Review: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class on the A330 fleet

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of our partners is here.

This is my review of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class on the A330 aircraft.

Coming back from New York 10 days ago, I was legged over – twice – by Virgin Atlantic.  I wasn’t amused.

I was booked on VS4, the 6.30pm departure from JFK to Heathrow.  When I went to check in, I saw a note on screen saying, in effect, ‘as we emailed you to say, your flight time has changed, we hope this is OK’.

Saying that ‘my flight time has changed’ was being a little disingenous.

Virgin had taken me off VS4 – which was still operating – and moved me to VS138, departing 90 minutes later at 8pm.

And, of course, I hadn’t had an email letting me know.

VS4 was totally full in Upper Class with no tickets for sale.  I have no idea why Virgin moved me, but I imagine it was because they felt they had a better chance of reselling a seat on VS4 rather than VS138.

The VS138 was an A330, you see, and Virgin’s A330 Upper Class is a dog.

Virgin A330 interior 2

This is because it has the Upper Class layout above.  This has an exceptionally bad reputation and I had purposely avoided booking myself onto it.

This is not just my opinion.  The A330 Upper Class layout is such a dog that Virgin Atlantic has just started ripping out the cabins – just five years after they were installed – and replacing them with a less dense layout.  Business Traveller covers the story here.

What is currently 1 – 2 – 1 will become a similar 1 – 1 – 1 layout akin to what is on the new Boeing 787 aircraft.

Take a look at the photo below:

Virgin A330 leg room

I am 6′ 2′.  My feet are against the moulded rest at the bottom of the bed.  You will see that my knees are lifted into the air because it is impossible to get my legs straight.

There are two other things which that photograph does not make clear:

The aisle is exceptionally narrow – every person or trolley that comes down the aisle is likely to knock your feet

The seat is exceptionally narrow – I have a 38″ chest which is pretty slim, but even I found that there was virtually no space around me when I lay flat

Even this very slim woman seems a little squeezed in the official PR pictures:

Virgin A330 aisle 2

The end result is that I had, by a very considerable margin, the most uncomfortable overnight business class flight I’ve taken in a long time.

The good news is that the process of ripping out these seats is now underway.  The new cabins look like this:

New Virgin A330 layout

By this time next year, there should be no reason to avoid the A330 Virgin Upper Class fleet.  For now, I recommend giving it a miss – but then, I tried to give it a miss and Virgin Atlantic chose to move me anyway …..

PS.  Here’s an interesting comparator.  The last time I was in the Virgin New York Clubhouse was when I was flying Singapore Airlines (review here).  Whilst I was in the lounge, I was paged to return to the desk.  Singapore Airlines was on the phone.  They wanted to move my seat back by 1 row so a couple could sit in adjacent seats.  They would only do this, however, if I gave my permission (which I did).  This time, Virgin moved my entire reservation to a different flight and didn’t even bother to tell me …..

(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.)

LAST CALL: Virgin credit card bonus at 10,000 (White) and 25,000 (Black) miles
Bits: two good Avios / Tesco toy deals, Opodo discounts, HFP Dubai competition winner
Click here to join the 13,000 people on our email list and receive the latest Avios, miles and points news by 6am.

Amazon ad
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. What compensation was paid?

    • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

      It should be €300, right? Half of the €600 for a type 3 flight.

      • Genghis says:

        Are you sure EC261 applies?

        • Genghis says:

          Or that it doesn’t apply but that’s a method to work out the compo?

          • Erico1875 says:

            If the other flight was full and took off. then surely Rob was bumped and due the €600.

          • James A says:

            I actually agree, if there was no email or other attempt to contact then surely it is a case of IDB at the airport and 261 applies.

        • Genghis says:

          Apologies Klaus Peter. I’m no EC261 expert but it appears you’re right, assuming Rob wasn’t delayed by more than 4 hours in which case full amount due. CWS’s FT page is invaluable.

          • No compensation due as far as I can tell.

            For a start, I could have been moved prior to 14 days before departure – as I never got an email, I can’t tell. And I wasn’t 3 hours late, only 2 hours.

          • Frankie says:

            Hello Genghis. What is CWS’s FT page?

