Flying on New Year’s Eve

Back in November, I noticed that the prices in the Virgin Atlantic Black Friday sale were good.  Crazy good.  So good that I found myself unable to say no, so booked a little trip to New York for the bit between Christmas and New Year. We initially wanted to go from the 27th to 30th December, allowing us to be back home in plenty of time to go back to work, but we left booking just a smidge too long so the dates we wanted sold out.  Always a good lesson – if you see flights you like, snap them up.

We ended up with 28th to 31st December instead, which meant we’d be flying back home on New Year’s Eve.  It also meant that the return flight was with Delta – not ideal, but we were still able to use the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK so it wasn’t all bad. Both planes were A330s.

We flew out on VS3, departing Heathrow at 8.50.  We don’t live that far from the airport but I still made Husband get up stupidly early so we could get to the Clubhouse as it opened.  I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get myself a spa appointment this time (like last time where I was left sorely disappointed).  I manoeuvred a sleepy Husband through an empty Upper Class security lane (praise the lord!) and we made it to the lounge about 10 minutes after it opened.  It was so peaceful and empty – I could only see 8 passengers including us – so that spa appointment was mine.  Husband managed to get himself booked in for a haircut as well.  I paid for a manicure which actually wasn’t that great because the product they use is appalling but to their credit, they have now refunded me.  Still enjoyable even if it did start to chip the following day.    

We sauntered down to the gate at about 8am – gate 22 again, which is a pain in the neck to get to as it’s pretty much 15 miles away from everything.  I always seem to get gate 22.  Upper had just started boarding, so we walked straight onto the plane and got settled in.  We had the usual reverse herringbone seats with 1-1-1 configuration, and we had picked 3A and 4A so were facing the back of the middle row.  I’ve read a lot about how people hate the reverse herringbone, but I still enjoy the seat.  This one seemed fairly well maintained, with all the buttons still shiny and new.  I got a purple Herschel amenity kit this time which pleased me greatly (I love purple).

We were served lunch at about 10.30 which felt way too early to be eating a three course meal.  I had the soup which was delicious, followed by the chicken but I skipped dessert as I wanted to get some sleep.

The last time I few Upper Class and tried to sleep, I could not get comfortable. This time was much better and I slept for hours, only waking up when we hit a lot of turbulence and just in time for afternoon tea.

I was a little confused as I thought this was supposed to be the big fancy afternoon tea by Eric Lanlard, so was a little underwhelmed when this arrived on my tray.  This wasn’t quite what I was expecting, tasty though.  

We landed at JFK at little earlier than schedule, but were then stuck on the plane for 30 minutes as they couldn’t get the air bridge to work.  The ground crew moved it to the front, moved it to the middle, moved it back to the front repeatedly for about half an hour.  The captain asked all the passengers to sit back down as he had no idea how long it would take, and at one stage, they were talking about getting old fashioned steps up to the door.  They managed to get it working eventually, and once again having Global Entry got us through immigration quick as a flash.  

On the way back, we left Manhattan a little earlier than planned as it had just started raining so we thought we’d head to the Clubhouse rather than find something to do.  We checked in at the Delta One check in area with a classic grumpy Delta member of staff (all Delta staff seem grumpy), and she advised us where the Sky Club was.  Ha, as if we’d go there when the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse was available to us.

I love the JFK lounge.  It’s so quiet, the showers are amazing, and the staff are generally excellent.  The ability to have a shower and get changed into clean clothes is my favourite thing about using the lounges.  They still have Bumble and Bumble hair products in the showers even though they seem to have got rid of the hair salon from the spa. I had been looking forward to a hair treatment this time round, but had a wonderful 15 minute facial instead. I wish I’d paid for a longer one.

There was one bit of irritation – they’ve put in this god-awful “B8ta” pop-up, and the staff seemed more interested in chatting with the B8ta staff than checking on customers.  We weren’t as looked after as we were in London.

The Delta flight itself was pretty much the same as our Atlanta experience.  The seats were a little old but still comfortable, the staff were welcoming, and I got hammered on two cocktails (I really should know my limits).  It did get incredibly and uncomfortably hot in the middle of the trip, but other than that, fairly uneventful.  Well, after the fun of take-off

This was our New Year’s Eve flight and we were greeted by flight attendants wearing 2019 glasses.  I thought that might be the limit of their celebrations – we were leaving at 7pm EST so I couldn’t figure out when our midnight would be.  One of the staff explained that they shift to London time as soon as the flight starts, so we would be leaving New York directly at midnight GMT.  We started taxiing at about 6.55, and five minutes later, the flight attendants ran through the aisles with party blowers screaming “Happy New Year!” before running back to their seat for take-off.  It was actually wonderful – I had a tear in my eye.  That might have been down to the cocktails however.

