Last Updated on June 16, 2023 by Suzy
All holidays to Florida from the UK start with a long-haul flight on an aeroplane. I am writing our holiday diary in some sort of order however the diary will take the form of useful posts. Posts I hope will help others get more out of their ultimate family holiday.
For the time of year that we flew (February), there were only two options for airlines to Orlando, Florida with direct flights. They were Virgin Atlantic Destination All Destinations and British Airways. Both of which fly out of London (Gatwick) at that time of year. Virgin also flies from Manchester to Orlando, out of and in season.
During the peak months of the year, there are plenty more airports and airline travel options. There’s plenty to bear in mind when flying on Virgin Atlantic with kids. I hope that you will find my long-haul review of Economy and top tips useful.
Our flight to Orlando was just over 9 hours and just over 8 hours back to Gatwick. Orlando, Florida is 5 hours behind the UK.
Top Tip #1
Keep an eye on prices. We didn’t book our flight until January, just one month before our holiday. I was watching the price of our flights from about late October time. The price of each flight changed a lot throughout that time. When I first looked it was just as cheap to fly on a Saturday. However, nearer the time that was no longer a viable option. Midweek flights are a lot cheaper than weekends however if you can afford a little extra for a Sunday then I recommend it as the roads for travelling on are a lot quieter on a Sunday.
In the end, we saved £250 on the original price by booking in their January sale. The price of Premium Economy can also change and sometimes one particular flight was just a few hundred pounds more than Economy. We paid £1,360 for our return flights for 2 adults and 1 child. The lowest price we could have got was £1,150 however the dates for travel were no good to us.
The Virgin Atlantic site is really easy to use and it’s easy to compare prices on different days and switch around options to find the best price.
Top Tip #2
Don’t treat it like RyanAir. Virgin boards the plane up to an hour before the flight leaves the runway. So make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare. We arrived at Gatwick 2 hours 30 before departure. I had already checked us in online in advance (online check-in opens 24 hours before departure and closes 70 minutes before departure).
We had also booked an express lane with Gatwick parking for going through security, however, this wasn’t needed. In the end, even with an easy transition through to the waiting lounge we only had 30 minutes to spare before boarding.
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Top Tip #3
If you want your kids to be able to look out of the window don’t book a seat over the wing. The wing on a Virgin Atlantic flight is huge. I could barely see anything let alone poor Jamie.
So where is a good place to book? If you want to be guaranteed to sit together you do really need to pre-book your seats. It is an added cost but no way could we risk not sitting together. I spotted that Economy had quite a few seats with extra legroom. They were almost twice the price to pre-book but I was sad we couldn’t afford Premium Economy so this was a compromise.
I was so disappointed with the legroom. There must have been about 2 cm more in room size than a standard Economy seat. When the person in front put their seat back, on both flights, I was left just as cramped in as everyone else. I wish I’d known. We paid £40 one way and £45 back each for extra legroom seats. It was too much and I wish we’d just pre-booked regular seats. Or at least booked early enough to get the slightly more decent Economy seats.
If you do want to pay for extra leg room and actually really want extra leg room then you have to book seats at the front of an aisle row. We were not at the front of an aisle row and were amongst 4-5 rows of ‘extra leg room’. Avoid booking over a wing, avoid the toilets and where the kitchens are situated. If you can book it book the front row at the front of Economy. As this means you will get off the plane first and avoid an even bigger queue at border control/customs.
Top Tip #4
Take plenty of snacks. Pre-book the Kids’ meals. That’s really two tips in one, however, the two go hand in hand. I had no idea that you need to pre-book kids’ meals. I just assumed as they knew how many kids were on the flights then they would have enough meals to cope.
Wrong. Jamie had to choose between a few adult options none of which he wanted. He tentatively tried the Quorn cottage pie but hated every mouthful. I noticed that the kids got a hot meal of tomato pasta (his favourite) and there were crackers, cheddars, yoghurt and more that he would have loved.
Luckily I’d brought along plenty of snacks so he was happy munching on what I had brought along. Thank goodness he did because until the sandwich came along, later on, he barely touched his ‘adult’ aeroplane meal.
He did, however, love the lolly that we were all given about halfway through the flight.
Top Tip #5
Drinks are included so don’t worry about bringing your own along. I was under the assumption that only Premium Economy and Upperclass had their drinks included. I was misinformed and we had a decent supply of drinks. There was a choice of spirits, wine, juices, water and fizzy drinks. If you miss the trolley going by you can just pop along to the kitchens to ask for something.
Top Tip #6
Take plenty to keep your kids entertained. Jamie’s bag was full of things to do. If you want some ideas of what to put in their bags please check out this link – 20 Fun Ways to Entertain a Young Child on a Long Haul Flight.
We didn’t need everything because the in-flight entertainment was very good. You can select a kids only mode which means they can’t select anything risky. We had been to see Paddington 2 only 2 weeks prior to our flight and Virgin already had it available to watch.
He was a bit too young (age 4) for the games and to be honest it was a little bit difficult scrolling through things let alone playing a game. I managed to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean and Dunkirk on our flight to Orlando (well that includes about 50 pauses to sort something out for Jamie!).
It was good to have a selection of other things to do though as there’s only so long he would happily watch things for. He was also allowed a few games on the iPad.
Headphones to go with the in-flight entertainment are free. They do ask for a donation to a children’s charity.
Top Tip #7
Bring a USB charging cable on the plane with you for your devices. There is a USB charging point in the seat in front of you. Once fully charged you must unplug your device.
Top Tip #8
Make sure your kids are comfy. One thing aeroplane seats aren’t in Economy is comfy. If you want to know more about the TravelSnug that Jamie is sitting on in the photo below please check out this link – How to Help Kids Sleep on a Plane, Flying Long Haul with Toddlers, TravelSnug
Top Tip #9
If you are flying to the USA, in our case we flew to Orlando International Airport in Florida, please allow even more time than your worst-case scenario for getting through customs etc. I allowed 2 hours worst-case scenario and it took 2 hours 40 minutes! It was a nightmare.
I really regret not getting a seat near the front of economy. Although to be fair it still would have been a nightmare. We had to queue twice in two rooms. One queue to use a computer ourselves to ‘check in’ and another queue to meet a human being.
You will also have all of your fingerprints taken! Neither room had air conditioning and it was horrendous. Disney Express bus is also the furthest possible distance ever from baggage claim and by the time we walked there, we then had another 40-minute wait for our bus. We wish we’d taken a taxi (approx. $60) to Disney World as we didn’t arrive until 8 pm and we landed at 4:15 pm. You live and learn.
Maybe you can’t decide between Virgin Atlantic or British Airways for your holiday to the USA? The Life of Spicers has that covered over here – Virgin Atlantic vs British Airways. Or if you are looking for even more great tips on flying long haul with kids Four Around the World has it covered.