          • Jovanna says:

            Surely My Flights would have notified you at some point if you were bumped 14 days ago? You would have received some sort of notification alerting you – unless it was when you went to check in?

          • Virgin does not use Amadeus as its booking system, so it doesn’t work with MyFlight frustratingly.

          • Genghis says:
          • 1nfrequent says:

            I agree with Genghis – this has to be worth a punt, Rob, for an IDB given that the original flight left without you. The onus is on Virgin to confirm when they notified you of the change to your flight and if they can’t demonstrate that they made reasonable attempts to contact you.

            1F

          • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

            You should still get €300 unless they can prove they informed you fourteen days before. My BA flight to Munich was cancelled a year ago and I had to get an earlier one, so I landed earlier than scheduled. I still get €125 compensation for IDB (50% of €250).

  2. James A says:

    I flew the old config A330 for the first time last week and was not impressed. The narrow seat was particularly noticeable in bed mode, where when laying on my back my shoulders were wedged in against both sides of the plastic dividers. I am not tall enough to suffer the foot problem though 😉

    Needless to say I didn’t get a restful nights sleep.

  3. Jason Hindle says:

    Out of interest, was this flight a redemption or cold, hard cash? Rightly or wrongly, I always feel a little vulnerable having paid miles for a seat in premium cabin. I worry I could get bumped to the back in favour of a paying passenger, ruining either the start or end of my holiday.

    • They are just flights. It is public transport. It is inconvenient if bumped or things don’t work out entirely according to plan, but to ‘worry’ about a redemption flight being bumped or have it ‘ruin’ the start or end of tour holiday is just plain silly!!

      • It is not silly. Some of us work on extremely tight schedules when we travel, and we take an overnight flight to save time. If I get bumped there is no chance I’ll sleep, just cannot do this in economy. That means that on arrival I’ve lost a night and I’m arriving absolutely knackered, it will take me time to recover. It is time that I do NOT have if I have to hit the road straight after arriving. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s dangerous to drive on heavy sleep deprivation.
        Maybe you go on “lie on the beach” travel in which case possibly it isn’t such a big deal but don’t assume that all people travel like you do.

        • How can I like this comment 🙂

        • To be fair to Jane she is explicitly talking about holidays not business travel or life and death situations.

          • It was a redemption (obviously 🙂 )

          • Lady London says:

            +1. You could have put it stronger Lili. And yes it is a life or death situation if on landing after a night like that you are going to get in a car and drive especially in unfamilar territory.

            BMI tried to do just that to me – luckily a number of weeks before the flight and I was immediately able to check that they were, indeed, still selling seats on the earlier flight they’d emailed me “Your flight is cancelled and you’re being moved to flight 3 hours later”.

            When I confronted them they moved me back. But in Rob’s case I agree with other poster IDB is the way to go. It’s clearly pants that they tried to alert you and in any case if they tried right before the flight how could they be sure you would receive.

        • Mzungu says:

          Another +1 from me.

          The travel policy in a company that I used to work for stated that if you flew overnight in business, you were expected to work the day you arrived. If it was overnight in economy, you were entitled to the next day off to recover – which was of course a waste of the travellers time as well as theirs!

      • Jane, I’m glad you’re not my partner!

  4. Kept reading waiting for the compensation details to emerge. Don’t let us down Rob spill the goss.

  5. Oh Jeez, as Barry Cutters would say “they picked the wrong guy to do this to”

    I’m also interested if Rob got compensation under EU261/2004, whilst it is involuntary denied boarding he did get back to the UK in the same class and within the 3 hour delay window, so I believe it’s as Klaus suggests, ie 50% of €600.

    Interesting article by CAA from Feb
    http://www.caa.co.uk/News/Five-major-airlines-face-enforcement-action-for-denying-passengers-compensation-for-delayed-flights/

    We should adopt a zero tolerance for making claims with Airlines, if Virgin drag their heels, unless Rob’s contacts help move things along swiftly, I would recommend a letter before legal action as C-W-S recommends on Flyertalk BA compensation thread.

    As an aside, for anyone needing to progress a BA claim, I would not recommend using CEDR, whilst they are polite and try to be helpful, they are clearly swamped with claims and I suspect short staffed.

