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My review of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class on the new Boeing 787-9 (part 1)

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This is my review of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class seat on the new Boeing 787-9 service.

I reviewed the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 here.  After a merry couple of hours eating, drinking and, erm, getting my hair trimmed, I wandered down to the gate.  As I have said before, I hadn’t flown Upper Class for almost 20 years so it was time to set things right.

For clarity, I used my own Flying Club miles to book this flight and paid the taxes myself.

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

I had purposely sought out a Boeing 787 service as this is the newest version of the seat.  If you are heading to New York, you are only likely to find it on the daily Newark service, VS1.  The Virgin seat varies across aircraft types – it is currently planning to rip out the Upper Class seats on its A330 seat due to substantially negative customer feedback.  Do not assume that anything you read here will apply to any other aircraft type.

The Boeing 787 is certainly not a reinvention of the Upper Class seat, however.  The changes are mainly cosmetic – a different curvier seat shell and a new aubergine leather.

The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Upper Class seat

The key issue for airlines when planning a business class cabin is how to maximise seat numbers whilst also maximising passenger space.  The British Airways solution is unique, having half the seats facing backwards and slotting them together in a ‘yin yang’ pattern.

Option 2 is to have all the seats facing forward, with your feet slotting into a gap under the seat in front.  This means that the seats do not have to be six feet apart.  Emirates and Turkish, among others, do this.

Option 3, which has become the most popular, is to have seats placed at an angle.  This is often known as a herringbone layout.  Virgin Atlantic has gone with this.

On the 787-9, the aircraft width only allows for three seats per row.  The layout is 1-1-1.  In practice, this means that you have the window seat on the A side facing a low wall across the aisle.  Behind the wall are the other two seats – in text message speak it would be ‘/ | / \’ !

In real life, it looks like this:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

…. and looking down Row A:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

…. and on the other side of the wall:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

I was in 8A.  I had luckily escaped getting 7A which has no window.  As the bar is at the back of the cabin, you will find it quieter the further forward you go.  Solo travellers may prefer an A seat.  Couples may prefer G and K seats in the same row.

My initial thought is that the seat felt narrow around my shoulders – and given that I only wear a 40 inch suit jacket, that was a little worrying.

My second thought was that it felt odd facing towards the centre of the cabin – and the low wall running down the middle – when I had a window immediately behind me!  The position of the window became more troublesome after take off, as the shadow cast by my head made it difficult to read.   This is from my seat looking forward:

Review Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Boeing 787

There is little at-seat storage.  There are, however, absolutely no shortage of overhead bins as Virgin has them down the centre of the cabin as well as over the windows.  (Some airlines have decided that storage bins in the middle of the cabin are unsightly – this is true, but they are also hugely practical.)

Let’s crunch some of the facts about the seat first.  The target market for this seat in the investment banker business passenger on an expensive flexible ticket.  Such a person, and I was such a person for 16 years, wants privacy.  This is what the Virgin Upper Class seat offers.

You won’t be talking to the people in front or behind you, because you can’t even see them when you are seated.  If you are in an ‘A’ seat, as I was, you aren’t facing any other seats either – you face the low wall.  You are not going to be disturbed.  You can see why such an arrangement is attractive, given that if you fly on British Airways Club World you run a risk of being in the middle pair of seats and effectively sharing a double bed with a stranger for the entire flight.

Every Virgin seat has direct aisle access, unlike BA.   And, unlike BA, no-one is going to jump over your feet in the middle of the night on the way to the loo.

For a couple, however, the Virgin seat may not appeal.  With young kids I can imagine it being very tricky as you cannot see what anyone else is doing.  Those middle seats in BA Club World are a perfect playground for a pair of children, with the parents sat on either side to stop them getting away!

There is no right or wrong answer about what seat is best.  It is more about what works best for a particular person in a particular situation.

The flight

Before take off I was offered a glass of champagne and, erm, some crisps.  Classy.  The champagne was Gardet Bru Premier Cru which, at around £27 a bottle by the case, is not a bad choice.  The wine and champagne selection is curated by Berry Bros which gives it some credibility.

The crew were, overall, very pleasant and I don’t have a bad word to say about them.  As usual, I don’t want to dwell on the crew because they can be variable from flight to flight, whilst the seat and the food are more constant.

