy, came upstairs on several occasions to chat with me and check on how I was being looked after. It was a pleasure to meet him and the other crew and backed up my amazing impression of Qatar crew from the previous days flight.
Once I had explored the aircraft I put on my pyjamas and headed to sleep. It took me only a few minutes to get comfortable and then nodded off straight away. The seat is more than comfy enough to sleep but falls short of the Q Suite where privacy is concerned. I couldn’t help but notice that people in the middle seats could see me. This didn’t affect me at all but was a clear indicator on how the Q Suite is a superior product.
Within minutes of waking up Leo was back and asked if I would like tea or coffee. I went for a tea which was lovely to wake up to and headed to the bar to continue working. Inflight WiFi is offered on this flight but I chose not to use it. James, however, bought $20 worth and used it during the flight with great success.
I then headed back for my second meal – the Arabic breakfast. Once again, the display was beautiful and I enjoyed the salad that went along with it. I didn’t, however, enjoy the soup part so much which was a shame.
Soon after, we begun our descent into London Heathrow and the crew came to give me a ‘Fast Track’ passport control ticket as a thank you for flying with Qatar. This was a really sweet touch as the other passengers weren’t given the same.
The Bottom Line
Qatar’s A380s are fitted with the old seat which has now been outdated by the Q Suite. While the Q Suite is undeniably a superior product, the old seat is still fantastic. With lots of space and tonnes of storage, the 380 is ultimately a fantastic choice. The crew were absolutely incredible and looked after me extremely well. They were attentive, well-dressed and extremely professional. Well done Qatar Airways.
Love LondonSpotter flight reviews? Be sure to subscribe below to get an email notification when we post more.
disclaimer: this trip was provided by Qatar Airways as part of the A350 delivery flight trip but the views are fully my own. No pressure was put upon me by the airline to express particular points of view.
The day had been looming since mid-2007. At some point in the future, the first ever Airbus A350-1000 aircraft would leave Toulouse on a delivery flight. It wasn’t until 2012, however, that it became clear where this flight would depart to. On December 3rd, Qatar and Airbus announced that the original order of 20 Airbus A350-800 aircraft was to be converted into three -900 variants and 17 -1000s. From that moment on, the clock was ticking. I knew I wanted to be onboard the inaugural flight from Doha to London in the Q Suites, which you can book here, but there was one flight a little more exclusive than that – the delivery flight from Toulouse.
The original plan was to deliver the aircraft towards the end of 2017 but due to the ‘unbelievably high standards’ of CEO Akbar Al Baker, the fitting of ‘Q Suites’ (Qatar’s new state of the art business class) on the aircraft delayed the delivery further. On January 22nd, it was rumoured by Reuters that the delivery would take place towards the end of February. They were correct.
On Tuesday 20th February, I flew out to the Airbus factory in Toulouse where I was met by an Airbus chauffeur who shuttled me straight to a press conference hosted by Qatar and Airbus. It was here that Al Baker announced that they are considering converting some of the -900 orders to the larger -1000 so as to receive even more of the larger variant. The conference was also special as it was Fabrice Brégier’s last day as Airbus President.
So What Makes the -1000 Different?
In basic terms, the A350-1000 is a bigger version of the -900 model. It features a larger cabin and new Trent XWB 97 engines. The engine differs from the XWB 84 model in that it delivers an extra 13,000lb of thrust to carry the bigger jet. The engines are made by Airbus’ trusted partner Rolls Royce. The major difference, however, is that the -1000 jets are all fitted with the new Q Suite product, unlike the old -900s. This is, however, about to change as Al Baker announced that all future aircraft deliveries apart from the 787s will be Q Suite fitted. The 787 will also feature an upgraded product, he announced. He also confirmed that First class will stay on the A380 but not feature on any other aircraft.
After landing in Toulouse and attending the press conference, we were whisked off to the Airbus Delivery Centre where we visited A7-ANA, the first ever A350-1000 aircraft to be delivered to an airline. My first impressions of the aircraft were positive. As we walked around the jet you could sense it was new by the way that everything was as clean as a whistle. The aircraft really was beautiful. As we entered the plane I was hit with a strong smell: new aircraft. If you have ever had a chance to smell an aircraft which is just months old then you will know what I’m talking about! If not, I’m not crazy, don’t worry.
