At The Airport With Virgin Atlantic During Covid-19

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Flying isn't what it used to be, but that's not all bad. Once cramped economy cabins are now socially distanced - at least on some airlines - and planes, and the airports that lead you to them, are cleaner than ever before.

Flying isn't what it used to be, but that's not all bad. Once cramped cabins are now socially distanced - at least on some airlines - and planes, and the airports that lead you to them, are cleaner than ever before.

I'll be honest, when Virgin Atlantic, like all other airlines operating out of London Heathrow Terminal 3, were forced to move house to new facilities, my heart filled with dread. The Virgin Clubhouse, Upper Class Wing and other staples of Virgin's finest offerings would be gone, however temporary the move might be, while Heathrow condenses operations.

Strolling through Heathrow Terminal 2, however, I could see that the present wasn't actually so bad, and in fact for most customers it might be a step up. Think: higher ceilings, more restaurants and more space in T2, compared to T3. And space is a "big" thing right now.

But what matters in journeys right now is cleanliness, reliability and trust, and that's what I was here to take in first hand. Is Virgin Atlantic really cleaning planes to the highest spec? Are meals actually sealed? Are people actually flying?

Virgin Atlantic now occupies the first check in area you find, when you walk into T2. If you close your eyes, you'd probably hit the counters, but don't. All staff are wearing masks, and disinfecting gels are everywhere. Yes, despite what you may have read, Virgin Atlantic is still flying, and will be for a long time.

Terminal 2 is a step up from T3 from a general passenger perspective, with a more modern space, a wide variety of food including Yo Sushi, London's Pride Pub, Heston's The Perfectionist Cafe, Leon and more, all of which I'm pleased to report are now open

For Upper Class passengers and Gold card holders, Virgin has worked out a deal with Lufthansa, where passengers are welcome in their lounge. From an expected date of September, the lounge will switch over to Plaza Premium. It's not the Clubhouse, but realistically, no other business class lounge compared.

Heathrow isn't flawless in covid-19 times, but it's very good. Passenger numbers are up recently, and the airport had too many sanitizing stations empty, and too few proactive staff helping keep people moving, or apart.

I couldn't help but speak to cabin crew before a flight, hoping to get a bit of insight into how weird it all must be for them. Apparently, not nearly as much as one might think.

Most Virgin Atlantic crew were furloughed during the height of the pandemic, but the airline created online learning, webinars, videos and new highlighted manual sections to illustrate new cleaning measures, service practices and protocols to deal with covid-19.

Part of that is a serious new toilet cleaning regime, to ensure surfaces are cleaned regularly during long haul flight. It may take a bit of glamour out of the job, but it's a key manoeuvre the airline is deploying to bring its hygiene standards to beyond current industry leaders.

Virgin Atlantic was one of the earliest in the game to come out fighting against covid-19, with the introduction of sanitizing kits. Few airlines had launched any, and those that did, didn't go nearly as far. Virgin offers three medical grade face coverings, wipes and gel to all passengers.

After stepping on board, I came to think it's as much for peace of mind as anything else. Virgin Atlantic was among the more rigorous in cabin cleaning standards pre-pandemic, but Anthony Bryant, Virgin Atlantic's Manager of Cabin Appearance and Cleaning gave me the grand tour of intensive measures.

Cleaning crews could do the job in roughly 50-55 minutes before, but new measures, including wiping down high touch surfaces, like overhead bins, adding an extra 10 minutes. Every flight receives a full cleaning, unlike many short haul airlines.

Electrostatic sprays and environmentally approved cleaning products are used on all surfaces. Even the screens in each cabin looked like someone had terry clothed their Ray-ban's. Pillows with the words "we all need a little bit of space" are in place to keep social distancing.

Passengers can change seating assignments, but not to any seat where a pillow is placed. Flights, such as this A350 bound for New York aren't quite full right now, and that has people worried about Virgin Atlantic's future. One thing few realize, is that covid-19 brought Virgin a new customer, first name: car, last name: go.

It's hard to get anyone talking too much about specifics, but apparently many flights are making money before a passenger steps on board, due to the heavy loads down below. Basically, Virgin Atlantic is an airline built on customers, but I'm no longer worried about these half empty flights.

For people in economy, who now have socially distanced seating setups and whole rows to themselves, they're probably not too worried either. Plus, hot meals and drinks are still being served in every cabin. It's not all doom and gloom, so cheers to that.

Written by: Gilbert Ott