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Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives, and I was on board (Part 1)

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Virgin Atlantic has been having a good year. The airline is once again growing its route network, with more destinations added this year than we have seen for some time including Dubai, the Maldives and Turks & Caicos.

What connects them all is a strong demand for premium leisure – arguably Virgin Atlantic’s bread and butter.

The catalyst for these routes, we have been told, was strong demand from Virgin Holidays.

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

Virgin Holidays was merged into the airline business as part of the pandemic restructuring. It gave Virgin Atlantic greater incentive to fly to more popular holiday destinations rather than booking passengers on competitor airlines.

Flights to the Maldives initially launched in late October with three direct weekly flights competing against British Airways and the Middle Eastern airlines. The schedule runs as follows

  • Outbound flights operate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, departing Heathrow at 6:30pm and arriving in Male Velana Airport at 9:40am the following day
  • Inbound flights operate Monday, Thursday and Saturday, departing Male at 11:30am and arriving in Heathrow at 6pm the same day

This is a seasonal service, with flights ending on 29th March 2024. However, the route appears to be doing exceptionally well for Virgin Atlantic so it’s likely we will see it return in October 2024. There are rumours of it going daily for 2024/25.

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

At the moment, flights are being operated by a Boeing 787 Dreamliner with the old coffin-style Upper Class seat which we reviewed here.

These seats are increasingly becoming a competitive disadvantage. Unfortunately we are not going to see a refurbishment or replacement until Virgin Atlantic decides what it wants to do with the planes, which are coming up to the end of their 12-year lease period.

Once the decision is taken – to replace or sign an extended lease – I’m optimistic we will see the fantastic A330neo Upper Class Suites on this aircraft or whatever aircraft they order to replace the fleet.

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

The outbound flight was a surprisingly speedy 9:30 hours long. This is, in my opinion, ideal – long enough to enjoy dinner and a good long sleep before landing in Male the following morning. The return day flight is a bit longer, at 11 hours, and does drag on a bit.

I forgot how fun it is to have the bar on board, as newer aircraft now have the Loft social space instead. It’s a good opportunity to stretch the legs and a nice change of scene and the crew are attentive in bringing drinks.

As always, the crew, led by Amanda, were spectacular. She wasn’t wrong when she announced our arrival into Male by saying “well all I can say is WOW. This is somewhere special!”

Arriving in Male

Arriving in Male is a bit of a sore point. Although the airport is building a brand new terminal building (and it looks very smart), at the moment the experience is far from premium. There are no jet bridges, so everyone is bussed on and off, and the arrivals and departure terminals are in poor condition. Thankfully, immigration took all of five minutes.

Of course, 99%+ of passengers are not staying on Male or Hulumale as the nearby overflow island is being called. Virtually everyone will be connecting to one of the 180+ resort islands in the country across the 26 different atolls.

(By the way, the Maldives are much, much bigger than you think. The atolls are roughly arranged in a vertical line, and it’s over 500km between the Haa Alifu Atoll in the North to Laamu in the South.)

This means that you’ll need to take a sea plane for anything more than the neighbouring islands in the atoll. As a result Trans Maldivian Airways operates the largest fleet of sea planes in the world with almost sixty De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters.

The majority are in the typical white and red livery of TMA but some resorts have their own special liveries, including Sun Siyam (my destination) with its traditional Maldivian design now on two aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

As you can imagine, I was exceptionally excited as I’ve never been on a sea plane before! The new seaplane terminal is very swanky, although the process to get there is a bit of a palava. You have to drop your bags and check-in to TMA at Male Airport in an open area outside arrivals with no air-conditioning before being bussed to the new seaplane terminal.

The seaplane terminal is an impressive facility. All the major resorts have their own dedicated lounge facilities on one of the four floors where you wait until boarding. Your luggage is automatically loaded onto the plane.

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

The Sun Siyam lounge is sizeable and if you’re hungry there is a range of food on offer as well as hot and soft drinks. As this is Male there is no alcohol available – alcohol is only available on the resort islands and cannot be brought into the islands, either.

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

If you’re lucky, you’ll also get fantastic views of the seaplane terminal as well as the main Male Airport, too. We watched a Singapore Airlines A350 arrive.

After about 15 minutes or so we were called to board our aircraft, which necessitates a quick trot across the pontoon to the aircraft. Mind your head, because the ceiling is very low. The chairs are tiny – it feels a bit like you are in a dolls house! You can also see straight into the cockpit:

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

Once the pilots had the clearance to take off they started the propellers and taxxied out across the water to the ‘runway’ before pushing the throttle. Take-off is much smoother than you’d expect, with the aircraft clipping along the waves before taking off. It is very noisy.

One of the highlights of the 45 minute flight to our resorts in the Noonu Atoll, north of Male, was the spectacular views. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing lush green islands emerging from the shallow turquoise waters of the atolls:

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

I even spotted The Ritz-Carlton, which we’ve written about a few times, thanks to its unique formation of villas:

Virgin Atlantic heads to the Maldives

We skirted a few clouds laden with rain before coming into land with one of the steepest approaches I’ve ever experienced. Even with earplugs it’s quite a relief when the propellers come to a standstill.

In Part 2 of this article – click here – I take a look at the two resorts we stayed out during our trip, on what was easily the most activity-packed press trip I’ve ever done.

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (March 2024)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points):

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 bonus points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

A generous earning rate for a free card at 0.75 points per £1 Read our full review

You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 40,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 40,000 Virgin Points.

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.

American Express Business Platinum

Crazy 120,000 points bonus (to 9th April) and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

Huge 60,000 points sign-up bonus (until 9th April) and free for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (61)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • TripRep says:

    Looking forward to part 2 Rob

    Nice to see another Maldives review, it’s been a while 😉

  • Londonsteve says:

    The Maldives do look magical (in the photos), but Dubai and the Maldives strike me as the two least imaginative destinations on the planet. The fact there’s nothing really to see in either location just underscores my point.

  • ThomasB says:

    Lots of comments on here regarding costs etc, fair points made on both sides of the debate. Generally, I find a short comment at the end of an article, something like “Double/King Rooms available from £xxx/night”, to be sufficient for me to decide if I want to take a closer look at the place.

  • Eddie Manning says:

    I was lucky enough to snag both of 2 Virgin Upper Class seat redemptions for early November next year. One way from LHR to Male was 67,500 miles and taxes and fees of £548 per seat. We are going onwards to Thailand after so this suited us. There were more seats available in Premium and Economy.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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