We landed in Heathrow earlier than scheduled, managed to get through immigration really quickly, and our bags were the first off the plane so we decided to visit the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge for the first time.  It’s a small lounge but there was plenty of free seats when we got there, with a spa and showers.  If I was going directly to work, this would have been a godsend.  As it was, we were only half an hour from home so we just had a bit of breakfast which was served in no time at all – we only spent about 45 minutes in the lounge in total but it was just what I needed as I hadn’t had any breakfast on the plane.  The spa was tempting, but my bed was calling.

Delta One Business Class – A330

A few months ago, one of the many travel blogs I follow alerted their readers to a sale on some unusual routes for Virgin/Delta codeshare flights.  One of the destinations was Austin, Texas – a city Husband has visited many times for work but never as a tourist – so I spent the evening playing about with flight options.

Unfortunately, we took too long thinking about it and the flights disappeared at midnight (very Cinderella).  We berated ourselves for not being more spontaneous, and I set up an alert on Google Flights just in case they appeared again.  And a few weeks later, they did – this time, we didn’t wait and snapped them up immediately.  Heathrow to Atlanta on an A330 followed by Atlanta to Austin on an A321.

Whilst I was excited about visiting Texas for the first time, I was equally excited about visiting the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in LHR again.  When I visited for the first time last year, we’d had a bit of a stressful morning, so I had planned to get there earlier to take full advantage of the facilities this time.  Sadly, it was still not meant to be – the traffic was horrendous and that ridiculous private security lane in the Upper Class Wing took forever once again.  People in that queue simply do not understand how to go through airport security.  Once we got to the lounge, we only had about 45 minutes there, which was not enough time to get a spa treatment.  Boo.

I had been reading up on the Delta One product over the past few weeks and found that there are a lot of mixed reviews depending on which plane you fly in.  We were unfortunately in some relatively old A330s – clunky buttons, creaky seats, stinky toilets and just very noisy overall.  But there were several things which made the flights more pleasurable:

  • The bedding – the seats have seen better days, and it felt really weird not having an armrest on one side (we were in 2C and 2G which were open to the aisle) but the bedding by Westin was amazing.  The pillow was the softest pillow I’ve ever slept on, and the blanket was the perfect thickness.  I slept so well on both the international flights – I really wish I could have stolen the bedding.
  • The staff – the Purser on the LHR-ATL leg of the journey was amazing.  He had the perfect level of care for us – referring to us by name when checking our meal preference, making sure we had everything we needed but also giving us plenty of space to nap and watch films.  We didn’t feel harassed or ignored.  It was exemplary.
  • The amenity kits – Kiehls products, cute socks, and mouthwash.  Hell yes!  Why do other airlines not offer mouthwash!?  It was a shame we got the soft Tumi bag going out to the US –  you can get the hard case monogrammed free at Tumi stores and there happened to be a Tumi near our hotel that we could have visited.  Never mind.

We haven’t done an indirect flight to the US for a while, but we gave ourselves plenty of layover time in ATL as I have read that it’s a nightmare to get through.  However, immigration for us was a breeze as we now have Global Entry so we sailed through in record time, collected our bags, re-checked them, and were sat comfortably in the Sky Club by gate A16 in no time.  There are a lot of Sky Club lounges in Atlanta, so I did a bit of Googling to find out which to visit (the best report I found was on pointsmd.com) and A16 came out tops for us on the way out.   We had popcorn, plenty of coffee, and big windows to sit by to watch the rain whilst waiting for our flight to be called.  It was not Clubhouse standards, but still a welcome spot of calm in an otherwise manic Atlanta Airport, and I’m very grateful for it.

We even had time to explore underneath the concourses and see the wonderful Flight Paths installation between terminals A and B.  What a lovely thing to have in an airport!

The two internal flights from Atlanta to Austin were unremarkable.  We were lucky to have much newer planes for both trips although they were still insanely noisy, and we didn’t get any cabin service because of turbulence (which honestly didn’t feel that turbulent).  I don’t think we were missing much though – they were short flights, and I mostly slept.  The main thing bringing us glee was that we were in seats 1A and 1B.  Because we are nerds.

