20th April 2012 – IAG completes its purchase of BMI From Lufthansa and announces the airline is to be integrated into British Airways. 15th August 2012 – Virgin (initially) loses the West Coast Mainline train franchise in the UK. Two key dates leading to this weekend’s trip. Shortly after losing out on the rail franchise, on the 21st August 2012, Virgin Atlantic announced they would launch their first domestic services between Manchester and London in March 2013.
Being a frequent flyer of Virgin Atlantic for the last nineteen years, being able to take part in one of their inaugural flights for a bargain price was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Initially the flights weren’t able to book online, however shortly after returning from New York, the online booking system opened up and I parted with £47.55 to confirm my place on the first flight from Manchester.
A few moments later my E-ticket receipt arrived in my inbox.
This left a further two things to sort. First off how I would get up to Manchester and secondly where I would stay once I was there. Well these were pretty easy questions to answer. I Used 4500 Avios + £13.50 to buy myself a reward ticket onboard BA1372 the previous lunchtime to take me up North.
I then booked myself into the Radisson BLU for the night. I upgraded my room at the hotel to a Business Class room, as these were on the top floor, therefore giving the best views across the airport – more of that later.
The next few months were spent being drip-fed various bits of information about the new VS services. During which time, it wasn’t possible to see any info regarding the booking on the VS website – it was just on a constant ‘loading’ screen.
Further developments saw additional routes to Aberdeen and Edinburgh announced along with the announcement that Virgin Atlantic would be wet leasing the A320 aircraft from Aer Lingus for the Little Red operation. This was a change in plan as initially the services were announced as using A319’s.
Eventually the Manage my booking section on the website opened up and around 8 weeks prior to departure the seat map opened up also. I initially chose seat 19A, however the following day the folks on v-flyer.com hatched a plan. The theory was that if everybody prebooked a window seat and an aisle, unless the flight was completely full then the middle seats should stay empty, therefore creating a business type arrangement. My new seat would be 5F.
Two weeks prior to departure, the VS flight times were changed – instead of departing Manchester at 06:50, the flight would now leave at 07:35. I’m pretty sure all the Manchester departures have now changed times from the original advertised ones.
One week before departure, I was able to select my seats on the British Airways flight. I would have preferred something towards the front, however these were all blocked. I elected for 17F, just behind the wing in the hope that a few more would open up at check in.
A couple of days before my flight, my patience was rewarded and I could move forward to seat 3F.
First off it was time to check in for the BA flight. Unfortunately this didn’t work too well as It said there was a problem and then issued my boarding pass anyway – I’d had a similar issue on my trip to Frankfurt last year.
This was the first time I’d checked in for a plane on a boat:
Check in for the VS flight the following morning was flawless. Although their website is still a mix of old and new which looks a bit unprofessional, the function is there. So far then VS 1-BA 0.
The Day Of Departure
Shortly after checking in for the Virgin flight, I headed off to catch the 10:05 coach to Heathrow.
The coach was a bit delayed departing by people turning up at the last minute, then having no idea which terminal they were going from and then finally not having tickets. Following this, there was a technical problem with the coach – so not the best of starts. Luckily the 10:35 service arrived early and everybody was transferred to that one, and we finally left at 10:20… Until some more passengers turned up.
I arrived at T5 at just after 10:45, and headed off to grab my souvenir boarding pass. As all the desks looked pretty full, I had to make do with a machine.
I then headed through security. I went to the normal lane, but the guy checking boarding passes told me I had to use the fast track instead – suited me! Wonder of the fact I was sat at the front confused him slightly? I was through in a couple of minutes and headed down to where I suspected my flight would be departing from.
I was wrong however, as a few moments later gate A11 flashed up on the screens.
I made my way down and as I arrived an A320 was arriving on to stand. Looks like this one had seen better days as I couldn’t make out the reg above the flight deck windows.
Soon to be a rare sight I think
A bit of creative manoeuvring later and I could see it would be G-EUUW taking me up north today.
At 11:30, a delay was announced due to the late inbound arrival of the aircraft. It was also announced that boarding would take place strictly by seat number only. Of course, this didn’t stop people queuing up anyway.
Boarding was called at 11:40, but due to being in one of the forward rows I was one of the last onboard at 12:00. I was welcomed back by name and wished a pleasant flight.
30th March 2013
A320-232 / G-EUUW
Seat: 3F / Domestic
Off Stand: 12:07
On Stand: 13:12
The flight seemed pretty full, and I had two seatmates. The captain came over the PA and welcomed everybody onboard but didn’t mention a flight time.
Good legroom in the Club Europe section
The doors were shut at 12:04 and pushback was made at 12:07. Despite runway 9R being in use for takeoff, it was still a pretty slow taxi for departure.
We were finally away at around 12:30, making a sharp turn to the left in the direction of Manchester.
Pretty steep climb
Almost immediately the crew started the service – unsurprising considering it was likely to be a sort flight.
I provided the sandwich myself.
During the very brief cruise, the captain came over the PA saying he had a special announcement for somebody on board. The person in control of the aircraft at ATC’s son was onboard and he wanted to wish him a pleasant flight.
Almost as soon as I had finished my lunch, descent started at around 12:50. There were quite a few turns, and I saw Jodrell Bank observatory a few times so figured we would probably landing on the 5’s.
Pretty snowy down there
Just before 13:10 we made firm contact with 05L .
