I thought I'd type up some thoughts whilst the experience is fresh in my mind.
We usually fly PE with Virgin although I can't say I've ever been happy with that. The problem with PE in my mind is that it's just not different enough from economy to justify the difference! It's very much economy+ rather than business class. (which in fairness to virgin, is what the name premium economy suggests, they don't claim it's business class).
So for our December trip we used some miles and got upper class both there and back for the same price as we'd normally pay for PE.
so a brief few thoughts....
No difference. All the usual virgin online stuff worked the same way as for economy/PE. We hadn't booked any "limo to airport" or anything like that although I understand it is an option
We arrived a full three hours before the flight and there was already something of a queue at all the checkin agents but as soon as the virgin staff saw our upper class tickets, they made all efforts to get us to the very next agent (whatever else they were doing) and so we were pushed through in seconds. A very noticeable difference from eco/pe
The check in itself seemed much more personal and quicker. They'd already printed out our information, cards etc. and instead of a huge amount of typing going on, it felt as though somehow they'd done it before we arrived leaving just something minimal to do when we turned up. We were only at the desk for a couple of minutes but everyone was polite and fussed over us to make sure we had our invitations to the exec lounge etc. Cases were tagged Upper class and then we were free to go.
Up to security, Manchester wasn't doing too well that day with huge queues! it was as if they were on higher alert or something. We were able to bypass the queues by using the fast lane and got through the detectors etc but then they decided to empty DW's carry on which was fully of electronic stuff. After a good look and swipes with electronic swabs etc they repacked and we were off. Obviously no better treatment for UC there ;-) nor should there be.
Manchester terminal 2 is not great for lounges :( no virgin atlantic special lounge with massages and video games, all that stuff people get down in London. Nope, just a bunch of chairs and some space to put our flat caps and rest our pigeons ;-) well ok, not QUITE that bad. Virgin UC gives invitations for the "Escape lounge" which is about the best of a mediocre bunch at T2.
I've had a love/hate relationship with the escape lounge. We get free lounge access with our bank account and when the escape lounge opened, we had no trouble getting in. As it became more popular, the staff became increasingly snotty about "free" access and started turning us away because they were too full. Now, they actually have several escape lounges and I've never seen them all anywhere close to full, so what they mean is "we can't be bothered opening the other room for you and we have enough people in this one". Of course, it depends who's on the desk when you check in :/
So a quick test this time... walked in holding my bank lounge card and before I said anything one of the women behind the counter said "sorry we're full for now" and although I try not to judge, I really feel like she WANTED to say that, there was no real "ok look we're a bit full but lets see what we can do". So I then pulled out the virgin UC invitation and said oh gosh really? Virgin said there'd be no problem? By this time there were three people behind the desk who all looked at each other and one of them then said yes that's fine we'll open the business section for you come this way... (as the original woman glared over at us). As much as I can understand that the lounge schemes have obviously agreed a special deal and so the lounges want to prioritise full price reservations, the attitude is unacceptable and if they're signed up to the scheme, obviously to try and fill up spaces, they should do whatever they can to accommodate the card, opening another area if necessary.
Anyway, that aside, the business side was nice, quiet and comfortable. We had some nice bacon and sausage sandwiches and pretty soon it was time to board.
Boarding was fine.... the special assistance always takes an age, kinda wish they'd start earlier, but then UC were called and we were able to board and turn left! Through the PE cabin and to the small UC cabin at the very front downstairs of the plane.
Shame there's a PE cabin in the way getting to UC since it means they get to disembark first too but hardly an issue :)
The UC cabin was smaller than I expected in a way but tidy and well put together. I expected the "bar" to be larger and for a few people to be able to sit there but it really was pretty tiny and I didnt see anyone using it on either flight. Still, useful to have somewhere to stand and stretch legs.
The seat, well POD really, was pretty nice. The usual LCD screen in the side, decent size and no difference in content to eco/PE but that's fine, it was great in eco/pe anyway. There was no overhead or under seat storage in our chosen seats 6a/k but that was ok, there was plenty of overhead space available even when everyone else had put theirs away.
A little on the layout. The pods are at a 45 degree angle, one on each side of the plane. So if you're travelling with someone, they either need to sit in front/behind you and deal with a lot of neck straining to peer over the seat back or across from you with an aisle in the middle. As the cabin gets smaller towards the front cone of the aircraft, we chose 6a/k which were right in the cone and there was therefore no aisle to speak of between the seats. This meant we could communicate quite easily. Still though, we spoke to people both ways who really had problems being nervous flyers and unable to sit close enough to their partners during takeoff/landing. It's not an issue IMHO but just something to be aware of.
A useful little drinks tray popped out and a glass of proper champagne was immediately offered. The champagne itself was Lanson Black Label which is supposed to have properties which make it still taste delicious in the air unlike some others. It's a fair enough choice. As a bit of a bubbly fan, I can't say it's the best I've ever had but there was plenty of it :) and seconds/thirds/fourths were no problem.
Newspapers were duly offered and menu selections taken for lunch. The choices were pretty decent even by my picky standards, and I was able to find something to like in each selection which was fine right up until they said that the menus were wrong and the choices were all different. Ooops! Now this happens, but it happens on virgin too often at the end of the month. They seem to either get new menus too quickly or get the new food too quickly, so at the end of a calendar month the films are often not as described and menus wrong. In Eco/PE - sloppy but ah whatever.... If I'd paid full UC price though, I wouldn't expect it.
Before the food arrived, the cabin crew came over and pulled out a table. This isn't a silly little seat back tray, it's a really nice spacious table. A proper tablecloth was laid and silverware put out. Really good, personal and what UC is all about. Whilst the crew worked, they called us by name having obviously studied beforehand, and things like that make a larger difference than it feels like it should. A stark difference from the herd them in and shut them up in economy.
The starter arrived next, I'd chosen mackerel and though, if it were a New York apartment, it would be described as Extremely Bijou, was also very tasty and I thought it was something a bit different for an airline meal! Main course was beef filter which was by contrast pretty huge! Nicely cooked, nicely hot and tasty enough!
We then had a choice of desserts. All very nice and I had some kind of chocolate cake. Once that was over, they brought a cheese tray over with a rather generous glass of port and a good selection of cheeses. wow.
So although I normally moan about how awful airline food is, I couldn't really moan this time, it was well presented, prepared and definitely the best I'd had on a uk airline thus far.
I would still say there's room for an option of some sandwiches for a light option, but it was great in truth.
I think I'll have to do a part 2 for the rest.....