Route: Shanghai Pudong International Airport to London Heathrow International Airport
Departure date and time of flight: 11:50 on February 6, 2015
Flight number: VS251 (Callsign: Virgin 251 heavy)
Flight duration: 12 hours and 55 minutes
Cabin: Economy Class
Aircraft type: Airbus A340-313 (0 in service)
There are four variants of the A340. The A340-200 and A340-300 were launched in 1987 with introduction into service in March 1993. The A340-500 and A340-600 were launched in 1997 with introduction into service in 2002. The A340-600 is the longest version in the A340 airliner family.
The ageing Airbus A340-300 aircraft were withdrawn from service in April 2015, as rising costs had made it less economical to run the type. Virgin had begun to replace the A340-300 on routes with the two-engine A330-300 and 787-9. The final Virgin Atlantic A340-300 flight was made on 9 April, landing at London Heathrow early on 10 April.
Aircraft registration: G-VSUN (this aircraft was stored in 05/2015, and then scrapped in 07/2015, as was the rest of Virgin’s Airbus A340-313 fleet)
Aircraft name: Rainbow Lady
First flight: January 17, 1996
Engines: Four x CFMI CFM56-5C4
Aircraft serial number: 114
40 First Class Seats (Virgin calls it "Upper Class" cabin)
28 Premium Economy Class seats
187 Economy Class seats
Punctuality of the flight:
The flight departed on time and landed on time. Considering the fact the previous night I had missed two flights (one for Air India and another for Etihad Airways, both denied boarding), it was somewhat of a relief to know that 1. I had made it successfully to the gate without any hassle, and 2. The flight was on time and landed on time without any drama.
To cut the long story short, the previous night, I was supposed to fly on Air India’s brand new Dreamliner Boeing 787 aircraft to promote their Business Class (and the aircraft) from Shanghai to New Delhi. I then had a connecting flight from New Delhi to London with Oman Air (via a short stopover in Muscat). Air India had invited me, and their senior management told me that as a British citizen, I did not require visa if I was just transiting via New Delhi (even on a different airline). I had double checked with Air India’s MD in China, and she confirmed the same with me. However when I got to the airport, the Air India check-in staff (who were all Chinese and outsourced from China Eastern Airlines) denied me boarding because I did not have a visa for India. Not one-I say again- not one person from Air India was at the check-in desk to assist (i.e. no Indian official). Despite me showing written evidence from the Air India MD, I was denied boarding.
Exceedingly frustrated, and somewhat panicked, I ran to the airport business centre at Pudong Airport’s Terminal 2 to purchase another ticket for London. I managed to purchase a one-way ticket with an Etihad Airways flight the same evening for US$750 (it was 9pm by the time I bought the ticket and the Etihad flight was at 11.30pm). However, when I went to the Etihad Airways check-in desk, the staff could not find my booking reference. In the panic I could not find my booking reference number because I had made the booking using my Gmail account, and I could not access Gmail in China (Gmail is blocked in China and I had no VPN either). So, therefore, I was denied boarding on the Etihad Airways flight, too. I had no choice but to spend more money and stay the night at the Shanghai Airport Hotel (located between Terminals 1 and 2…cost me around US$70 for one night). When I got to the hotel, I managed to book another flight by using VPN on my laptop (which, thankfully also allowed me to access Gmail). I purchased the one-way Virgin Atlantic flight for US$650. Altogether, I managed to lose US$2,000 that night (two flight purchases, hotel for one night and the cost of my connecting missed flights with Oman Air). Imagine if I had a family with two kids, for example…a VERY expensive and exhausting evening (thanks to the blunders from Air India and Etihad Airways).
After the traumatic experience I had been through the previous evening, I was even prepared to fly cargo! So, I didn’t feel disappointed at all with the fact that I was originally going to fly in Business Class on Air India’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and now I am sitting in seat 44 right at the back of an ageing Airbus A340 (well, I was disappointed, but glad that I finally got a seat to go home in time for my mother’s birthday). The interesting thing was that our Virgin Atlantic flight arrived an hour before the flight that I was due to take in the first place (with Oman Air)
The configuration in Economy Class is 2-4-2 on the Airbus A340-313, and so being in seat 44A and considering the flight was full, I wasn’t going to escape the fact that I had someone sharing my next seat with me…but who? To my amazement, the young Chinese woman was surprised (and seemed to be very happy, too), that I could speak Mandarin Chinese. So, to MY amazement, her immediate question to me was: “You are Chinese, right?” “Of course, not. What made you think that?” I asked, and her response? “Oh, I thought you were Chinese because your Mandarin is so good and that you’ve lived in China for over ten years”. It turned out later in the flight that she was a university student in the UK and wanted to settle down in the UK with a British man (“ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” was my initial reaction…I was obviously not her first choice as I somehow appeared Chinese to her. Enough said.). So, on your next flight, just be cool with whoever your next neighbour is…you get ‘em in all ways nowadays!
Any baggage issues:
No issues- the bags arrived on time and in one piece.
