With long haul travel having almost vanished (other than a lot of use of passenger jets for freight movements), some of the regular visitors to Seattle and now a distant memory. Virgin Atlantic was a regular visitor and they had migrated from other types to the 787-9 recently. Here was one heading to SeaTac while I was at Boeing Field. With the reduced size of the airline post COVID (and assuming it survives), will they be coming to Seattle again any time soon? I hope so.
These shots aren’t particularly nice but, at the time I took them, I didn’t realize that they would be a bit more significant for a friend of mine. He was a skipper for Virgin Atlantic and making his first run to Seattle. I went out to get his arrival despite it being a bit gloomy. We met up afterwards for a beer and some food. He flew back the following day.
Since that time, the airline business (along with many businesses) has taken a bad turn and Virgin Atlantic has been getting rid of staff. My friend was eligible for retirement and decided to take it. Consequently, this flight turned out to be the last landing he made in his commercial flying career. The return leg landing was made by another member of his crew. It would have been nice if the conditions were better but I am glad I was there to see it. Happy retirement Chris and see you soon I hope!
I was picking up some family members that were coming to stay. I got to the airport a little ahead of their scheduled arrival time and, since it was some time near an airport, I figured a bit of photography wouldn’t go amiss. They were coming in on a Virgin 787-9 so I knew I would shoot that. The heavies come in on the inner runway, but the rest tend to go to the outer. You can still get them, but it isn’t so close. I figured a few shots on a cloudy day was worth time to experiment with exposing high and playing with the shots in post.
My last time shooting at SFO, I got shots of a Virgin Atlantic 787 arriving. Crossing shots are not unusual at SFO as the jets on approach will often have departing jets in the background. The Virgin jet had this. It also had a second crossing shot a little earlier on the approach. A jet heading over the bay to pick up the approach further down was directly behind the 787 just after it passed Coyote Point.
Substitutions on the Seattle route are not just limited to Lufthansa. Virgin Atlantic has been flying the route with the 787-9 but, as with a lot of the Rolls Dreamliner operators, Virgin has been suffering from engine shortages while the blade cracking problems are dealt with. They have brought the A340-600 on to the route in the interim. I thought I wouldn’t be seeing these again after the last examples at SFO I saw but I got another chance. Not great light but it was good to see one more time.
It may be that the A340 is in its twilight years but it is still a type that is in operation with a number of airlines. Having watched a few different types disappear from service recently, I am paying more attention to those planes that might not be around for too much longer. I figure the A340 is one of those types. SFO gets a number of them on a normal day from a variety of operators. Virgin Atlantic brings in an A340-600 most days. Meanwhile, the original version shows up with a couple of airlines. Swiss and SAS bring in the A340-300 as part of their services. Philippine Airlines has been known to bring them in too but they are currently using 777-300ERs on this route and the 340s are elsewhere.
I made the effort to get the visitors both arriving and departing. Arrival shots are not great at this time of year as the heat haze starts to become a problem. However, you can still get something reasonable if you get a little lucky. You can go further out on the approach to minimize haze but you lose the context a little.
Moving around to the departure end of the 28s means you can get the planes as they come over your head when taking off. Sadly, all of them went from 28L rather than 28R which means they are slightly backlit when they come by. However, this doesn’t hurt things too much. The shots of them retreating into the distance were not possible on this day though due to the cloud rolling in off the hills which they disappeared into pretty quickly. I guess they will be around for a little longer but it won’t be too long before the A340 is consigned to secondary operators and lower utilization.
Not long ago I wrote here about the effort to get a Virgin Atlantic A340-600 before they were retired. At the time I noted that Virgin had added a second flight to SFO and it was using the 340 prior to the availability of the Boeing 787-9 later in the year. It turns out that things have changed a little. The 787 is now operating the service but, rather than replace the A340, it has replaced the 747-400 and the A340 is running the additional flight albeit only on weekdays.
The loss of the 747 is another example of how quickly they are disappearing from services as I have written about a few times now. However, it is nice to have the new type and still retain the increasingly rare A340. Unfortunately, getting out on a weekday to catch the 340 is not usually practical. I have managed to see the 787 at last though. Winter can be a great time to photograph aircraft with low, soft light. It can also combine with crappy weather in the form of high and gusting winds though. Such was the case this time. Hiding behind a tree to try and minimize the impact on the camera does help though. Interestingly, the colors of Virgin Atlantic’s latest scheme do not seem to like digital capture. The red seems a lot more subdued in my images than I recall it being!
Periodically, this blog gets populated with something that is disappearing be it an airline or a type of plane. Virgin Atlantic has been operating a single 747 in to SFO for years now. Recently they started up a second service five days a week. It is intended that this service will be operated with a 787-9 but the number delivered is not enough at this point. Therefore, they are using an A340-600 to start things before transitioning to the 787 in October. I have a relatively narrow window in which it will be operating and then it won’t be long before the A340s are gone from Virgin’s fleet. With a bunch of stuff coming up, I was looking for a chance to get a shot.
Having the plane was only part of the issue. Having a nice day was another. Also, it arrives around 7pm so I needed to get it before the evenings get shorter and it shows up after dark. The only problem with that is that the heat haze is bad at this time of year. Nothing I can do about that so I have to make the best of things. Fortunately, I chose a nice evening. The light was good, the timing was right and the heat haze, while present, was not so bad as to run things completely. These images won’t survive too much scrutiny but I am glad to have got them before time runs out.