Aisling O'Sullivan flew Virgin Airways VA29 from Auckland to Dublin.
Price: $3270 for entire journey from Auckland to Dublin. Booked through eBookers. Etihad was the main provider but the long leg was operated by Virgin Airways.
On time: Not even close. A major engineering fault meant this flight was delayed 13 hours. The flight was due to leave at 4:05pm but did not take off until 7am the next day. Sydney airport has a curfew, meaning no plane can take off or land between 11pm and 6am. This also meant all connecting flights were missed. Thankfully, we were put up in swanky hotels in Sydney and Abu Dhabi, but we got to Dublin a day and a half late.
My seat: 29G. I was pleasantly surprised to find a seat configuration of 3-3-3. Not bad compared to other airlines such as Etihad, which squeeze an extra seat into a 3-4-3 set-up, despite both being Boeing 777 300ER planes. When the passenger in front of my next-door neighbour reclined, he looked at me with disapointment and muttered, "I didn't think they could go back that far."
Fellow passengers: Mixture of people travelling far and wide for Christmas.
How full: Full house, without a spare seat in sight but, then again, it was less than a week before Christmas.
Entertainment: Great range of movies of all different genres. The only downside was that they weren't changed for the return flight. Filling 14 hours each way with quality movies and TV shows isn't easy. However, I overheard a passenger commenting that it's great that you can start watching movies even when the plane is still on the tarmac. This means not having to wait until you're in the air to enjoy a film, as with most other airlines.
The service: Staff were very helpful and understanding when we were first informed about the delay in Sydney. However, when we had to check-in the following day staff were unhelpful and even patronising about the 30-hour delays we faced overall, with one commenting: "At least you get to stay in some nice hotels." As if we wanted to spend our Christmas holiday in airport hotels, no matter how swanky they were.
Food and drink: I quickly learned to order the vegetarian option as the meat choices looked less than appealing. The snack bars were a nice touch, allowing you to grab a fizzy drink or chips if hunger struck. Not bad for economy.
The toilets: Pretty standard. I discovered the one with baby-changing facilities was a lot bigger than the others.
Luggage: As the main provider was Etihad we had an allowance of 30kg.
The airport experience: I will always be haunted by thoughts of Sydney airport and gate 55 - where we were first informed of our mammoth delay. Once in Abu Dhabi, accept the chaos and go wild on super-cheap duty free.
Would I fly this again? I have mixed feelings. Although they stole nearly two days of my Christmas holiday, the actual on-board experience greatly surpassed my expectations and I was strangely relieved to find Virgin were the operators of the return flight.