I spent a while trying to get comfy with the seat.  In the end, I settled on putting my feet up on the footstool, which can also be used as a guest seat if a colleague or your partner wants to eat with you.  The problem here is that the food table is fairly low and wouldn’t sit over my legs so I had to put my feet on the floor whenever the table was out.

The lack of an arm rest on the left hand side began to bother me after a while.  Having an armrest on one side but not the other is a bit odd – one arm is relaxed whilst the other hangs in space. (EDIT: according to a comment, there is actually a button which makes a 2nd arm rest appear.)

As this was a day flight, I did not get a chance to try out the seat as a bed.  Unlike the BA seat, which simply glides flat, the Virgin seats flips over when in bed mode a la Singapore Airlines.  This means that you do not need to sleep on a sweaty leather surface.  People I know who have flown this seat overnight tend to say good things about it and find it a smoother sleep experience than Club World.

Wi-fi and IFE on a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9

Virgin Atlantic does have wi-fi on its Boeing 787-9 fleet.  The bad news is that it costs £15 and so I chose to pass.  The upside of the charge is that, if you did pay, the speed should have been acceptable.  Unfortunately the first generation of in-flight wi-fi – luckily now being phased out – only works if only a handful of people are connected.  In the long run, BA’s decision to hold out until the ‘next generation’ equipment was available may prove sensible.

If you’re willing to pay, it is there to use.  BA doesn’t give you the choice …. yet.

The in-flight entertainment system is called VERA.  The 11 inch TV is far too close to your face when it is opened out, but you can slide it backwards.  The good news is that, unlike with some airlines, the TV can be folded away when not in use.

The choice was BA-like in terms of quantity, ie not very big at all compared to, say, Emirates.  The limited selection of new movies was noticeable and the entire film catalogue was not huge.  What I DID like was the ability to create a ‘favourites’ list as I scrolled through the menus.  I didn’t have to start searching back through the entire system later in the flight to try to find an episode of Veep I vaguely remembered seeing.  Another impressive feature is the time of every programme is shown, alongside the time remaining for the flight.  This makes it easy to decide what you can squeeze in.

Each Upper Class seat on the 787 has a universal plug socket and a USB socket.

In Part 2 of my Boing 787 Upper Class review, available here, I will take a look at the food and the Upper Class bar and draw some conclusions for those paying cash and those using miles.

If you want to know more about the Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787, there is a special section of the Virgin website here.

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

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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

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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.

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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 (44)

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

  • zsalya says:

    I think you mean 1-2 ( or 1-1-1) rather than 1-2-1 ?

  • Nick says:

    “The lack of an arm rest on the left hand side began to bother me after a while. Having an armrest on one side but not the other is a bit odd – one arm is relaxed whilst the other hangs in space”.

    Seriously?! Thanks for pointing that out Rob. That would really annoy me too, with back issues, as it would almost certainly inflame the problem. Just for this alone, I won’t be using this service!

    • Mike Parker says:

      Alan, are you talking about the little thing which pops up? If so, it’s up in Rob’s picture above. If not, what are you referring to?

  • Michael says:

    i will not be using any Virgin branded companies after Branson’s terrible response to the recent Eu referendum. He lobbied the political elite for another referendum. Sheltering his wealth from tax and not accepting the EU result is unacceptable.

  • Rachel says:

    The links you have included all seem to take you to the same Virgin Atlantic site. Unless I am missing something by not watching the videos, this doesn’t show any pictures of layout etc.

    Im flying UC on Thursdsy to Orlsndo, I’ve done this a few times now and find the service excellent. I can’t wait to experience it again.

  • barnyd says:

    Enjoying the review so far and in pretty much agreement with everything. I flew the same Dreamliner plane to LAX 3 weeks ago and really enjoyed it. The seating is not an issue for me whatsoever however I think it’s fair to point out it may not be ideal for parents of younger children. The biggest compliment I can give is that it really didn’t feel like a 10 hour flight at all.

