Part 1: My review of Virgin Upper Class on the ex-airberlin A330-200 fleet

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This is our review of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class on the A330-200 fleet.

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the refurbishment that Virgin Atlantic is about to undertake – at a cost of £10m – on the four A330-200 aircraft it has leased from the remnants of airberlin.  This move is a response to the engine issues that Virgin is having with its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft.

The refurbished aircraft will begin to appear from November.  There will be a new improved version of the existing airberlin seat:

Virgin Atlantic A330-200 Upper Class refurbishment

and the introduction of a Premium Economy seat, based on the one currently used by Singapore Airlines.  Virgin has put in a lot of effort given that we are only talking about four planes.

The ex-airberlin planes are mainly being used on the Caribbean routes.  The one exception is Manchester to Atlanta. The middle pair of ‘love suites’ (as Virgin has rebranded them) are best suited to couples and these are primarily leisure destinations. From next year the aircraft are also scheduled for other North American routes from Manchester.

Virgin Atlantic had offered me a flight to Atlanta if I wanted to try out the ex-airberlin Upper Class product.  This didn’t really suit my schedule until the invitation from Hilton to visit their HQ in Virginia arrived.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone, flying from Manchester to Atlanta on Virgin Atlantic and taking a Delta connection (booked via an Amex Membership Rewards transfer) from Atlanta to Washington DC.

Virgin Atlantic has a special A330-200 page on its website here.

On board the Virgin Atlantic A330-200 in Upper Class

I covered the Upper Class lounge provision, which is fairly woeful, at Manchester in this article.  As an Upper Class passenger I did at least get to avoid the security queue in Terminal 2 which did not look pleasant, even early on a Sunday morning.

Whilst construction of the new pier continues, a number of flights are departing from what can politely be called a shed.  You need to go up a lot of stairs, down a corridor (over the tarmac) and down into the shed.  If you’ve ever flown into some of the ropier Ryanair airports – looking at you Luebeck and Treviso – then you will feel at home.

Once boarding commences you have another long stroll before walking up the steps of the plane.  The upside is that you can get some good photographs:

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

I have flown airberlin twice in Business Class (reviewed here) and Anika has done it once (reviewed here).  We were positive about it although the obsession with sprout-based food always alarmed me!  Apart from changing over the IFE, Virgin Atlantic has done nothing on the cabins so far.  All of the signage, for example, is in German with the English translation underneath.

This is the ‘artists impression’ version of the current Upper Class cabin from the Virgin Atlantic A330-200 website which you can compare with the new seat image at the top of the page:

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

Never in a million years can you get as smart a picture in real life!  There are four seating options available:

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

The seat above is 3A, where I sat. Virgin calls this a ‘solo corner suite’.  This is my preferred choice – directly next to the window and with direct aisle access.  In alternate rows, the seat is next to the aisle and your view towards the window is restricted as you can see from the official Virgin image.

This is a middle pair of ‘love suites’:

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

Below is your fourth option – a solo seat in the centre block.  This is known as a ‘solo freedom suite’.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

Unlike Club World, there is direct aisle access to all seats so you are not climbing over anyone and no-one will be climbing over you.

Exploring the seat

This is the view you see from your seat if you take 3A:

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

The first thing I noted was the lack of storage space – I ended up stuffing my newspapers, blanket etc into the gap between the seat and the curve of the fuselage.  There is, however, no shortage of overhead space as the A330-200 fleet has storage bins down the middle of the plane as well as down the sides.  It is basically one locker per seat.

To the right of the image you can see the tray table which is held up a catch. This swings down when required.  I found that the table did not come forward enough for my liking, and I had to sit forward in my chair during meals in order to get close to the food.

The seats are showing signs of wear and tear from the airberlin days.  This was most noticeable in a couple of deep scratches on the seat back (not visible in the photo above) and a missing drinks tray which had somehow broken off.  I assume getting parts for a second hand seat is not easy.

There was a bizarre feeling of deja vu from this seat.  The blue leather used is almost the same shade as British Airways had on its short-haul fleet until the current brown was introduced.  It feels like the big brother of pre-2016 Club Europe.