The visit on Tuesday was a really great chance to check out how the product looked so here is my review of both cabins:
Business Class Q Suite
In Tuesday’s press conference, Al Baker and Brégier both pressed the point of how revolutionary the Q Suite was. When I got on board, I finally knew what they were talking about. The Q Suite has a fantastic look to it and is a massive upgrade from the old business class product. The suites feature full privacy with sliding doors, bigger TV screens, hi-tech electronic blinds and are pretty damn comfy, too.
The Q Suite layout is designed in such a way that a double bed can be made out of the two middle suits if travelling with a partner and a small meeting room can also be made. By lowering the middle blinds, four people can join tables to make a large one in the middle. By keeping the blinds on the sides up, a fully private meeting room is created. Genius.
The idea behind the Q Suite truly is revolutionary and it requires you to see it in person to really appreciate it. The Q Suite covers rows 1 to 12 and the configuration is 1-2-1. You can read my review on the old business class to see how they compare here.
The economy class on the A350 also really impressed me. With no premium economy product, the two economy cabins have the task of impressing those who normally would choose premium. In a typical 3-3-3 configuration, the seats are slimline and modern.
The seat pitch felt sufficient when I tried it (albeit mid-flight for about 5 minutes) and width was more than acceptable. Because of the slimline seats and clean feel to the aircraft, the cabin felt really spacious which I liked. The economy class fills up the rear two cabins. As someone who has flown a lot of premium economy, I thought the cabin felt fantastic and is on par with many of the premiums I have flown.
Once our tour was over, we headed back to the hotel and prepared to finish our evening in quite some manner. We were all brought back to the Delivery Centre where we were offered champagne and little snacks that made me feel as pompous as ever (they did taste incredible though…) before entering into the dining hall for a wonderful dinner and unbelievable light show.
The aircraft was revealed in a spectacular performance of strobe lighting and then the drama came inside as projectors lit up our tables in incredible fashion. It was truly spectacular.
Having been out the night before at the Gala it was incredibly hard getting up at 4.00am to head back to the Delivery Centre. So hard, in fact, that I didn’t do it. After waking up half an hour late I dashed outside, got a taxi and paid an extortionate fee to arrive for check-in. The irony was, however, that my taxi driver drove so fast that I actually arrived earlier than everyone else!
The Delivery Centre has its own little check in area with two desks. We all queued in excitement, got our boarding passes and seats then ventured upstairs to where we had attended the Gala party just five hours previously.
Laid out for us was a very spectacular spread of pastries and nibbles with small bar areas to get coffees and juices. A really professional looking layout, I thought.
Once we had eaten I went through the small security lines and boarded my first ever delivery flight! Exciting right? The atmosphere was fantastic; a good mix of journalists and excited young bloggers meant that wherever you were on the plane you had a wide variety of people to chat with and share your enthusiasm.
My seat for the 7-hour ferry flight was 6J, a window seat in the larger front cabin. The crew were amazing in showing me around. They began by offering me a drink, hot towel and asking about my food preferences before showing me around my seat and telling me all about the features of the Q Suite.
What an impressive suite! One of my favourite features was the little area between my seat and the window. If you pull the tab it reveals a storage area but when down can be used as a table for your camera or bag. At one point it even became a seat for James until I kicked him out! With that said, the table area in front is already extremely impressive. With a little shelf below the actual table it provides plenty of storage space. Be sure to clear it before takeoff though or everything will fly off and hit you!
We pushed back and departed Toulouse at around 9am so as to arrive in Doha in daylight for the press. For the full takeoff video – see below.
Departing at 9am meant breakfast was served pretty much straight after takeoff. I opted for the ‘platter of seasonal cut fruits’ as a starter and the ‘cheddar cheese omelette with sausages’ for my main. The meal was really beautifully presented by the wonderful crew but took about 30 minutes to arrive! As this wasn’t an ordinary flight, however, I didn’t mind as I was up wandering the aircraft anyway.
While walking around chatting to everyone it was amazing to see just how enthusiastic the Airbus and Qatar staff were. It was really nice to see just how confident they were in this new jet. As we neared the end, we were lucky enough to step inside the flight deck. This moment is one that I had wanted to do ever since I was a young child and it didn’t disappoint. Sitting in the flight deck at 41,000ft was amazing and I can’t thank Captain Konstantinos Iliakis enough for allowing the visit.