    The Virgin UC experience I find does tend to depend on the model of plane. Last year we flew to SFO on a much older plane, which was a little worn and dated. It wasn’t anywhere near as plush as the Dreamliner and certainly made a difference to the experience. However it’s only fair to point out the service was superb on both flights, as it mostly always is with Virgin. Puts BA to shame in every department imo.

    Anyway, looking forward to part 2. Interesting to see if you went for the fillet steak, I always do and always say I won’t again, but always do….

    • barnyd says:

      Also worth pointing out that I did pay the £15 for the wifi and wasn’t massively impressed. It wasn’t particularly fast and you are handed a limited amount of mb (I think it was a pitiful 150mb). You are given an account with a username and password and any mb you don’t use can be carried over and utilised on a future flight. Needless to say mine ran out pretty quickly.

      • Mike Parker says:

        It’s £15 for 150MB on the A330. There is no limit on the 787. The 787 internet is also considerably faster than the A330, however still not good enough to stream Netflix and the like and it still has black out areas.

        • barnyd says:

          Definitely flew on the 787-9 and there was definitely a 150mb limit!

        • Adey says:

          I *did* stream Netflix, LAX to LHR on 787. Admittedly, this was ‘early days’ for the wifi service so perhaps there were not many other customers to contend with.

          I didn’t notice any mention of a data limit, but I didn’t scrutinise the fine print.


  • Waribai says:

    “It felt tight around the shoulders” My thoughts entirely and once you put it into bed mode it is even tighter!

  • Cheshire Pete says:

    Seems bizarre to spend 10 hours on a flight you are reviewing and not find tine to roll the bed out to test for 5 minutes! Sounds like you were on a jolly not a review ;-D

    • Rob says:

      New York is 7 hours and on a day flight, it would have been a bit odd. Unlike BA, turning it into a bed is not as simple as just pushing a button because of the way the seat flips.

      ‘Jolly’ is a complex concept 😉 although it is fair to say that it wasn’t a coindence that I got BA First Class and Virgin whilst Anika got airberlin and La Compagnie …..

      • Anon says:

        Used UC to Orlando a few times, me and my better half have the front two seats in the nose when we go again this winter. You can play footsie if you’re so inclined! 🙂

        I echo the comments on SRB, why alienate 1/2 of your customers?

        I appreciate its a longer flight to MCO, but I always use the bed.

        Never sleep great the eve before a flight, so after the mornin checkin, Clubhouse refreshments and then on board meal, a wee afternoon nap on the fold out bed is very welcome, especially with the time difference adjustment in the US…

      • Mark says:

        Flew Auckland to Melbourne in Air New Zealand business premier once, in their licenced version of the same seat – something like a 4 hour day flight from memory.

        I did try the bed, though it has to be said the fact you have to flip it over is something of a disincentive to just trying it.

        I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed, in part because I prefer to be able to look out of the window, in part because I prefer to sleep on a plane at a slight incline and also due to the fully enclosed narrowness. Still I’d be tempted to try UC some time if only to experience the Heathrow Clubhouse.

      • Bob says:

        I made the bed even on a 4 hour daytime flight on Emirates A380 🙂

  • Graham Walsh says:

    I flew UC once before on the way back from Orlando. Upgraded with miles. I wasn’t very well so wanted to get some rest. I tried the beds it was ok. Food and drink was great. I’m heading to Atlanta in September and think I’ll upgrade both legs of the journey, just to experience to the LHR Clubhouse even though it will be early morning.

    Anyone else flown the A330 UC?

    • James A says:

      The A330 is a lot tighter as it is 1-2-1 in a narrower cabin than the 1-1-1 787, hence Raffles mentioning that Virgin have said they will change it in the future. It gets a lot of complaints to be honest.

      That said I am flying the A330 UC with my 3 year old in 6 weeks, so I’ll let you know how it goes with a young child (I have my doubts too).

      • Adey says:

        I actively avoid the 330UC. It’s still OK – just a little cramped compared to the others.


    • Bob says:

      We’ve only flown UC on the A330 – having no other UC experience to compare it to, I thought it was better than BA CW, worse than Qantas or Emirates. The seat was a little snug around the shoulders, but the bed was totally flat, with a spongy cover, and much more comfy than the CW seat.
      Glad to have experienced the worst UC seat first so that it can only get better next time 🙂

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