Virgin Atlantic Little Red LHR-ABZ and Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge
Well it’s a day late but I eventually took a domestic ‘connection’ on Virgin Atlantic Little Red. This service is soon to be extinct. After the sale of BMI to IAG, Virgin Atlantic (VS) got the slots from Heathrow to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. They also had their own slots to Manchester and hence their domestic feeder service was born, wet-leased to Aer Lingus. Unfortunately it hasn’t done so well which is unfortunate because on the three routes it did offer a genuinely decent alternative to BA with all inclusive service. And so only after a couple years they’re killing it off. Leave the aviation market analysis to someone else but it will be a loss.
So my previous experience with them was flying into Terminal 1. This is my first time back to London since Terminal 2 which completely rebuilt. The terminal houses the huge number of Star Alliance carriers flying into Heathrow… and Aer Lingus. Will be interesting to see what happens if IAG end up buying them too and they return to the oneworld alliance. In the mean time Virgin Atlantic are the odd ones out operated their domestic service in a nice new terminal.
I arrived yesterday on an VS flight from Hong Kong in their Upper Class and spent a large amount of time in their arrivals lounge. I had planned on booking a domestic connection out on Little Red as an award (they have very cheap awards on this service) which would have provided lounge access connecting from the longhaul in Upper Class. The other plan was then to take a (hopefully cheap) BA flight either within the UK and/or to Sweden (with a domestic connection) to get the required BA flights for my BAEC status to kick in. All of this fell through however as flight costs simply were very poor value. Instead today I’m spending a few hours all the way up in Aberdeen and will fly back on a BA award, ABZ-LHR-GOT, overnighting in LHR. This is pretty much the last day you can book a BA shorthaul award with the free domestic connection! So I’ve moved airport hotels prior to this flight, leaving my bags at the Sheraton Skyline before getting the bus to T2. Will return tonight to check-in. Literally travelling with just a small backpack up and down.
The check-in area is immediately in front of you upon entering. All the star carriers are there though some seem like shared facilities. What set this terminal apart is the check-in desks are arranged in rows parallel to the terminal frontage. This gives a much more intimate feel however it does feel odd initially.
So upon checking in I just needed by boarding pass, I only had a small backpack with me. Immediately there were problems finding my ticket and then I was told promptly I had not paid. I had of course only booked a few hours prior, that was apparently not long enough for the online payment to process and the booking to ticket. So I ended up being shuffled to the ‘miscellaneous’ desk for payments/ticketing. Ended up saving myself the online credit card surcharge and paid my £17 in fees/taxes. Was asked what seat I wanted and figuring their usual low loadings asked for something with an empty seat adjacent. Got given a row at the back… should be more careful what I ask for! Figured I’d try my luck for lounge access, I had already mentioned I had come off a longhaul VS the day prior in Upper Class, so just asked politely. Lounge access is meant to be provided to passengers transferring (which is inherently a same day connection). A quick question to her college a few metres away, assuring she wouldn’t be out of line and I received my lounge invite card. Success!
Security is very similar to terminal 5. There is a dedicated fast track/priority section to the right. It’s effectively a business class/Star Alliance Gold area. Now being *G myself I did consider just waltzing down here even though flying on VS but why push my luck. It was quite quiet anyway so unsurprisingly security took no more than a minute or two to pass through.
Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge
Past security you are immediately look over the large expanse of seating
Everything is numbered here so it’s meant to be difficult to get lost. Along the right of the concourse are the two major lounges adjacent to each other, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa. A Plaza Premium paid lounge is somewhere below while some other *A carriers (AC, SQ, UA) have their own in the satellite terminal.
Aer Lingus themselves only fly to Irish destinations alongside operating the dying Virgin Atlantic UK domestic flights. So unexpectedly this lounge caters for short flights but equally isn’t flooded by elite status passengers from alliance partners.
Being quite new the lounge is clean and well furnished. There are a limited selection of snacks and beverages including a sparkling wine and a few spirits.
Minor details: Power sockets were UK only and no boarding calls.
Little Red Flight
I always feel like I’m getting to the gate quite late only then to realise I’ve boarded early. Had to do a small circle of the terminal too before finding the plane, as the gates were directly below the lounge.
There were near simultaneous departures of Little Red flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The former flight seemed quite full. I arrived as general boarding was called. Terminal 2 uses a facial recognition at security and boarding to be sure the boarding pass is being used by the same person. Unfortunately it is slow and really holds up the boarding process. It also seems totally unnecessary for a domestic flight.
Onboard I was right to the back and slowly the plane started to fill up and up…
I was seated on the port side aisle exit row. Somehow they allocated a father and adult son at the port window and aisle seat opposite me. I offered to swap and ended up with the three seats to myself. Most of the front of the plane was filled to capacity however.
So much for their poor loads. According to some financial papers the Little Red service is now performing okay, however they have been pricing aggressively. One wonders if the service needed more time to become established but expect BA to increase their fares once VS withdraw.
We taxi around slowly, it is Heathrow after all. The flight is otherwise uneventful. Service is unchanged since last year, with beverage and snack included.
So a nice new lounge and still a very decent domestic service. Before they shutter the operations expect to be visiting Edinburgh in August/September so will no doubt utilise them again.
Oh, I totally forgot to write this flight summary bit:
VS3023 LHR-ABZ, on an Airbus 320-200 EI-EZW named Rosie Lee. Allocated 22C, sat in 22D, flight time 1:30 over 401 miles.
We arrived on time and I was able to walk straight out and get the bus into town after a few minutes wait. Traffic into town was terrible! I’d be staying for a very brief visit then returning on BA late that evening.