Ah the joy of an upgrade on a transatlantic flight. Well, any flight really but the long-haul ones are the ones where you really feel the pain of being crammed in close proximity to the rest of humanity.
We were heading for Orlando (yes, yes, Disney World) and being sent up the stairs to premium economy is just the best feeling in the world (well, okay, being sent forward to first class would be even better but beggars etc). So, what’s it like and is it worth it?
The major joy is the space. Seats are bigger, much bigger and you get a ton more legroom. There’s a little armrest thing for your drink and a sort of window seat that opens up to bung in your bag, mags, books etc.
Food is edible – even nice – and keeps on coming. We were served drinks and nibbles. Then lunch. With drinks. Then fruit. Then ice-cream. Then a nibble bar. More drinks. You get the idea.
Trouble is, you get used to it. Horribly used to it. So when, on the way back, the flight is full to brimming and you can’t be upgraded, the shock is just horrible. Back in the main part of the plane all those nibbles and endless service is long forgotten. Instead of four seats in a line (two each side of the aisle) there are ten (three, then four in the middle and three on the other side). True to form we were sitting right alongside about five babies who were performing a discordant wailing opera (not their fault at all, but guaranteed to get the migraine started).
It was a good job we knew each other as we were all squashed up close and personal like a pack of sausages. Heaven help you if you ended up next to someone with BO.
The loos smelled pretty grim and were a bit scuzzy. If you had a large girth you simply wouldn’t fit.
Drinks? What drinks? By the time the harassed flight attendant got to us we were nearly passed out with dehydration. Fair play, she was lovely and hugely apologetic (and gave us eye-wateringly strong gins to make up) but it’s tough leaving your clients on a hot clammy plane with no liquid whatsoever.
Supper was spectacularly inedible. My risotto was a gooey cake of foulness. The carrot in the salad was curling and the bread roll was pappy. Curiously the little chocolate desert (which looked foul) was actually quite pleasant (though that could have been in comparison with the rest). Mind you, it paled into insignificance compared with the breakfast – a muffin with anemic ham, an ‘egg’ patty (comprising about thirty ingredients, most of them chemical) and a slice of cheese so processed it probably contained less than 1% dairy produce. We glumly handed back barely eaten muffins while one of our party raced to the loo with her toothbrush to wash away the taste.
Virgin is clearly economising. When we asked for earplugs (the babies had cranked it up a notch) the attendant apologised and said that they had been discontinued ‘because of the recession’).
How do the prices rack up?
Checking out the cheapest fares over a set period in May they work out like this:
Economy: from £383
Premium economy: from £1,168
And (just for the hell of it) First class: £4,241
My view? If you can afford premium economy, do it. It makes you feel like a human being, not a caged animal. However I doubt that many people can afford to add that kind of extra cost onto their holiday. Also, shouldn’t ALL seats on an airplace be comfortable and endurable? Shouldn’t ALL food be edible? It’s not as if a transatlantic flight on Virgin is dirt cheap after all. Come on, Virgin, shape up. Other airlines do it a lot better.