Comments on the check-in:
No check-in issues. Everything went smoothly at Shanghai Pudong. I am not sure who is responsible for their training, but the check-in staff of Virgin Atlantic at Shanghai Pudong Airport are very well trained to deal with passengers. Not only do they speak good enough English but they were able to understand the customer’s problems. The experience with Virgin Atlantic was a million times better than the experience I had been faced with Air India and Etihad Airways the previous evening. From my experience, neither the check-in staff of Air India (who out-sourced their check-in staff to China Eastern Airlines) and Etihad Airways seemed to be well-trained (if at all). I was so shocked and amazed at how efficient and professional the Virgin Atlantic staff were, I had to ask the wonderful lady at the check-in desk if there were any problems with my flight (just to reassure myself). She smiled and looked at me as if I was serious…at which point I explained to her how I ended up missing two flights the previous night because of the incompetence and lack of professionalism of the two airlines in question (I could understand why Air India staff were incompetent, but the incompetence from Etihad Airways was a surprise).
Comments regarding the pre-meal service:
Pen State Pretzels (with Worcester sauce flavour) served with a choice of drinks (standard- tea, coffee, orange juice, apple juice, lemonade or Virgin Cola). There was a choice of red or white wine, and a selection of cognac and whiskeys as well.
Comments regarding the first meal:
Since this was an all-day flight, the crew did not delay in distributing the lunchtime meal- and so the lunch service commenced only around 40 minutes into the flight- which was great! Lunch consisted of a choice of “fish with boiled vegetables and rice” or “Cantonese style beef with noodles”. I went for the former. The rice and vegetables were well cooked, too. Side dishes included salad (consisting of grated mooli (white carrot), tomatoes and lettuce), a soft bread (bun) with anchor butter, and cream crackers. Virgin Atlantic provides plastic cutlery in Economy Class.
The dessert consisted of a chocolate cake blended in with “rich fruit”. The meal will filling, and perfect to eat on a long flight such as this.
Comments regarding the drinks service:
A second round of drinks were offered after the meal (and again consisting of “Virgin Cola!”)
Comments regarding the in-flight snacks (if any):
The in-flight galley was open throughout the flight. Passengers could help themselves to a selection of “Mcvities flapjacks”, “Walkers Scottish Shortbread”, and “Nestle muffins”, as well as a selection of complimentary hot and cold drinks (including tea and coffee). Cheese and ham burgers and ice-cream was also on offer. Hot pot noodles were also on offer.
Comments regarding the second meal (if any):
Around an hour and half prior to landing at Heathrow, we were treated to a delicious afternoon meal. There was only dish available: seared pan-cod fish with rice and bok choy. Accompanying the main dish was a Hershey’s chocolate bar (made in China!).
Comments on the in-flight system (if any):
The in-flight system was working without any problems. All the channels were showing the same as it was listed in the in-flight magazine.
Comments of professionalism of the cabin crew:
The cabin crew were very professional, hospitable and friendly- even more so after I explained to them the reason why I had taken this flight.
Comments on the interior of the aircraft (including seat comfort):
The A340-313 has a standard 2-4-2 layout in Economy Class. The recline for the Economy Class seat was standard, however it was the quality of the seat- it was not soft and seemed to be of the same kind of seats passengers are treated to on Virgin trains in the UK.
A nice amenity kit bag containing eyeshades, socks, earplugs (both of which I never use), a pen and a tiny toothbrush with toothpaste (which, I did use!).
Virgin Atlantic brand livery
Virgin Atlantic's first aircraft were painted with a "Eurowhite" design with a red stripe through the centre of the main deck windows. The engines were metallic silver and the tail red with the Virgin logo in white. In the 1990s, the refreshed design was introduced, removing the centre red stripe through the windows, engines were painted red, the Virgin Atlantic titles in grey were added along the main fuselage, and the 'Flying Lady' was introduced to the nose area.
In October 2006, with the delivery of G-VRED, Virgin introduced a new design, with the fuselage painted in metallic silver and a revised tail fin, with red and purple features and the Virgin logo. Near the nose of each aircraft is a pin-up girl, the "Scarlet Lady", carrying a Union flag, which was designed by British artist Ken White, who modelled the motif on the World War II pin-ups of Alberto Vargas – hence the naming one of the fleet Varga Girl. Each aircraft has a name, usually feminine, such as Ladybird, Island Lady, and Ruby Tuesday, but some are linked to registrations (e.g. G-VFIZ became Bubbles).
There are a couple of commemorative names (e.g. G-VEIL—Queen of the Skies—which was named by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 April 2004, in celebration of the centenary of the Entente Cordiale). An exception is Spirit of Sir Freddie. An early Boeing 747, it was named in honour of Freddie Laker of Laker Airways, who helped Virgin Atlantic following the demise of his own airline. G-VFAB—Lady Penelope—gained a special livery to celebrate Virgin Atlantic's 21st birthday. On 26 September 2015, G-VFAB, Lady Penelope, was retired after 21 years of service.
The current livery dates from 2010 and returns to the "Eurowhite" design featuring purple billboard titles on the fuselage, slight changes to the Scarlet Lady, and new red metallic paint for the aircraft's tail and engines. The wingtips are red, with the Virgin logo on the inside facing passengers on board. The Virgin Atlantic logo was also added in purple billboard titles to the underside of the aircraft.
Overall rating 1-10 (worst-best): 10
About Airline PR
This is a special section on Airline Branding, and Airline Public Relations written by me on all the flights I have been fortunate enough to have been on. These are not records taken from somewhere else, but are actual flights I have been on. Most of the flight trips are officially sponsored by the airline companies in order to promote their certain routes, and aircraft. Airline promotion and PR related work in the aviation industry is one of my expertise.
Watch exclusive videos below taken in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-300ER in-flight over Chinese Airspace.
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B777-300ER Cockpit Video 1
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