My review of Virgin Upper Class on the new Boeing 787-9 (part 2)

This is Part 2 of my review of the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat and service on its new Boeing 787-9 fleet.  Part 1 of this review can be found here.

I have flown a few Boeing 787 aircraft now so I am becoming a little blase about them.  If you’ve never flown one, the key differentiator is the windows.  They are larger than on previous generations of aircraft and turn dark blue at the touch of a button on your seat – there is no blind to pull down.

As with the new Airbus A350, they also come with mood lighting.  Obviously Virgin wasn’t going to let this feature pass them by, so you now get bursts of red:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

and purple:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

throughout the flight.

The Virgin Upper Class bar

Those of you old enough to remember the early years of Virgin Atlantic in the 1980’s will remember how revolutionary the concept of the on-board bar was.  In many ways it was a key differentiator, put there not so much to serve passengers as to send a marketing message that this was not stodgy old British Airways.  Virgin also had in-flight masseurs at that point.

(Remember that British Airways was still state-owned when Virgin Atlantic launched in 1984.  It was not privatised until 1987.)

The 787 bar is, frankly, an afterthought.  What is this meant to be?

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

Basically it is a bit of plastic with four stools bolted to the ground around it.  That’s it.

Now, to be fair, we are talking about a 787 here.  When you see a picture of an amazing Emirates, Etihad or Qatar bar, it is on an Airbus A380.  Even those airlines offer little or nothing on their other aircraft – the Qatar Airways Boeing 787 bar is pitiful, basically a table with some drinks left out on it.  If your goal is to fly an airline with a good bar, the Virgin Atlantic 787 is not for you.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class food

The good news is that Wilbur and Orville, the Virgin salt and pepper characters, returned in 2013:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

I still have the set that I stole back in 1997.  The crew have no problem if you decide to ‘borrow’ yours.  It is almost worth flying Upper Class once just to get your hands on a pair.

The even better news is that I found the food good and a definite notch above British Airways Club World.  This was before I heard the recent announcement about BA removing the choice of starter in Club World and imposing a mozzarella salad on everyone.  There were enough little touches with the dishes to give the impression that someone actually cared.

For starters, we could choose from:

Marinated prawns with Avruga caviar (photo below)

Classic Nicoise salad

Italian tomato and basil soup

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787 food

Before moving on to:

Roasted chicken and gnocchi (see below)

Fillet of beef and sweet potato mash

Roasted sweet pepper

Kiln roasted smoked salmon salad

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787 food

And for pudding:

Lemon curd sponge pudding (see below)

Strawberry cream pannacotta slice

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

And then, to finish, Virgin has a traditional cheese and port trolley which comes around the cabin!  It’s not really my thing but, as with many things in life, it made me happy just knowing that it existed.  For the sake of the HFP reader who is a cheese specialist and always asks me exactly what was served, the menu simply says brie, Applewood wedge and stilton.

There is no formal second meal service.  Later in the flight you are offered the chance to have some sandwiches, cakes, jam and clotted cream scones or a beef burger.  Unlike BA, you are actually given a choice of sandwiches rather than being given a random selection made up from different fillings.


Taken as a whole, including the Heathrow Clubhouse, Virgin Atlantic offers an impressive package.  I found the lounge and the food superior to British Airways Club World.

The jury is still out on the seat.  If you want privacy, direct aisle access and no fellow passengers climbing over your legs during the night, you will like it.  I was personally a little thrown by having the window behind me, by the shadow cast by my head and by the lack of one armrest.  Without having tried to sleep on the seat, however, I don’t feel in a position to fully recommend it one way or the other.

The Boeing 787 is an impressive aircraft and the big windows, mood lighting and improved pressurisation do make for a pleasant flight.  British Airways also has its own 787 fleet, of course, but BA and Virgin do not send them to the same destinations.

You might expect me to make a comparison with the ‘Middle East 3’ but that would not be valid.  The vast majority of Virgin Atlantic flights are to North America so Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are not competing.  What IS proving to be a surprisingly strong competitor is the new American Airlines business class seat which is on my ‘to do’ list.  AA rarely makes them available for redemption, however, so I may need to wait for AA to offer me one.

In terms of a redemption, remember that an Upper Class return to New York on Virgin Atlantic costs 80,000 Flying Club miles.  This is substantially cheaper than 100,000 Avios (off peak) or 120,000 Avios (peak).  Both airlines add around £500 in taxes.  Purely on a redemption basis – assuming you don’t have a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher – Virgin wins hands down.  There is no way that you can justify an additional 40,000 miles for the ‘privilege’ of BA Club World.

Coming up very soon on Head for Points are two other London-New York business class reviews, on La Compagnie and airberlin.  One offers super-low cash fares, the other offers super-low taxes (£3 one-way from the US) on Avios redemptions.  How will those carriers compare?

The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 website is here if you want to find out more.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles?  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.)