My final meal came from the snack platter menu specially devised for this flight. It was a selection of meat, fish, vegetables and tasted even better than it looked.
As we descended into Doha we did something I have never done before. We descended to 1000ft and circled Corniche to show off the new plane! The views from the inside were spectacular. After Corniche we cruised towards Hamad airport where we performed a fly-by. Just as we neared the end of the runway, the captain applied full throttle and we powered out on another loop. It felt incredible from the inside.
Upon touchdown in Doha we were met by the world’s media and airport staff. It was an amazing feeling to be part of the media team actually onboard the aircraft.
This flight was very special to me as it was my first ever delivery flight. I had an absolutely amazing time onboard the flight thanks to the amazing company and fantastic crew. I want to make a special mention to Daryn from the Philippines who treated me so nicely onboard. I will remember her for a very long time for sure!
The A350 really is a remarkable aircraft. With the -1000 variant under their belt, Qatar are in a very strong position. The revolutionary Q Suite is a state of the art product that people will, undoubtedly, start to choose over other outdated business class products. Mix this with the fuel efficiency of operating the A350-1000 and I can see Qatar Airways increasing their dominant hold over luxury air travel in the future. Well done and thank you Qatar Airways.
Thank you for reading! Feel free to subscribe below for more awesome content! I flew home on the A380 and you can read my review here.
Be sure to check out some of my friends websites who were also on this trip!
During my two-week visit to Jeddah to meet my dad, I had a space of time and an urge to fly. Coincidentally, during this time, there was a discounted business class offer from Saudia so without further ado, I decided to take the opportunity and discover what Saudia had to offer in their medium haul business class cabin. This offer stated that you could fly discounted rates on J class to any of their sub-continental destinations. After some quick research on the website, I came to find out that the cheapest option was to Karachi in Pakistan so I booked it at $850 return packed my bags and within a few days, began my short but sweet business class experience.
Keep in mind, one of the greatest factors for this journey included the fact that a Boeing 777-200ER was the equipment used on the Karachi sector. The first leg was flown by an old A330-300 but I won’t be discussing that here because it represents Saudia’s outdated product, so instead I will be reviewing my second flight.
Airport Experience: Karachi
I reached the airport 3 hours prior to departure. Karachi Airport has retro-style boards which you don’t see a whole lot often these days!
The check-in hall at the airport is huge and very airy which I like a lot, however the age of the terminal cannot be hidden. For convenience, business class passengers and SkyTeam members enjoy a priority kiosk.
Despite the security officer warning me not to take pictures, I managed to get one shot of the lounges at Karachi. All international airlines use the Civil Aviation Authority lounge at Karachi – except PIA who have their own lounge. The lounge attendant glanced at my boarding pass, before leading me into the lounge.
There were both hot and cold foods but the sandwiches seemed rather stale and the hot foods – which included Pakistani Cuisine – were very average as compared to what you’d get outside in the city. Despite the wide-ranging selection, I wasn’t that hungry, settling instead for a drink and crisps.
The lounge had Wi-Fi which had a moderate speed and some computers. The funny thing is that the computers had Windows XP which you also don’t see quite as much in 2017!
Overall, even though the lounge was rudimentary, a range of cuisine was available and the added luxury of Wi-Fi was a great convenience.
About 25 minutes prior to boarding, I headed for the observation area. There wasn’t much action but my Saudia 777-200ER headed to Jeddah came into view soon enough.
As well as many passengers, this flight would be carrying mangoes to Saudi Arabia – a major export of Pakistan.
I then headed to my gate, and began the boarding process.
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
Age: 16.7 years
Route: Karachi (Pakistan) to Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (3.45 hours)
Interestingly, HZ-AKV is one of Saudia’s newer 777-200s and it’s a survivor because most of Saudia’s 777s are being stored and replaced by their newer competition from Airbus; the A330 Regional variant.
I boarded from Door L2 and the F/A greeted me with a warm “Ahlan Washalan”, meaning ‘welcome’ in Arabic.
I had allocated myself seat 2A for this flight. The seats were the classic shell type much like what you’d find on carriers such as Air India or Pakistan International. They’re lie flat which is quite nice considering it’s a very short flight, and is a major positive when considering when comparing Saudia with their competition on these medium-haul sectors.