We then turned off for T3, passing the Ryanair farm along the way.
A few moments later we arrived on stand.
It was then through the bowels of T3 and into the arrivals area.
On my way out I wondered upstairs to see the new VS check in area.
Then headed up to the car park to see what was going on – not much.
Didn’t expect to see this one here
I then decided to try my luck at checking into the hotel.
Despite it being before 14:00 they had a room but it wasn’t overlooking the airport… That wouldn’t be any good! I decided to grab a coffee in T2 and try again later.
Is there ever anybody in this terminal?
Luckily, on my second attempt a room was available. The room itself probably wasn’t any different to a normal one, but the view was worth the extra £30! As I’d paid the extra, I decided to stay in as I’d seen Manchester many times before.
Just lying around watching planes…
The new MON livery really suits the A330
I did eventually venture into town to grab a bite to eat.
I then made my way back to the hotel just in time to catch the Little Red A320 arriving from DUB.
Followed shortly after by the LX A320 with Sharklets.
I then headed out to meet up with the guys from V-flyer. No doubt a few of them will be reading this, so good to meet you.
Around 21:30 I headed back to my room to see what (or wasn’t as it turned out) going on.
Sunday morning started earlier than expected – why can’t I sleep in hotels?! The bed was fine, yet I still woke up at 2am and never got back to sleep.
Seemed a bit had gone on at the airport overnight.
Just before 5 am, I set off to T3.
Interesting choice of shape to say the least….
Once I arrived there was quite a queue. And it stayed that way as check in didn’t open until 05:35. There seemed to be a few issues with the self serve check in machines, but once they were sorted I had the privilege of being the Guinea pig!
It worked fine for me, although a bit slow. The following person, one of the V-Flyers wasn’t so lucky and had to go and see a person.
It was then off to security – which was a nightmare. People everywhere, all of whom seemed to be running late for their flight. The system at Manchester doesn’t seem too efficient – mostly automated rather than an actual person, so therefore only allowing somebody through every 30-45 seconds or so rather than 10 or so if a person was signaling people through. By which point most had started looking around and therefore missing the green light signaling them through.
Once through – 45 minutes later – it was through a few corridors, then a 180 degree turn back the way I came to where there were a few bits waiting at gate 18, and a few more V-flyers. There were also a few VS crew around, but they wouldn’t be taking the flight they were just on hand to make sure everything went to plan.
There were a couple of VS officials about – and they seemed a little peeved that EasyJet had sent this particular one
Boarding was called just after 7:10, and as my boarding pass was scanned I was handed an Easter present from VS.
31st March 2013
A320-200 / EI-DEO Queen of the Cobbles
Seat: 5F / Economy
Off Stand: 07:40
On Stand: 08:38
The cabin was very clean and tidy, as expected. Certainly better than the BA cabin from yesterday, although after a year or so I guess they will end up a little grubby as any aircraft in service for any length of time would.
Decent amount of legroom
Interesting joint EI/VS branded safety cards
During boarding, my would be seat mate, another V-flyer said hello and mentioned that he had been moved to the back – interesting as I ended up having a row of three to myself, so couldn’t see any reason for him to be moved.
Soon after everybody was onboard, a ‘photographer’ needed a pic of everybody waving. I use the term photographer loosely as I had a better camera than him so highly doubt the picture will be seen in any mainstream publications any time soon.
The official looking guy from VS also took a picture on his phone, although that was more obviously for personal use.
Gathering to wave us off
Everybody was welcomed onboard this inaugural flight given a flight time of 35 minutes and we pushed back at 7:40 making a fast taxi over to 05L. During this time the captain welcomed everybody onboard this Virgin Atlantic Little Red flight and that if anybody wanted to visit the flight deck once we had landed they were more than welcome.
Little Red takes to the skies!
Flying back past MAN
Once airborne, the crew were a little slow at starting the service compared to BA – I was actually starting to wonder if there would be time for any service.
Eventually it did start, just as descent started. Bit of a rethink regarding the service needed there I think. One of the crew even said she was praying for a hold!
The thought is there, but the practice needs to be polished a bit.
And unsurprisingly, we were put into a hold for ten minutes.
Although that still didn’t help the crew out much as just before final descent an announcement was made apologising to those who weren’t served.
After a few laps in the hold, we were down onto 09L and made the short taxi over to T1.
Along the way there were quite a few airport workers watching and taking pictures – more than on my Dreamliner flights in December actually. Disappointingly there wasn’t a water cannon salute.
Note the new AA 773 parked at T3
Once on stand there was a bit of a wait to disembark. Around five minutes or so later, it was off through T1 and on to the coach home.
Good looking desk for the launch.
V-flyers heading off into the sunset… or more likely the pub!
So how would I compare the two then? Well BA were good and well polished, although that’s to be expected as they have been doing these short flights for a very long time so have had plenty of practice.
Little Red also have a strong product, although there were a few teething issues – such as the self serve check in kiosks not working, toilets overflowing and not having enough time to complete the on board service. I’m led to believe a faulty oven was a factor in that though, so it would be interesting to see how they perform when everything is running smoothly.
No doubt on the longer runs up to Scotland the service will be fine, but on a 30 odd minute hop it was all just a bit too rushed. The crew didn’t show they were struggling at any point though and stayed professional throughout.
On the whole I think I would say I enjoyed the Virgin flight more – and I would be more tempted to use them again before British Airways, just to see how the service runs once its bedded in.