My review of Virgin Upper Class on the new Boeing 787-9 (part 1)
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  1. James A says:

    ‘Italian tomato and basic soup’ Freudian? 😉 Still, I suppose you can’t actually write thoughtless vegetarian option on the menu.

    You’re right about the new AA offerings, I’ve flown them a few times now and they really don’t resemble the old AA aircraft at all. Food is a bit hit and miss still though.

  2. Given the constraints on catering at 30,000ft I’ve always found the onboard menu very acceptable.

    Even the on demand burger is good.

    The afternoon tea service can be a little slow but, now they no longer assemble a cake stand in front of you, it’s much improved!


  3. “the Qatar Airways Boeing 777 bar is pitiful”

    Do you mean the 787, referring to the divider/table in front of the seats at the exit row? Not sure they refer to that as a bar.

  4. Sandgrounder says:

    Nice reviews, looking forward to flying this cabin back from HKG next Easter.

  5. “One offers super-low cash fares, the other offers super-low taxes (£3 one-way from the US) on Avios redemptions”

    This has now increased to a stonking £4.20

    • Peter K says:

      Don’t let the daily mail find out that a foreign company has increased is fees by 40%. They’ll go apoplectic and demand BA time the world

    • Really? That is shocking. When I were a lad, back in 2013, it was £2.60 IIRC. Was definitely only £3 when I booked one a few weeks ago.

      • £1.60 When I flew MIA-TXL

        Talking of Taxes, I was doing a few searches on BA this morning for AA flights into ORD and noticed instead of the normal £4.20 taxes some routes were pricing at £15.60
        EG, BOS-ORD LAX-ORD £4.20 where as MIA-ORD EWR-ORD were £15.60

      • Genghis says:

        Is that “When I were a lad” said in a strong Yorkshire accent?? :)

  6. For us travelling as a couple, the BA 2-4-1 always influences where we spend our miles. Despite having Amex MR Points and Clubcard Points that we could send to Virgin I still find myself sending them to BA to use with the voucher.

    Plus I am quite fond of BA First (as controversial as that may be in some quarters), so feel I am getting even better value from the 2-4-1 if we redeem for that instead of Club. Having not flown Upper Class I don’t have direct experience, but my instinct is that BA First is better than Virgin Upper.

    • gumshoe says:

      And so it should be at the price.

    • Same here Scott. I thoroughly enjoyed BA F when we flew on our 2-4-1 last year and as a couple we tend to collect BA as opposed to VS. I want to like Virgin as we have to fly from MAN-LHR and onwards and Virgin are starting to increase their presence here but I just don’t seem grabbed by their nouveau riche style over substance feel. Would rather cash in a few more miles and route via LHR to go BA and feel I’m getting more for my money’s worth (even though I’m only paying the tax!!)

  7. Thanks for the review, Rob. I’ve flown the AA TATL service in business a few times now (thanks to excellent ex-DUB deals!). The seat is superb – friends thought I was in first when they saw the photos – however catering not the best, VS definitely doing better on that front. Direct aisle access in 1-2-1 configuration though.

  8. I always think buying an economy ticket and upgrading with points is much better value. It’s usually only ~£150-200 more. When you take into account the saving in points + the points earned + status earned (Delta MQMs in my case), it seems a much better option that straight redemption. VS now allow upgrades from most economy fares and you can jump two classes with points.

    • Scallder says:

      I don’t think this applies since they changed their points for upgrades. E.g. upgrade for a flight from London to Atlanta is 35k miles to go from Economy to Upper Class, however it’s 40k for a straight redemption.

      Some of the 50k single routes for redemption (e.g. Miami) are 40k to upgrade to Upper from Economy, so not sure whether the additional cost is worth the 10k points. Obviously if this allows you to get in upper when no reward seats then fair enough…

  9. I flew a reward flight into Boston and out of JFK in Virgin UC last year, so older planes. The crew on the way back were not quite as on the ball as the outwards flight, but as I was asleep for most of it, I didn’t really care.

    As a solo traveller, I prefer the seat layout on Virgin, although I agree that having your back to the window is a bit odd. It makes it very difficult to look out. Not a big fan of “mood” lighting. My eyes need to be able to see things in their original colours and at light levels that I can control. I had no problem with the seat or the bed and had enough storage space around my seat for tablet & assorted bits & pieces.

    The clubhouse at each end and LHR arrivals were fab, so unless I got an absolutely stonking deal on BA, I wouldn’t even consider them over Virgin. My only gripe is the lack of non US routes with Virgin now. I have friends in Vancouver, but they don’t fly there any more. I need to work out where I can use my PE upgrade voucher from my credit card.

    I couldn’t be bothered with taking Wilbur & Orville home with me. My house is already full of “souvenirs” and I don’t need any more!

  10. The best part of those salt and pepper pots is the bottom, where they say “nicked from virgin atlantic”!

  11. I done drive thru check in. Lounge, and upper class the other day. Was quality.

    What do u mean u can borrow the salt and pepper shakers. They remove em and give em back for breakfast.