We flew back to Heathrow from the International Terminal in Atlanta so visited the Sky Club there.  It was small, with very similar food choices as in A16 and a very… active bar crowd.  It was raining very heavily, so the outdoor space was closed – from what I’ve read, the outdoor space is what makes this lounge unique so it was a shame to miss out.  There were showers at the back of the lounge, and if we’d have had a little more time, I would have taken advantage (it took forever to get to the correct gate when we flew in from Austin which eat into our layover time).  The other passengers astonished me in this lounge though – we had screaming drunks, loud Instagram Stories vloggers, and parents allowing their children to smear food all over the place.  I’ve never seen anything like it!

Atlanta back to Heathrow was a very similar experience again, except the toilets were somehow worse and Husband’s seat hadn’t been cleaned properly so he found a crusty old sock waiting for him before he sat down (eww).  However, the flight attendants called us by our names again, and still provided the same excellent level of service so we could look over the negatives.  The food on both flights was good, but I’m not really a foodie person so I skipped a couple of the courses as I preferred getting some nap time.

Something I wasn’t particularly comfortable with was the biometric boarding used at the gate in Atlanta.  I know I’m fussy with my data, but no one explained to us why we were having our photo taken or how it was going to be processed.  I only found out afterwards what it was, and not once did anyone explain that we could opt out.  I don’t really understand when we actually opted in!

It was a perfectly decent flight, but I don’t think we’d choose to fly Delta Business on the A330 again as they’re too old and noisy.  I’d love to try the new suites on the A350 or 777 but I’m not sure if any of them currently go from the UK.

That said, if a good deal pops up again, I could easily be tempted.  Only this time, I’m going to get to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse the night before.  Just in case.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

I am not ashamed to admit that flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is one of the best holiday experiences I’ve ever had.  We were incredibly fortunate to be in a position to upgrade both to New York and back, so were able to check out the view from an Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner (my favourite plane), as well as sample cocktails in both the Heathrow and JFK Clubhouses.

Check in at Heathrow was a bit stressful – we didn’t use the Upper Class Wing, and joined a bit of a scrum at the normal check in which felt like it took forever.  The “private security channel” wasn’t actually worth it as it was going slower than the main security line, but it does look as though they’re in the middle of renovating that area. By the time we got to the Clubhouse, I was a little frazzled.

A Clubhouse that was rammed, but we managed to find a quiet spot next to a window.  I remember Rach talking about the spa, so went over to get an appointment – they had one spot left for a Bumble and Bumble reconditioning treatment which would be cutting it a bit fine for my flight, but I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem.  Whilst waiting for my treatment, we had some breakfast and I wandered about to see what else the Clubhouse had to offer (we weren’t actually given a tour when we got there).  There’s a deli area, bar, pool table, half-finished TV room, and the most gorgeous tiles in the bathrooms.  I might have taken a photo for bathroom renovation inspiration.

The hair treatment itself was free so I’m not complaining but… The two women in the salon before me had insanely long hair which they were getting straightened and curled (each, not both at the same time obviously), which meant that my appointment was 10 minutes late.  It was a great treatment and my hair felt gorgeous afterwards, but Husband was waiting for me as I left the salon because our flight was already on it’s final call.  We almost had to sprint to the gate, which of course was the gate furthest from the lounge, so all that nice relaxing was ruined!

Our experience at JFK was a million times better, starting with the dedicated check in desk in a quieter area of the airport (although security still took an age).  The JFK Clubhouse is a smaller lounge, but I loved it as it didn’t feel busy at all.  We sat in a sofa pod where I almost fell asleep because it was so comfortable and just so quiet.  The service was impeccable, and we felt truly looked after – that might have been because our waiter checked up on us frequently to make sure we were stocked up on cocktails. It was almost a “thank you, Linus” situation.

I ended up having the same Bumble and Bumble treatment as before, but was able to enjoy it this time as I didn’t have to rush off afterwards.  I really don’t think my hair has ever felt or looked as good.  Not only that, but the luxurious Clubhouse showers were an absolute godsend after walking round a hot Midtown all day.  The flights were amazing – I mean, how could they not be when there’s a bar on board? The Airbus was a little older, a bit scuffed and chipped with the 1-2-1 configuration.   Husband preferred this – the seat dividers were higher than the newer 1-1-1 layout on the Dreamliner so he didn’t have a nosy American peering at his dinner (unlike our second flight).  The Herschel amenity kits are very cool so we now have two different Herschel toiletry bags each, and I of course kept my Virgin Atlantic PJs.  The salt and pepper shakers might have found their way home with me as well.

