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Trip Report: Onboard the Unique Flight Connecting Texas with London
With over 70 weekly flights between Texas and London, three airlines offer over 3,000 seats everyday between the Lone Star State and England’s capital. A fourth airline recently joined the lineup when Virgin Atlantic touched down in Austin. The carrier inaugurated flights between Austin and London Heathrow in May 2022, marking its newest U.S. route since 2015 and the first Virgin Atlantic destination in Texas.
Vrigin Atlantic’s Austin route also marks the first nonstop SkyTeam-operated flight between Texas and London. The airline serves Austin with four weekly trips flying on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The airline utilizes its Boeing 787-9 jets on its flights to Austin.. Each aircraft features 31 lie-flat Upper Class seats, 35 Premium Economy recliners, and 192 Economy seats. It’s also important to note that the 787 Dreamliner allows Virgin Atlantic to offer over 20 tons of cargo capacity on each flight, creating additional opportunities for companies looking to export and import goods between Austin and the UK.
The airline isn’t the first to serve London from Austin. British Airways connects the two cities daily and has been flying the route pair since March 2014. British Airways has served Austin with various aircraft over the years such as the Boeing 787 and 747 and currently flies a 331-seat A350 on the route. Norwegian Airlines briefly flew Austin to London Gatwick during the summer season in 2018 and 2019 prior to dissolving its transatlantic unit.
In its first summer of flying from London to Austin, Virgin Atlantic recorded a 63% load factor on the route according to Cirium. The carrier serves the route year-round and passengers can connect onward to various destinations with its joint venture and interline partners. Passengers who are departing Austin in the Upper Class cabin have access to Delta’s new Sky Club as well.
Traveling with Virgin Atlantic to Austin
I recently had the opportunity to try out the carrier’s luxurious Upper Class experience on a flight from London to Austin. The journey began at Virgin Atlantic’s dedicated Upper Class Wing, nested away from the busy traffic of Heathrow’s Terminal 3. All Virgin Atlantic Upper Class and Delta One passengers departing from the terminal can access the private check-in wing.
Inside, there were multiple check-in counters and lounge chairs to relax in while waiting to check in for a flight. After checking in, passengers can walk straight to a dedicated security screening lane. Due to Heathrow airport staffing shortages, only one lane was open when I was traveling. With a busy travel period and long lines, it took a little over an hour to clear security.
As soon as I was in the terminal, I headed straight to the Virgin Atlantic Club House for a quick visit. The lounge featues plenty of seating options, a self-service dining area, and sit-down service with an extensive and diverse menu. The bathrooms were very clean, and there were also showers available to reserve.
There’s even a pool table hang-out spot and Peloton room for passengers with a longer layover. The AvGeek highlight is definitely the club’s rooftop patio, boasting 360-degree views of the nonstop action at Heathrow. After a quick visit to the lounge, I walked over to my gate to board my flight to Austin.
Flying Onboard the Airline’s Dreamliner
The flight was operated by “Pearly Queen,” a six-year-old 787-9 Dreamliner. Every jet in the Virgin Atlantic fleet has a unique name and Flying Icon painted near the cockpit of the aircraft. The airline has 17 Dreamliners in its fleet.
Boarding was easy, and I was greeted by excited flight attendants, many of whom would be flying to Austin for the first time, and a great hip-hop boarding playlist. As soon as I arrived at my seat, a flight attendant offered me a choice of water, orange juice, champagne, coffee, or tea for a pre-departure beverage. There was also a can of water placed at each seat. The airline is focused on sustainability and swapping plastic bottles for cans is one way Virgin Atlantic is decreasing waste created by the inflight service.
Virgin Atlantic’s 787 business class cabin is laid out in a 1-1-1 configuration. All window seats face towards the middle of the cabin, but window seats on the left side of the aircraft offer additional privacy. Despite being a bit outdated and offering less privacy compared to other seats flying between the U.S. and London, each seat has plenty of unrestricted legroom. Each seat also has an individual air condition nozzle which is a huge plus when flying longhaul.
The airline recently introduced a new tech-focused Upper Class cabin for its Airbus A330neo cabin. This cabin emphasizes passenger privacy and currently flies from London to Atlanta, Boston, New York JFK, and Tampa. It’s unclear if the airline plans to roll out the new Upper Class cabin to its Dreamliner fleet in the future.
As we taxied for departure, the Inflight Service manager stopped by each passenger to introduce himself and explain the functionality of the Upper Class seat. We were airborne by 12 p.m., just 20 minutes after our scheduled departure time, and on our way to Texas.
Virgin Atlantic’s amenity kit is made of recycled paper and features multiple useful items such as a toothbrush, eyeshade, socks, and several moisturizing creams.
The airline also offers a large selection of inflight entertainment options and a pair of noise-canceling headphones available for each Upper Class passenger. There were 130 movies, 30 destination guides, 525 albums, and nine games to enjoy onboard. Each seat in the Upper Class cabin offers U.S., EK, and EU power outlets and a USB plug. The airline’s entire fleet offers wifi connectivity for a fee as well.
Indulging in the Upper Class Experience
About 20 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendant stopped by my seat offering me a Mimosa and pretzels. About an hour later, my table was set for a delicious lunch service over the Atlantic Ocean. I started with a grilled asparagus and artichoke appetizer. The chive mayonnaise gave it a unique flair. For the main course, I had three options including Breaded chicken breast, Garlic and ginger prawns, or Fig and goat’s cheese toast. I went with the Prawns and really enjoyed them. It was a simple, yet well-executed dish.
For dessert, I had a Passionfruit and chocolate dome, followed by a cheese plate. The dessert was easily one of my favorite in-flight sweets I’ve had. I found Virgin Atlantic’s inflight catering to be well above average. While portions were on the smaller side, the options were unique and fresh. The service was also extremely attentive. The flight attendants were very proactive about drink refills and the entire service was efficient and complete within the first two hours of the flight.
After watching a short film, I converted my seat into bed mode for a nap. Virgin Atlantic’s 787 business class seat requires you to flip the seat for it to lie-flat. The seat itself can recline up to 42 degrees, but it is harder to go back and forth between a seated and lie-flat position. Once flat, the airline provides customers with a pillow, blanket, and plush mattress pad. The mattress pad helped soften the firm seat and the cozy blanket was perfect for a short sleep.
Each Virgin Atlantic 787 features a lounge space for Upper Class passengers. There’s a self-service bar with drinks, chips, nuts, and energy bars available throughout the flight. There is also a seating area for passengers to enjoy right behind the last row of Upper Class seats. This unique space is a great spot to enjoy a drink with a friend or grab a snack between the meal services.
About 90 minutes prior to landing, a flight attendant stopped by my seat to offer a pre-arrival snack. Passengers can order from the airline’s four small plate options anytime after the first meal service. I went with a salad and a Texas-themed pulled pork sandwich. Both were fantastic, and the sandwich was warm with crisp bread.
Before I knew it, 10 hours had passed and we were on our final approach. Clearing customs in Austin was easy and I was on the road within 30 minutes of touching down.
Austinites now have four choices of airlines when flying nonstop between Austin and Europe. There was something different about Virgin Atlantic that I really enjoyed. The service was very attentive, the flight attendants created a very welcoming atmosphere, and the cabin had a relaxing vibe. The airline’s entrance into the Austin market marks the first SkyTeam option for passengers traveling to London. I’d book this flight again in the future and look forward to seeing Virgin Atlantic expand beyond four weekly flights as demand continues to grow between Austin and Europe.
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