The seat configuration in Saudi J class is 2-2-2, unfortunately meaning direct aisle access for all passengers is not available. For a short flight, however, this is just a minor point. (Seat controls) below
Saudia has a seat pitch/legroom of 58’’ so there’s lots of space to stretch your legs. Hot towels were offered to the guests before pushback.
Dates and Traditional Arabian coffee was also distributed.
Saudia is a strictly dry airline so the pre-departure drink included Orange Juice, Lime juice and apple juice. I went for the Orange Juice.
Noise cancelling Headphones were then distributed, which looked substantial and of good quality, but I used my Bose headsets instead.
Entertainment and screen remote:
Shortly afterwards, the menu orders were taken. Here were the options business class passengers had:
Unfortunately, everyone had the same dessert which I’m not going to complain about, considering the fact that you get a chicken Caesar salad and a banana on US Transcontinental LAX-JFK/ SFO-JFK products. As we taxied, I could spot a variety of traffic including a PIA 777-200LR arriving from Toronto(YYZ) in the distance. The extremely bland safety video aired and soon we had a short take-off from runway 24R.
30 minutes into the flight, meal services began.
I love how the table cloth has Saudia engraved on top of it. Little touches such as this really differentiate the service between a lower and higher class of travel on such a short flight. Service began by bread rolls which were freshly baked and warm.
Followed by appetizer! I opted for the Arabic mezze which, although the presentation was polished, was lacklustre compared to the Arabic Mezze you’d get on airlines such as Emirates.
And then came the main course which was splendid. Even though it might not look as appetizing, it was full of flavour and spices.
Lastly, the dessert was chocolate mousse cake which was excellent as well. It had the perfect amount of cream and was presented very well.
Overall, Saudia impressed me with their offerings on this medium haul journey.
After the meal service was done, the cabin quieted down a little bit. Window shades were dimmed and the most people caught some sleep. In case you wanted some sleep, the seats had a small privacy partition which was a nice touch. The cabin was darkened, to help people enjoy a couple of hours of rest.
During the time in which the cabin was dimmed, I decided to visit the lavatory which was quite plain and offered no real business class touches.
We then hit a light bit of chop but it calmed down as we started our descent into Jeddah following a sharp right, with final approach into Jeddah.
We touched down 10 minutes ahead of schedule, which was great for passengers making connections onto Saudia’s network in Europe and North America. After a long taxi, we parked next to a company 744 leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic. While exiting, I decided to take my chances and asked the F/A for cockpit access; to my surprise, she said the captain has left but you can still take a picture.
After a quick chat with the skipper, I bid farewell and headed out of Kilo Victor from door L1, concluding what was truly a fantastic journey and experience.
If I said the entire flight was perfect, it would be a lie. It had its flaws but the crew were truly trying to work with their heart, not robotic like most are; the food was also quite nice and well presented. The plane was quite aged but in terms of Business class, it was well maintained. On the bottom line, this flight was a positive experience and – with a couple of refinements – Saudia has a lot of potential.
Ground Services Experience: 6/10 Aircraft: 8/10 Dining Onboard: 8/10 Friendliness of the Crew: 8.5/10 Comfort of the Seats: 7.5/10
Thanks for reading my trip report. Any feedback would be appreciated.
This month’s guest review is by Hassan (@MhSpotter). If you wish to apply for next month’s featured guest review, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact any of our author’s via their Instagram pages.
Featured photo: Mior Faizal Affandy (Planespotters.net)
British Airways is preparing to retire its fleet of 747s. This is sad. The Jumbo Jet has been around for about as long as I have. There are better aircraft, no doubt, more fuel efficient, cheaper to run, better for the environment. But she remains the Queen of the Skies.
With the end in sight, I decided to take advantage of a business trip to Boston to sample my first and probably last flight in BA’s 747 First Class cabin. With the cost of an upgrade just £200 one way, it was a pretty easy decision.
I decided to go First on the outward leg as this would give me the chance to enjoy the Concorde Room at Terminal 5. This made double sense because I was planning to fly out in the evening, which meant I was able to get to Heathrow in good time to really enjoy the experience. My flight out of Logan was going to be an early morning rush.
The pre-flight experience
Arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the first thing to remember is to get dropped off at the far end of the departures hall. This is where those lucky enough to have a turn-left ticket are sheltered from the rest of humanity and enter a dedicated check in area via the doorway below.
