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:
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?
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:
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
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
And for pudding:
Lemon curd sponge pudding (see below)
Strawberry cream pannacotta slice
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?
(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.)