    4 months on, still no EU261/2004 settlement from BA/CEDR for my downgrade.

    CAA report that it should take place within 7 days. I’m considering writing to them to investigate BA’s lack of compliance.

    • I would go further. Airlines should be mandated to make automatic payments to the original form of payment. There should be an independent ombudsman for delays/situations that are in doubt and clear publication of those flights which are entitled to compensation and those which are not. It’s not good enough today to have to claim

      • Mr(s) Entitled says:

        I recently got a partial refund from Virgin Trains paid to me automatically within 72hrs of a delay and a polite email notifying me of such. I didnt even know I was entitled.

        Shows what can be done if there is the will to do so, but the amounts for airlines are so much larger I cannot see them instigating unless forced to do so.

      • Lostantipod says:

        Which magazine is running a campaign on automatic payments – worth adding our voices to that

        • Chris says:

          Why do lazy people need helping at the expense of those that can be bothered?

      • Chris says:

        No thank you.

        When my company or my client pays for my ticket and I’m delayed, it’s not their child I don’t get to see before bedtime.

        When I’m delayed, it’s my personal time that’s used to absorb it. Why should my employer/client be compensated for that?

  6. Totally agree with how uncomfortable that seat is, Rob. On my recent flight back from Boston to Manchester I was expecting a refitted A330 and was surprised to find a 1-2-1 layout. Although eco and prem eco were half empty, upper class was rammed, so I wonder if they’d changed the plane to accommodate more folk (when selecting my seat it was a 1-1-1 layout). I found it an incredibly uncomfortable sleep, feeling really hemmed in at the top, with hardly any room to turn over. Quite disappointing and not helped by a quick eastbound flight time either. I’d definitely pick BA CW over this configuration.

  7. Chris P says:

    My recent Manchester – Boston flight was also shown as 1-1-1 but 1-2-1 on the return from New York. In fact, it was actually the same plane both ways with 1-2-1. My other gripe is being a compulsive cloud-gazer I don’t like the seat being angled away from the window and getting a stiff neck trying to look out whilst having to twist backwards!

  8. DaveM says:

    Why would you publish an article like this headlining on a major travel website just to have a rant? The configuration is poor but you know it, they know it. Must be a slow news day

    • The article seems like fair comment to me. Given the bashing the BA seat gets I think it’s helpful to see how uncomfortable some of the alternatives can be.

    • Miaow…

      • ….. because I never actually realised how bad the A330 was until last week, so I thought it was worth an article to inform others.

        I wouldn’t have written it if it had been an airline readers were unlikely to fly.

        • Lostantipod says:

          The old Cathay Pacific herringbone config seems identical, I am surprised anyone is still flying these. I had exactly the same issues with length and width and luckily it was only a short day flight between HKG and SIN – I too avoided it going forward. More to the point, you were bumped without discussion; that’s a trick straight out of the BA playbook and I am disappointed to hear Virgin seem to be doing it too.

        • Totally concur with Rob. I generally fly to Dubai for work with Virgin in PE but was bumped up recently to UC in the A330 they fly there and was very uncomfortable. Not as tall as Rob and still very cramped. That experience certainly deterred me from wanting to travel in UC on the A330 again way it is currently laid out so good article to bring to attention of wider audience.

    • Eastland says:

      I had no idea this was an issue having never (yet) flown virgin and being a big fan of BA First (when it’s free).
      Helpful article for me.

  9. Neil Woodhouse says:

    I love the way we are winging about the Upper Class on the Virgin A330 being awful (and it is being compared to the rest of the fleet) but a) we know it’s being replaced in the next 12 months and b) is still miles ahead of the BA equivalent!

    As a British airline, if this is as bad as virgin gets, then I think we’re lucky!!! I would much rather fly Virgin A330 any day over any BA business class …just a Shane they don’t fly to anywhere near the same amount of destinations!!

    • I’m afraid I disagree. When I was sitting in the A330 seat highlighted above I was wishing I was in a CW seat instead, which isn’t as cramped around the shoulders! The 787 on the way out was comfortable though.

    • I’d much rather fly BA club than VS A330.
      In fact the lack of privacy and also a seat which has to flip to be a bed mean I’d pick BA over any VS upper class flight.