Once in, I strolled over to the check in desk (no-one in front of me, of course) and got the first good news of my trip. Would I like to swap my assigned 3K seat for 2K? Even a first-class newbie like me knew that there was only one answer to this question. 2A and 2K are, in my opinion, the best seats in the First Class cabin, better even than the two in front of them.
The reason is that these are the only seats out of all 14 in the premium area to be completely private. I could see what the man in 1A was watching and rows 3 to 5 are, to be quite honest, a bit squished up for such a pricey ticket. Row 2, as you can see below, is definitely position A.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I got to see my seat, I was whisked through the gate with a flash of my boarding pass and into the dedicated first class security. This is probably the best reason of all to go First. Security took about 90 seconds, there was no queue, and I was treated as a guest rather than a potential threat. Here’s how empty and relaxed it all is.
Devices back in my bag and I was on my way, through the space-age tunnel shown below and into the Emerald Lounge. By the standards of most airport lounges this was pretty glamorous and normally I would have been more than happy to linger for an hour or so here.
But in the strict hierarchy of air travel at this end of the market, the Emerald just didn’t cut it, I’m afraid. Why? Well quite simply because it was not exclusive enough. Anyone with a First or Club ticket, or even someone with a Gold membership who’s slumming it in Economy can hang around here.
For the real celeb experience, I had to duck out of this lounge, past the BOAC memorabilia and pictures (nice) and over to the Concorde Room. To enter this inner sanctum you need a First Class ticket, no ifs no buts.
The Concorde Room
The top of the range waiting room is not particularly big but it does feel pretty exclusive. The centrepiece is the large, brightly-lit bar, with plenty of comfortable seating around, a restaurant-style eating area with private waitress-served booths and, perhaps the nicest part, the Concorde Terrace, an area overlooking the main concourse below.
The room is pretty classy, if a little tired in places. If I were being hyper-critical I would also say the service didn’t make me feel massively special. The eating area could have been cleared away more quickly to avoid guests sitting down next to someone else’s empties. But, hey, the champagne was flowing and I had a pretty nice club sandwich, just to try the food out without ruining my appetite for the flight.
Soon enough my flight was called and I wished my new friends bon voyage to Chile. Her grandfather had been the finance director at the John Player factory in Ipswich where I had my first holiday job as a lift boy. Small world!
Quibble number two
Now you can get used to travelling First Class pretty quickly so the next bit of my journey was a bit of a shock. To get from Concorde to gate B46 you need to re-acquaint yourself with the real world for a short while. Specifically, you need to go down the escalator into that concourse you’ve been looking down on for the past hour or so, then you head down further to the train that links Terminal 5’s A, B and C gates. And then it’s more mingling with the hoi polloi at the gate.
My experience here was a bit prolonged by a half hour delay to the flight, which it would have been nice to hear about in the lounge (or maybe I just didn’t look closely enough after a couple of glasses of champagne, I can’t quite remember). Anyway, queuing up with my fellow ‘premium’ customers didn’t feel particularly premium at the time.
The good news was that First was called before everyone else, so I did have the enjoyment of knowing that everyone else knew that I was about to turn left. Small things…
So, into the nose of the plane and the first thing you notice is quite how small the cabin is. Nicely lit, comfortable, but pretty cosy.
First things first, I hung my coat up in the big cupboard right at the front and managed, just, to get my very small hand baggage into the overhead locker. If you had a decent sized wheelie, you would struggle to get it in.
I liked the ambience of the seat. A proper reading light, blue-lit blinds on my two windows, a nice hanging area for a jacket had I been wearing one.
Rachel, who was serving one side of the cabin introduced herself, brought me some bubbly, my First Class pyjamas and a pretty fancy wash-kit from Liberty. Then I experienced the main difference between First and Club – choice. When would I like to eat? There are no set times in First – you’re in control and the cabin crew really are super attentive.
I pressed the button to call Rachel over at one point and I swear my finger was still hovering when she arrived at my shoulder.
Anyway, push back finally came (40 minutes late – the delay had been caused by the tractor pulling the plane to the gate breaking down!) and we were off, heading north west through a battle scene of Bonfire Night firework parties all the way up to the Irish Sea.
