SFO-LHR Virgin Atlantic vs. UA

Old Sep 11, 12, 7:04 pm
  #1  
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SFO-LHR Virgin Atlantic vs. UA

I've searched the forums and there hasn't been something similar that completely answers my questions. Thank you in advance for your advice.

I am a non-elite FF member with UA and with Virgin America (the latter would earn 10% mile points from Virgin Atlantic flights).

I'm watching fares for April 2013, post-UK School Break, but there are some concerns:

1. I've read that the airbus planes with Virgin Atlantic out of SFO are old; aren't UA planes just as old until they're finished being upgraded?
2. I've read that the SFO's departing cabin crew on Virgin Atlantic are inconsistent in friendliness, not that I think I'll interact that much.
3. If I pick a window seat, I read that Virgin Atlantic will be changing their seat selection option and I may not end up with a window seat. Would I have better chances of getting the seat I want with UA? Legroom is not an issue. I am about 4'10". Window works best for me.
4. Considering checking one bag: I recall disembarking using outdoor stairs and then boarding a bus at LHR. Maneuvering a carry-on downstairs and onto a bus was problematic last time I did this in 1998. Plus I want to bring back souvenirs and I only want to pack the suitcase half full going there. Is this process of disembarking still the same, in that it is not through a gateway into a terminal from the plane itself? I read that Virgin Atlantic can lose luggage even without a connection in between. How much better are they in luggage handling or is it dependent on the airport staff?
5. How far out do I buy the airfare with either carrier if it is currently pricing at its lowest for the nonstop at 1058 on Virgin (at least 150 less than UA)? I know April is far off, but could it ever be much less by even $80-100? Is April after the UK School Break still a high season? My friend waited until January 2012 to buy airfare for May 2012 and paid $1400 for a one-stop in DC roundtrip SFO-LHR.
5. I'll bring food in case I don't like the dinner, but is one airline better than the other re: food quality? I won't request a special meal.

thanks again.
SanFranciscoFiend is offline  
Old Sep 12, 12, 1:01 am
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As far as I know, SFO will be going back to one flight daily over the winter so it will be a 747 which has AVOD (i.e. you can watch movies when you want) unlike most of the Airbuses which fly the second daily service in the summer.

I wouldn't worry about the crew (especially if UA is the alternative).

Disembarking is only very, very occasionally done by bus at Heathrow when flying VS.

Every airline loses luggage but again this is rare.

I'm assuming you're looking to travel in Economy. When I've travelled in Y, I thought the food was fine for what it is. I like that there are three choices.
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Old Sep 12, 12, 1:05 am
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VS Airbus planes are generally much, much newer than UA 747s but as BA304 says you're likely on a VS 747 at that time of year. Do a dummy booking and see what the VS web site tells you?

Have only had excellent cabin crew on VS.

Your seat can be changed by any airline but it is true that VS is changing its reservation system and while seat requests are available up to 90 days out currently, for your flight you won't be able to request a seat now (until the new system is operational).

VS does not bus to gates at Heathrow.
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Old Sep 12, 12, 9:52 am
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Originally Posted by slinky09 View Post
VS Airbus planes are generally much, much newer than UA 747s but as BA304 says you're likely on a VS 747 at that time of year. Do a dummy booking and see what the VS web site tells you?
tested the April flights on different dates and found VS42 and VS41 are on an Airbus A340-300; VS19 is on a Boeing 747-400; VS20 is on a Boeing 747-400. Whichever dates I go with, I'll pick the 42/41 set because the times are better.

Yes, I fly economy and I use YAPTA to monitor pricing and often check it a couple of times a day.
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Old Sep 12, 12, 11:26 am
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Originally Posted by SanFranciscoFiend View Post
tested the April flights on different dates and found VS42 and VS41 are on an Airbus A340-300; VS19 is on a Boeing 747-400; VS20 is on a Boeing 747-400. Whichever dates I go with, I'll pick the 42/41 set because the times are better.

Yes, I fly economy and I use YAPTA to monitor pricing and often check it a couple of times a day.
If you want the better VS product you'll have to sacrifice the timing unfortunately. Personally its not like we are talking noon vs 7pm departure like UA when they run 2 services, I believe the VS departures are only hours apart?In Y the VS 747 is probably worth a couple of hours inconvenience if AVOD and updated product is what you are after.

Having flown UA a LOT more than VS I can't really offer a fair comparison, but given the state of UA since the merger I would not fly them without status. So in your shoes I would go VS. Plus VS being an EU airline you have more protections under EU delay/cancellation law vs UA flying ex-US.
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Old Sep 12, 12, 12:46 pm
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Originally Posted by gbsfo View Post
If you want the better VS product you'll have to sacrifice the timing unfortunately. Personally its not like we are talking noon vs 7pm departure like UA when they run 2 services, I believe the VS departures are only hours apart?In Y the VS 747 is probably worth a couple of hours inconvenience if AVOD and updated product is what you are after.