I tried the lie flat bed  on the Dreamliner for about 45 minutes, but it was just too hot to sleep with the duvet so I sat up and kept watching TV.  I did nap for a bit longer, but I was absolutely roasting and I only had a sleeveless top and thin leggings on – I didn’t dare try the long sleeved PJs as I think I would have melted.  It was a shame that I couldn’t make more of the bed, but the chair was just as comfortable.

The main negative from the whole thing was that the flights were only 6/7 hours long – I could have stayed on there for hours (I’ve just checked the price on the longer Miami flight – yeesh!  That’s not going to happen).

Oh, and the scrambled egg was the most hateful thing I have ever eaten – I don’t know why I thought they could make decent eggs on a plane.

Premium economy just doesn’t compare though, so now I’ve just got to hope that the upgrade gods smile on us and I get to experience it all again.  What an absolute joy.

¡Bienvenidos a Miami!

Surfside Sunset

We have just returned from such a ridiculously blissful holiday in Surfside, Miami.  So blissful, that I almost immediately loaded up Google Flights when we got back home to figure out when we’re able to go back.   We essentially did nothing for 85% of the time, but we did nothing in one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at (more on that in this post).

It was a holiday with a couple of new experiences for me which was very satisfying considering we had no plans whatsoever, which brings me to number one on my First list:

Holiday without a spreadsheet
A bit of hyperbole as we don’t always have our holidays planned down to the minute (although, our New England spreadsheet was magnificent).    This holiday was the first beach/resort/do nothing holiday that Husband and I have been on, and it’s pretty much the only holiday of this type I’ve ever been on.  I was a bit anxious to start with as I thought we’d easily get bored, but I managed to work my way through 8 books and just as many naps.  It was wonderful.

Mini Fab

Mini Fab!

Virgin Atlantic Flight, and on a 787 Dreamliner
Virgin have always been just outside my price range for the times I’ve been across the Atlantic, but I managed to grab a cheap(ish) pair of flights to MIA a few months back and we did actually notice a difference in service.  I think it helped being on the Dreamliner – we were by an exit so had more space than we knew what to do with, the humidity and air in the cabin was so much better than older planes so I didn’t leave feeling disgusting, the engine noise was so quiet, and the mood lighting was very fun.  I’m convinced that my complete lack of jetlag is because of the 787.  The food was edible, and the flight attendant sat opposite really looked after us (oddly, she lives in the next town over from us).  They started boarding the plane an hour before the flight in Heathrow, so we had such a relaxing flight on the way out – none of the cliched scrum as they board row by row.  Plus, I got a mini-Fab!

Uber ride
Living in The Country, where my house is a 10 minute walk from the station and a 20 minute walk into town, I haven’t really had much need for an Uber.  Miami was the perfect place to try it out.  We took five rides in total (and should have tried to get one from MIA to the hotel, as it worked out half the price of the regular cab!) and really enjoyed talking to the different drivers we had, including one who had a very nice BMW 5 Series.  It was quick and easy, no worrying about finding the cash, and no irritating TVs playing ads on loop on the back of the passenger seat.  And for $12 from Surfside to pretty much anywhere in Miami Beach, it seemed crazy to not get an Uber.  I’m a convert.

Hat
I am not a hat person.  I hate hats.  But my very first hat probably did save my skin and allowed me to have a much more comfortable trip.  I bought this Uniqlo hat with inbuilt wearable sunscreen and it just meant I didn’t need to worry about my scalp.  It also meant that there are very few photos of me from the holiday because I really hate hats.  I can’t say that I’ll be getting more – how do hat people not have constant anxiety about their hat blowing away in a gust?  My unique paleness was further preserved by the judicious and liberal application of my new favourite SPF, Neutrogena Dry Touch 100 SPF.  Yeah, that’s right, 100 SPF.  I love it.

Surfside beach‘Swim’ in the ocean
Sure, as a child I paddled a lot in the shallows around the UK, but as I have never learnt to swim and am terrified of water, it was usually only up to knee height.  On our last morning in Surfside, we woke up early and went down to the sea for a quick dip.  I hadn’t intended on going in further than my knees again, but Husband held my hand and calmly enticed me further until the water came up to my chin.  I did panic almost the entire way in (my catchphrase was “I’m drowning”, even at the knee-level) but we ended up staying out there for about 45 minutes.  Husband did valiantly try to teach me to swim, but it just wasn’t going to happen.  I did manage a bit of water-treading which was good enough for me.  I only wish we’d done this every morning.