Regardless of the end result, committing 8+ hours of your life to being confined to a chair is a big deal, so it’s important to get it right. After all, if you didn’t enjoy it the first time, you’re going to spend the rest of your holiday dreading your return journey! Having flown this and longer routes previously with the red team over at Virgin Atlantic, the competitors had a lot to live up to. I’d never flown with a charter airline before as we don’t tend to book package holidays, but variety is the spice of life so we thought we’d give it a go. Thomas Cook have won the award for Best Charter Airline for a few years now so how bad can it be?
We booked our holiday in our local Thomas Cook travel agent and were told at the time of booking about the Thomas Cook App. You simply put in your booking reference and all of your holiday details appear in one place. From here you can click through to the airline, choose your seats, pre-purchase your duty free, view the weather I resort and so much more. We were also told we would have to apply for our ESTA visas and submit our passport information on the website (which we did) and the rest was easy – we just turn up at check-in with our passports and off we go! It really was this easy! I never even had to show anyone my booking confirmation! Security at Gatwick was straight forward and we were in the terminal within 30 minutes having breakfast! Boarding was prompt, take off was on time and that was it… we were airborne!
Let me set the record straight. You pay less for your flight ticket, so expect less to be included in the price. Included in the price of your economy ticket is an integrated seat-back individual touch screen with 6 movies and 6 TV shows on. This will include some family films, but certainly not enough to entertain children for 8 hours 40 minutes. You can purchase the ‘premium’ entertainment package for £5 per person each way when you get on board. They can take payment by cash or card and in exchange you will have a receipt with a unique code on. This opens your options to an additional 57 movies & 161 TV shows. Top tip: if you book your flight knowing this, you won’t begrudge paying it quite so much!
I didn’t pack my tape measure, but as an adult of relatively small proportion I can tell you the long haul seat pitch does not feel tight, in fact I had enough room either side of me to put my arms comfortably by my sides before the armrests and my husband had room to shimmy past me to get out without me having to stand up. The 2-4-2 formation definitely helps keep the peace too – I didn’t have to speak to anyone if I wanted to get up and use the conveniences or access the overhead luggage rack. There was plenty of room under the seat in front to store a full size backpack and still have room for your feet. My only criticism would be that the seat was not very comfortable in the laid pack position so we sat bolt up-right all the way (good luck to us on the night flight home)!
With all long haul flights these days, it is standard practice that a hot meal is provided however the quality is often something of a taboo. Thomas Cook Airlines has enlisted the help of celebrity chef James Martin to tackle this sticky issue, and I would say with a great deal of success. We had 2 options on this particular flight: Braised Beef with potatoes & a herb dumpling or Massaman Chicken Curry with jasmine rice. Each was served with a bread roll, cheese & crackers, a dark chocolate & mint mousse, water and a soft drink of choice. We tried one of each of the meals (for research purposes of course) and I can say we were both very impressed. The beef was so tender it just fell apart with a fork and the gravy it was cooked in was equally delicious. The curry was packed with flavour and also cooked to Joe’s liking. You would hope that a professional chef wouldn’t want his name on something sub-standard, and I don’t doubt James would be proud of the meals served to us today.
Around 2 hours before landing we were served afternoon tea which comprised of 2 finger sandwiches (cheese & onion and egg & cress), a mini packet of Hula Hoops, lemon drizzle cake and a soft drink. It was pleasant enough and came in at only 385 calories in total (I’d been sat down for 7 hours at this point so yes, I added it up)! It was what it was, served chilled and inoffensive!
For me, this is where the distinct difference for between Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook really shows its self. You should know that when flying with a charter airline, all drinks with the exception of those served with your meal, are fully chargeable… and they are not cheap. Expect to pay £2.60 for a small cup of tea and £6.30 for a small Jack Daniels & Pepsi. Want a shortbread biscuit to dunk in the tea? That’s another £2 please! My advice? Get your drinks by the bottle in the terminal and rest assured that the food provided in flight is more than enough to see you through. Sure, all of your drinks are included with Virgin, but if the flight is more than £20 more, it just isn’t worth it. Save money & plan ahead.
Flying to Orlando with Thomas Cook really is good value for money and provides a well thought out flight experience for everyone. They have placed themselves well within the market and provide a great product with very similar service standards to Virgin and deliver you straight in to Orlando International Airport (unlike TUI who “put you in the middle” of no-where in Sandford)! Although I am of course not looking to leaving Orlando, I can say I am relieved to know that I am flying in the comfort of the sunny heart.