Having flown UA a LOT more than VS I can't really offer a fair comparison, but given the state of UA since the merger I would not fly them without status. So in your shoes I would go VS. Plus VS being an EU airline you have more protections under EU delay/cancellation law vs UA flying ex-US.
Thanks for the tip on the EU delay/cancellation law with choosing VS.

I see the benefit in flying VS if I can afford premium economy. I'll try to see if I can spend that when it is time to buy a ticket. It's certainly a luxury in that I don't make that kind of salary to splurge on an extra 375 each way or 857 whole journey upgrade on the dates I'm checking. Outbound upgrade from economy to premium costs less than the return upgrade for some reason.
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Old Sep 17, 12, 7:09 am
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I'll give a point of view as a predominantly UA flyer on that route who has occasionally done it on VS.

First off, economy is economy, whichever way you slice it. Premium economy is much nicer, but the OP said he/she was not concerned about leg room, which is the one of the two primary advantages (with elbow room being the other).

In April UA is twice daily on its 777 aircraft which by then will be 95 - 100% modernized. VS may or may not be twice daily - you will know better and it wasn't 7x week this summer. In its modernized aircraft UA has AVOD in every seat and in-seat power (two sockets per three seats) for your personal electronics. The AVOD has a reasonable selections. In the very unlikely event you get the non-AVOD plane, it's personal screens on a loop system with no in-seat power.

UA offers full mileage accrual on all flights and you can choose your seat as soon as you book (and can check the seat map prior to booking if you want to ensure you get a window seat). Obviously if there's an aircraft swap the seat allocations get shuffled somewhat but this is extremely unlikely next April. Seat choice is unlimited and free, but Economy Plus is reserved for elite members of Mileage Plus and is otherwise only available if you pay for it.

Currently, UA has a London based crew on the early flight and a SF based crew on the later flight - this has changed from last year and could well change again by next April. I find the London based crews somewhat less unfriendly. The food ex-London is surprisingly ok but there's not enough of it and they charge $7 (credit cards only) for each and every drink. The food on the return is inedible. I have never known UA use steps at LHR or SFO but I guess there's always a first time. However, the walk to and from the plane at LHR is massive, but otherwise I find T1 to be quite pleasant.

I fly regularly between LHR and SFO and have, in the last year, considered switching my allegiance to VS because of UA's well publicised merger issues. However, VS's programme is not very good (IMHO). More to the point, my test of VS (one return trip) was not great. I found the seat very hard for such a long flight and the food was even worse than UA's. Obviously, also, there was no Economy Plus and I'm not going to pay for Premium Economy but I concluded that, for me, I would stick with UA. Next year, I'm testing BA which I suspect might be a runner using AA's FF programme, but I don't know about paying for seat selection.....
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Old Sep 17, 12, 9:09 am
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Originally Posted by lhrsfo View Post
UA offers full mileage accrual on all flights and you can choose your seat as soon as you book (and can check the seat map prior to booking if you want to ensure you get a window seat). ... Seat choice is unlimited and free, but Economy Plus is reserved for elite members of Mileage Plus and is otherwise only available if you pay for it.
...
The food ex-London is surprisingly ok but there's not enough of it and they charge $7 (credit cards only) for each and every drink. The food on the return is inedible. I have never known UA use steps at LHR or SFO but I guess there's always a first time. However, the walk to and from the plane at LHR is massive, but otherwise I find T1 to be quite pleasant.
Thanks for those points. So are you saying soft drinks are also charged and not free in economy on UA for a SFO-LHR itinerary?

I usually bring food that agrees with my type of diet anyways. I try to eat light foods, low salt, that won't make me feel too stuffed or make me need to drink a lot while sitting for a long period.
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Old Sep 17, 12, 9:10 am
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Soft drinks are free. Alchoholic beverages are charged
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Old Sep 28, 12, 2:45 pm
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I bought the UA ticket today because:
1. I prefer the times of the flights to be as late in the day as possible.
2. I need to earn the UA miles.
3. I prefer that I can choose my seat, plus there's the possibility that the 777 aircraft will have been updated by April 2013.

I felt that I couldn't hesitate any longer because I didn't see it going back down to 1049 since I had started tracking it. Waiting for a sale made me too anxious because I know that sale fares don't always work out for the dates and times I want.

I figured that if the UA crew is not as nice as they may be on VS, I'm never much in need of help and I'm going to really try to sleep through the whole flight or as much as possible.

I agree that you can't compare one coach seat with any other economy airline on a long haul flight because it is uncomfortable any way you think about it for 10+ hours.

I bought the insurance add-on to protect myself from any possible issues since my fare is nonrefundable.

Thank you everyone for your opinions on VS. If I have anything extraordinarily interesting happen on my trip with the flights, I'll post it when I return sometime in May 2013.
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Old Oct 4, 12, 11:29 am
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........

Last edited by SgtRyan; Oct 4, 12 at 11:29 am Reason: Wrong post
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