      Very over rated airline imho.

      • Disagree. I’ve flown every version of Upper apart from this one – and fortunately it’s on its way out. In my opinion VS comes out on top over BA every time in all aspects. Apart from routes.

        • Johnny Tabasco says:

          Agreed 100%. Virgin tops BA in every aspect of everything bar routes.

          • Club World is better than this seat (in the right seat). Any idea what it is like getting your feet hit constantly throughout the night everytime a person or trolley goes down the aisle? At least with CW I could have picked a better seat – all the A330 seats get your feet whacked. And the bar is f-all use on a 6 hour overnight flight.

    • Give me CW over that virgin seat any day. For all its faults, CW at least offers a consistently decent bed.

      • Johnny Tabasco says:

        Well it wont be a debate to be had soon. The A330 seats in this current setup wont be around much longer so its a strange article really.

        For the record, we did a flight in Upper from Heathrow to Washington in May and it was 1-1-1 up until the day before we left. We got on the plane and it was 1-2-1. I refuse to let stuff like this ruin my enjoyment though. The plane and seat were tired but it was still a excellent flight and with brilliant service, as i always get with Virgin.

        I maintain its on a different level to BA all round.

        • You had a day flight though. You wouldn’t have needed to sleep and, I would guess, never even bothered to convert the seat into the bed. That is a totally different situation to getting a seat on which it is exceptionally difficult to sleep for a red-eye service. I didn’t see a single passenger use the bar and very few, including me, bothered to eat either dinner or breakfast.

          Actually, I forgot to write about breakfast. The crew said that if we wanted breakfast we would be woken TWO HOURS before landing. This is on a flight which is scheduled at a touch over 6 hours. WTF?!

          I was hoping to write an article on the Virgin Revivals lounge at Heathrow but, as I had to be home by 10am to take my son to a birthday party, it wasn’t possible given that I landed 2 hours later than originally booked. I was grateful that I was ‘hand baggage only’ and could get straight out of Heathrow.

          • Johnny Tabasco says:

            My wife slept for 5 hours during the flight! There were no complaints from her. she is a good sleeper though (unlike me!)

            The breakfast thing is absurd though. I had to read that twice, doesn’t make sense at all.

          • Rob I get that you had a bad experience – fair enough but I haven’t had anywhere near such a rough time on any of my flights on Virgin. I’m 6’1 and have no issues with the seats – I’m also a fair bit wider than you with 42″ chest. I agree the seats aren’t the same as reverse herringbone but I don’t think they are bad. I’m not bothered about the window issue and like Johnny T’s wife I’ve slept well (not the world’s best sleeper here). The Revivals lounge isn’t massive but you can indeed get your breakfast there if you want. Obviously 2 hours before landing makes the sleeping time virtually pointless.

          • Virgin are spending a few £million ripping out these seats which are under 5 years old, so I don’t think I’m in a minority here. The new cabin will have 3 fewer seats than it does now so they are also giving up revenue by doing this.

          • Scallder says:

            Had a similar thing with breakfast flying back from Atlanta a couple of months ago. Politely declined and ate in the arrivals lounge. As mentioned below it’s not huge, however they have from memory 20 showers, so was able to get a shower as soon as I walked in and then breakfast afterwards (from memory it’s almost (if not 100%) identical to the breakfast options in the Clubhouse)

  10. Martin C-C says:

    Interesting, the last time I flew Virgin quite a few years ago, I got bumped to Premium Economy at the gate simply because I was on a reward ticket and another carrier’s plane went sick so all the business passengers came to Virgin. It wasn’t handled well so I walked. Shame because I prefer the service to BA. Also is this further evidence of Delaficatin?

  11. A minor gripe with the new format – which I readily admit is better – as found in the B787 and the retrofitted A330. The footwell of the seats are about an inch higher than the aisle, resulting in a prominent curved ramp. Despite knowing this, I have spent the last several flights falling over it – a terrible design feature.
    Also, is it just me or does the height of overall ‘booth’ surrounding the seats seem lower than that found pre-Dreamsuite? The sense of privacy has to a degree been lost.

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment.