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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

UK
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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

My family and I have just returned from a week in Kenya. As a treat, I spent 400,000 of my flying club miles for the four of us to go Upper Class with VA.

We were very disappointed with the Upper Class service - especially on the return leg (VS672, 8th April 2012).

This is our third trip to Kenya, the second with VA. The previous time (our second) we went Economy class and Virgin Holidays, the first trip was with Kenya Airways in Economy. My wife feels that Kenya Airways Economy was almost on a par with VA UC (service and entertainment-wise; even the seat she didn't find that much better)...

As a family we sponsor a primary school in Mombasa and so we caught the 5.30am Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi and then the VS672, 9.50am departure. The Embraer190 Kenya Airways plane had nice faux-leather seats with large clear touch-screen In-Flight Entertainment.

We checked in for the VA flight on-line and seat allocations were maintained, check-in was nothing special.

The First Class lounge at Nairobi was dreadful. It was bad in 2010 when we last visited it (I am a Gold Card holder). We were invisible to the staff. Food was cling-film wrapped mini pizza, sandwiches or hot-dog sausage rolls - all of which needed to be placed in a microwave.

Hot water for tea was in a Thermos flask.

Having had no food, upon boarding we were informed that food (lunch) would be served at 12.00pm local (Kenya) time - 2h10 from departure - we had been up since 3.30am... My son was even declined a bread roll as "they haven't been cooked"... The Wasabi rice snacks were not an option.

The In-flight Entertainment was the Odyssey system with movies on a loop. Dreadful for Upper Class. Kenya Airways economy class in comparison has movies on demand.

We had to ask for drinks (no walking-the-aisles with drinks during the flight), the Cabin Supervisors (two-of) did not know what the wine list was from memory (petty but this is UC).

High tea was not pleasant - "Clotted Cream Scones" - blatant lie. I understand that food is loaded in Kenya and so locally sourced and so why not say "UHT Cream from a pressurized can".

My children are seasoned travellers, VERY well behaved and polite. It was almost as though the flight attendants wanted to avoid us, the level of service was so bad. Last to be served (almost nothing left to choose from at high tea), forgotten knives, napkins. Having to ask for a second cup of tea - this doesn't even happen in Economy!

I am a very frequent flyer with VA and have noticed standards declining sharply in the past 18 months. This is the first time that I have ever written to VA to complain (I have often complimented in X-Flyer surveys).

Having spent 400,000 miles for these tickets (plus tax), my family felt that the same value would have been obtained from Economy class (we still have access to the clubhouse at LHR anyway).

My advice: DONT BOTHER WITH VA UC TO KENYA UNTIL THEY IMPROVE THE PLANES AND SERVICE

Isle of Man, United...
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1. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

Fascinating stuff. You fly and make a first post the same day.

I am no fan of the grinning Pullover but I think you expected too much.

The plane was scheduled to depart at 9.50 and I suppose it did. That is known as mid morning! After breakdfast and before lunch.

It is not VA's problem or knowledge that you had skipped breakfast. Why should it be? Lunch was at 12. That is when lunch is often taken. It would be early for me as I prefer 13.00.

<<I am a very frequent flyer with VA >> I have to ask why?

If economy s just as good, and I do agree, why not join us and enjoy the flight for far less?

Edited: 5:36 pm, April 08, 2012
UK
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for Malindi, Ukunda, Kenya
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2. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

I think you're quibbling a bit, Mfuwe, and I can't see why the poster's veracity should be doubted. I flew out with Virgin two weeks ago in Economy and was also surprised at how poor the service was - complete lack of explanation about lapses. Mid-evening departure, dinner two hours later, no drinks until *after* dinner at almost midnight, and the feeble ents system, all make me wonder if VA is losing it.

I wonder if they'll get their act together in time for the opening of Richard Branson's new camp in the Motorogi Conservancy north of Maasai Mara National Reserve at the end of the year.

Richard

Salford, United...
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3. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

My Wife has just arrived from Nairobi. She flew KQ and there was very little in the way of food and drinks available and general shortage of napkins, cutlery etc. Reason: the KAA ground staff strike, which appeared to have affected the servicing of the cabins. The airlines naturally rely on the ground crew to 'stock' them for the flight. Perhaps this affected your flight too?

Agree with Mfuwe about the meal times - it isn't VA's responsibility that you chose not to eat, earlier in the day. What is wrong with asking for a drink? I assume that you got one, after asking.

Having said that, I think that the service on KQ is better than VA - at least the cabin crew look as if they are interested. However, the very worst service I have experienced was on a BA flight.

As far as entertainment goes, on the last two KQ flights I took, the system didn't work, on my seat - not to worry, my ipod worked perfectly!!

Personally, when I fly, I am far more concerned that the wings are glued on, the pilots are competent, the plane has the right amount of fuel, control surfaces all function correctly etc. The rest is just icing on the cake.

Edited: 1:51 am, April 09, 2012
UK
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4. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

Thank you all for your interesting replies.

Mfuwe - I guess that I comment on breakfast because Upper Class is a full-service offering which starts at check-in some two hours before an international flight (7:50am - breakfast). I commented on the First Class lounge experience in my post and there was no "first class" breakfast there. I guess that VA expect you to have breakfast before you check in...

I fly a lot with VA as I visit the USA and India frequently. Apart from BA, there isn't really anyone else to choose from on these routes. Maybe as you say, I should simply switch alliances - customer power!

Having traveled in all classes with VA on the LHR -> NBO -> LHR route (we got upgraded from Economy to Premium last year on the NBO -> LHR leg), my comments come from comparing relative service quality vs. cost. It is true that my experience is limited and I do notice different levels of service on other VA routes and so maybe I just had a bad one.

Kileleshwa - The wings were glued on, the pilots were competent (and walked the UC cabin to stretch their legs). I guess there was enough fuel and the controls worked. :)

This would have been the same in any class of service. An airline shouldn't offer different levels of service at significantly higher prices for UC if that was all that matters. Gone are the days of the "enhanced flying experience in UC" on this route it seems which is a shame - why should the Kenya route be a lower level of service compared to other VA routes (namely USA).

If VA care some much about Kenya (to Yankari's point about Sir Richard), add some Kenyan Pride to the service on VA!

Isle of Man, United...
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5. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

Not doubting the OPs veracity Richard, just wondering at his aspirations and why they chooose not to eat for over six hours before boarding. Is the 1st Lounge at NBO solely a virgin lounge or is it shared? If the latter, hardly VA's fault.

As I say I am no apologist or even fan of RB or his products, or his book keeping come to that. My invitation to join us plebs at the back of the plane still stands. I have learned long ago that I would rather fly twice to places for the same money as once by turning left at the door.

AVOD,iPod, Odyssey all leave me cold. Take a book. That way nothing gets broke when I inevitably nod off after a few minutes.

Manchester, United...
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6. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

I flew Virgin NBO-LHR just economy class two weeks ago and was very pleased with the service, food and staff were excellent. Having always travelled KLM/KQ until this time I was pleasantly surprised at the whole "Virgin" experience.

Luckily for you that the KQ 5.30am flight from Mombasa was not cancelled, we have had a nightmare over the past six weeks with this flight being cancelled , people turning up at Mombasa Airport to be told we emailed you but you did not pickup the email (lies, lies) and then the people spending all day in Nairobi until the night flight to Amsterdam.

Bedfordshire England
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7. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

I have to admit a little surprise at the original tone of the post. That particular run is very asymmetrical because if the somewhat poor ground facilities in NBO compared to the European hubs like Schipol and Heathrow. You can hardly expect VA to have a swept-up private lounge for one flight a day there, so they have to live within what is available.

We have travelled on a number of airlines over the years all over the world and overall VA are near the top in my opinion. On our last trip, we decided to go straight on safari from NBO so we upgraded to Upper for the out leg. With a late evening departure and overnight trip, the use of that fabulous Heathrow lounge, flat bed and quiet cabin comes into it's own. The poor IFE is largely irrelevant to that flight, because it is of little use to me when I am asleep! We got to Heathrow in the afternoon and enjoyed the lounge to the full, had a super meal, a few drinks and a relaxing massage. Once we were up in the air and straight and level, the bed was made up, we changed into our sleep suits and slept until about an hour out when we had our breakfast. The whole flight experience in this direction was worth the extra because we arrived well rested and fully ready for our safari.

The OP is pretty accurate about the return leg and I would certainly not expect anything like as good an overall experience. The extra seat space and service in PE is fine and I echo Mfuwe's comments about the use of your own choice of "entertainment". Because we had stayed at the Ole Sereni overnight, and booked in on line, we only had top spend about 30 minutes in the main terminal before going to the gate. And since they took out some of those repetitive shops it is now quite light and airy in that middle section. I find that whether day or night, one film is about enough for me on any IFE before my eyes start drooping (I think it is the dehydration in the cabin) so I rarely need any more than the one film anyway. Maybe we were lucky again, but we had a really good cabin crew and had quite a pleasant flight back home, made even better at the end this time because we didn't have to do several tours of the Surrey countryside before finally heading down to earth!!

Clearly, the planes VA use for that service are not the newest ones, but then with load factors in the 50-60%, we can hardly expect loads of cash to be spent to put the biggest and newest stuff on it. Even the 777s used by the others are now getting a bit old hat, so maybe it is just a "cycle of service" thing and the next generation of planes with be along in their own good time. After all, there is always the option to fly with one of the charters if you want to experience customer service, reliable bookings and comfort at the other extreme :)

UK
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8. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

Post 5: The "First Class" lounge at NBO is shared. Unless people let VA know what it's like (I have) it will never get better(?) Then again, the owners of this lounge have a monopoly and so probably have no incentive to improve it as I'm sure KQ won't let VA in to their lounge... It's not a regular "business route" for VA and so they probably don't care too much about it either (let's see what they say in their response to my email).

Post 6: We were a bit worried because KQ cabin crew have been staging strikes recently (most recently, last Friday - 6th April) which have also delayed flights. (KQ offering 9% raises, crew asking for 25%).

Post 7: Here I think you have the right balance (within reason - cost); access to the LHR clubhouse and the "bed" in UC on the O/B flight would be advantageous, the ideal would be Premium Economy and access to the clubhouse via a Flying Club Gold card :) Your comment about the charters is bang-on... It is even worth risking a connection from NBO to MBA (post 6) even if you have to bring your own iPod/iPad and lunch-box with VA or KQ nowadays...

manchester, United...
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9. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

We flew with Virgin last year and I also thought it dreadful - poor service, awful food, little leg room and so on.............I'm sticking with KLM and Kenya Airways from now on. For info I'm writing this at Amsterdam having just got off the Kenya Airways flight and while we wait for our connection to Manchester. Both inward and outward flights were fine. And we have just had quite possibly the best trip to Kenya ever!

Venice, Florida
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10. Re: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - LHR <-> NBO

We upgraded on VA to UC this past December when we flew from Miami to LHR to NBO, and finally to JRO....ourplan was to get some sleep. I thought the "suites" we're like flying coffins....UGH!!! And the service was worse than many economy flights we have taken on other airlines.We were disappointed with VA, and I would have a hard time flying with them again.

We tried VA because they were so much less than British Air....wow, a classic case of you get what you pay for!!!

Agreed that the LHR lounge in knockout...we spent 13hours there on our out Bound leg, because theNBO flight was so delayed. This caused us to miss our NBO connection with KQ. VA did nothing in the way of compensation for our additional costs of the missed connection. So we spent some six hours in that WRETCHED lounge in NBO...first class? Are you kidding me? I do realize it is a shared lounge.....I wish I had flown KQ, they have a new Simba lounge in NBO that looked amazing!

Our return was in Prem Economy....it was actually better than UC, IMO.

So now between hubby and I, we have over 50K VA miles. I am planning a trip to India next February....I want to fly at least Business class. I disliked VAso much, that I may let the miles burn out, and either fly Emirates or another airline from the US. Richard Branson, you should be ashamed.