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My day exploring the world of airline food with Virgin Atlantic

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I spent last Monday in a shed in Crawley.  This is not my normal Monday routine, but when the shed is the headquarters of Virgin Atlantic it becomes more interesting.

Virgin 1

I had been invited to tag along to an event aimed at food writers (Simon Calder was also tagging along) to highlight the food and drink options offered by Virgin.  It coincided with Virgin’s in-house food festival, with many of their food and drink suppliers setting up stalls in the large open plan HQ building.

Virgin 2

Here are some facts and figures Virgin offered up – I can’t begin to imagine how large the equivalent BA numbers would be:

Virgin employs a team of 30 to run all of its inflight services, covering everything from duty free to toiletry bags and catering

It serves 12 million meals per year to 5 million passengers

It washes 4 million blankets per year, all in the UK

It goes through 8 million plastic glasses per year – and under UK reguations, they cannot be recycled because they have been used for drinking.  All go to landfill.

It spends £3,000 per month on toilet roll

Suppliers have to sign up to strong commitments on sustainability, animal welfare, fair trade, GM ingredients etc

Food is now tested to ensure that it still looks attractive when served under the coloured ‘mood lighting’ on the new 787 aircraft!

The menu is tweaked on virtually every route to accommodate local preferences

Whilst the company likes to work with niche brands, they prefer to serve unique flavours or pack sizes so that passengers do not mentally start working out what identical products would cost in a shop

The catering offer is completely overhauled every 12-18 months.  The company looks at what is trending with the public and then creates a ‘vision’ which it shares with its suppliers, asking for ideas on how it could be achieved.  In Upper Class, for example, there has been a shift towards a more formal dining style from the more relaxed brasseries approach.

Within these total overhauls, there are changes to the Upper Class and Premium Economy menus every three months and to the Economy menu every six months.

With Delta taking a 49% share in the airline and feeding more American customers onto Virgin flights, the airline has made a move to include more US brands.

Presentations over, it was time to tour the mock up aircraft cabins that Virgin has installed to help with crew training.

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We first headed to an Upper Class bar (installed in a mock up fuselage with full seating) to see how the new on-board cocktails are prepared using special mixer packs.

Virgin 4

Lunch time arrived, so – slightly bizarrely – we headed over to a Premium Economy cabin mock-up where we all took a seat and were served the current Premium Economy menu, cooked in a real in-flight oven.  (I had the chicken tikka.)  Premium Economy meals come with black plastic versions of the ‘Wilbur’ and ‘Orville’ steel salt and pepper shakers used in, and regularly stolen from, Upper Class.

Virgin 6

It was then back over to the Upper Class cabin where we were shown how the galley staff cook, prepare and serve the food.  It was interesting to see how it is packaged when it arrives on the aircraft and how quickly the crew can turn it into something presentable.

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I also had the chance to try out the Virgin Atlantic economy seat:

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Not great when you are six foot two.  I think I’ll stick with flat beds.

Finally, Virgin let me play at working on the check-in counter!

Virgin 8

If there is an overall message from the day, it is that Virgin is working hard to support niche food and drink suppliers and to provide something a little different on-board.  My Premium Economy salad came with a pomegranate and raspberry oil, for instance.  Berry Bros provide the wine.  Thanks to the team at Virgin Atlantic for inviting me.

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (August 2022)

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 Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

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

Virgin Rewards credit card

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 Amex Gold

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

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

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.

EDIT: Until 25th October 2022, there is an exceptionally generous sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card. You will receive 60,000 Membership Rewards points – double the usual amount – and £200 to spend at Amex Travel. You need to spend £6,000 within six months to earn the bonus.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points, £200 travel credit and an unbeatable set of travel 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.

Amex Platinum Business American Express

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus 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 (80)

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

  • Green Flyer says:

    Wonder if the increase in US brands will mean an increase in the use of Gluctose-Fructose syrup as an ingredient.

  • Frankie McPolin says:

    Looks fun. And better than the American Airlines ‘Above and Beyond’ debacle last night at One Marylebone place last night… Were you there Raffles?

    • David says:

      I was there (and no I am not Raffles) but an event with no non-alcoholic drink, no veg. canapés; a 20 minute queue to get in the building, tables that bonked everybody on the head (frequently) … and a sound system that was appalling…I left before the end…

  • Aeronaut says:

    Does the Virgin Atlantic building / shed not have any windows?

  • Iain2015 says:

    Thanks for sharing Rob

    Interesting that the replies have all focused on recycling (VAs stance is ridiculous) and GM foods. Surprisingly no one has commented on the Emirates card sign up bonus … Which admittedly is useless unless you fly them regularly and looking to top up miles

  • harry says:

    It spends £3,000 per month on toilet roll

    I think we do better than that, more to the point, the 2 women do.

  • Virgin Atlantic says:

    Thanks so much for coming to our behind the scenes food day Rob! So glad you enjoyed it!

    We just wanted to clarify some of the sustainability aspects of Virgin Atlantic’s service. We use plastic glasses in our Economy cabin and unfortunately present regulations of international catering waste does not allow us to recycle them. In order to recycle anything from international flights you must have a system in place to ensure recycling does not come into contact with food or dairy products. This is due to the risk of diseases such as foot and mouth coming into the country. However, we are currently working with the UK regulator, DEFRA, to find a way of recycling onboard.

    Operators such as EasyJet are able to recycle onboard as they fly within the EU where these regulations are not applicable. We have also been working with Food Made Good (Sustainable Restaurant Association) for a number of years to get all our food served onboard and in our Clubhouses to a high standard of sustainability. We set ten standards that our caterers must meet, including one on GM foods. This standard is simply that where GM foods are used, they must be clearly labelled wherever possible. If you have any more queries please get in touch at [email protected]

    Thank you!

    • Rob says:

      Thanks for the clarification.

      (Note to other readers: I can confirm that this comment is genuine as I know who posted it.)

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

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