While we flew above the pyrotechnics, dinner arrived and here too the difference between First and Club was apparent. No trays, no cutlery pre-wrapped in a napkin. No, it was real restaurant service. My table was made up for me on an elegant white cloth, nice salt and pepper shakers, all very sophisticated.
First an amuse bouche of charcuterie, washed down with a nice Pouilly Fume, then smoked salmon (excellent) and finally a main of beef, a bit overcooked but tasty, accompanied by a really fantastic South African red from Stellenbosch. All in all, the food was good when you consider the conditions in which it was produced and served.
The Lazy Bit in the Middle
On a seven-hour flight, there’s plenty of time to settle down and enjoy the in-flight entertainment in comfort and so that’s what I did next.
I’d say the film selection was pretty average but I did find a couple of movies I wanted to watch. It was a toss-up between Hampstead and Churchill. I went for Hampstead (sentimental, don’t bother if you haven’t already seen it).
The best thing about the lie-flat experience in First as opposed to Business is that it really does feel like going to bed. I could have had a proper mattress laid out but didn’t bother as I only intended to be horizontal for a short while. But the duvet and full-size pillow was a lot nicer than the Club blanket I would not bother with five days later. After the film, I was therefore able to get a decent hour or so of zzzzz.
Now for Some More Food
I have to say at 3 in the morning UK time, after a decent feed the evening before, the last thing on my mind was classic English afternoon tea but, as you can see, that’s what came.
It was delicious, the tea tasted fantastic after a few glasses of wine and was poured out of a nice china teapot with milk in a jug.
And that was pretty much it. We arrived in Boston at midnight (the clocks were still two hours away from going back, a week after they did in the UK, so the time difference was only four hours). That’s actually a very good time to get to the US. We were the only flight so customs, even in these hyper vigilant times, was a doddle and the taxi into downtown took about 15 minutes and was less than $30.
So what do I think of BA’s 747 first class? The pre-flight experience is excellent. It takes all the stress out of flying even if it a shame that you have to duck back into the real world for a bit on your way to the gate. On board the service is very attentive (thank you Rachel Ward), the food is very good, the wine selection excellent.
I do think the cabin is a bit pokier than I would have expected and as part two of this report will show not as comfortable in some ways as the upstairs Club experience on the same plane.
Would I pay for First again over Club. Probably not. But I’m glad I did it once before this wonderful plane heads off to the desert for a well-earned retirement.
Back Home in Business
So five days later, it was goodbye Boston and back home again. This time, I was flying in the upstairs cabin which holds 20 Business Class seats in 10 opposite-facing pairs.
I’ve only experienced this layout on BA flights and I have to say it is pretty rubbish if you don’t know the person you end up facing during the parts of the flight (safety instructions, getting your food served) when the divider between the two seats has to be down.
For a £3,000 seat, you really do expect a bit more privacy and it is not a patch on the seat layout I’ve experienced on Emirates, for example.
That said, compared with the pretty cramped quarters in First Class, the upstairs cabin does feel very spacious and I would always head up behind the flight deck given the chance.
My seat on this return flight was right behind the pilot, which was probably the most private place to be because the only reason to go past my seat was to the bathroom. It was the quietest corner of the cabin and I had access to four windows which gave me plenty of different views onto the Maine coast and up over Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
Food Service – Back to Reality
So, the accommodation in Business is definitely not a massive step down from First. When it comes to the food, however, it really is back to earth with a bump.
I have to say the food on the return leg was pretty disappointing. For one thing it comes on a plastic tray which feels cheap. My choice for brunch – smoked salmon and mixed grill – was also pretty uninspiring.
After that I settled down to a film (Churchill – worth catching if you haven’t, the great war-time leader as a kind of raging King Lear figure) with a glass or two of pretty decent Aussie Shiraz. No complaints on that score.
Coming home from the States is quick – five and a half hours – so after the film and writing this review, we were already coming into land, dark already thanks to the time difference. A very easy and comfortable flight.
First vs Business
I would say that once you are on the plane, upstairs Business is more than adequate and the extra for First is probably not worth it.
On the ground, the Concorde Room experience is nice but not materially better than the Business lounge. Other than that, what you really get for your upgrade is the millionaire’s security search and a pair of free cotton pyjamas.
Oh and in the Queen of the Skies being able to say you’re flying in front of the pilot!