In terms of comfort, the seats is more than wide enough.  One change that Virgin is bringing in is that the armrests will sink down to form part of the bed when the seat is reclined – this means that, when fully flat, the seat from November will be even wider.  As I was on a day flight, I never got to try it in bed mode.

Another note about the bed:  because this is not your standard Upper Class seat, you can make it into a bed by yourself using the at-seat controls.  Upper Class seats in general require the cabin crew to make up your bed for you, because the seat is flipped over – the idea is that the fabric rear of the seat is more breathable than the leather seat and so more comfortable.

Virgin Atlantic provides toiletry bags, even on day flights, with the usual bits and pieces from Rituals – nothing special, but handy for future trips and the Herschel bags are good quality.  We were also handed a pair of the new Happy Socks, although unfortunately only size 36-40 had been loaded.

Food and service

Whilst this wasn’t the traditional Upper Class seat, it was the typical Upper Class food and service.  I don’t have a lot of experience of Virgin crew, but Laura and her team did an excellent job on this flight and it would be impossible to fault them.

Champagne and crisps (why?!) were served before take-off.  Lunch options were:

Tomato and mozzarella carpaccio (picture below, this was very good)

Pea and mint soup

Crab cakes

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

As you can see, presentation is of a high standard.  This was followed by a choice of:

Seared salmon fillet with olive crushed potatoes (see below, another good choice)

Lemon and thyme roasted chicken, with girolle mushrooms, sauteed spinach and dauphinoise potatoes

Keralan curry and Tadka dal

Weeping tiger beef salad (beef fillet on crisp leaves, sweet mango salsa with coriander, spicy weeping tiger dressing)

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

Dessert was a choice from lemon and blackcurrant sponge pudding (see below) or burnt sugar custard tart.  Cheese and port was also on offer if required.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class review A330-200

Overall, I was impressed.  It was as good as anything I have had in Business Class recently and considerably ahead of your typical Club World meal.

Closer to landing we were offered a choice from the ‘extra bites’ menu.  This comprised sandwiches, Eton mess cake, scones, gourmet beef burger, tomato and avocado brushetta and oriental chicken kebabs.

I ordered the scones and was persuaded to add a side order of Eton mess cake.  This was a sensible option as only one scone appeared, BA Club Europe-style.  (I miss those scones ….)

Wines and champagne are selected by Berry Brothers, which is a smart choice.  Champagne is Canard-Duchene (£25 via Majestic Wine) and the wine list was broken down into ‘classic’, ‘familiar’ and ‘discovery’ categories.  This being Virgin, there was also a cocktail menu as well as the traditional spirits and soft drinks.

IFE

Regular readers will know that I rarely bother with IFE and tend to use flights as an excuse to ‘properly’ read the newspapers and work through my magazine backlog.

The TV screen is a decent size, although clearly not market leading, and Virgin’s Vera entertainment system is well regarded.  I had a look at the film selection and was impressed – it is a broad selection (clearly not on the scale of Emirates) and also well chosen.  As well as new releases there was a good mix of classics from the 80’s and 90’s.  For no particular reason I decided to spend the last 20 minutes of the flights watching the beginning of Paddington 2 again, which I do recommend.

The aircraft have wi-fi.  I was given a voucher on boarding for 10MB of free data.  What I didn’t fully work out, because I didn’t read the small print, is that this was only valid for text messaging from within a small number of apps.  You can’t use it for anything else.  After about four hours (!) I figured this out and ended up paying £4.99 for 40MB (I think) of data in order to keep on top of my emails and the speed was good.

In part two of this Virgin A330-200 Upper Class review – click here – I want to address the million-dollar question – will customer satisfaction with the airberlin aircraft finally persuade Virgin Atlantic to dump its Upper Class herringbone layout?  Read on here …..

How to earn Virgin Atlantic miles from UK credit cards

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Flying Club miles from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Flying Club miles.  That page is regularly updated with the latest special offers and will still be accurate even if you are reading this article months after publication.

(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.)

Iberia receives its first A350-900 - and test flights from Heathrow to Madrid still bookable
Part 2: Will the A330-200 encourage Virgin to abandon the Upper Class herringbone seat?

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Comments

  1. RussellH says:

    > I actually chose PE to go to vegas this year over UC as I was so disenchanted with thier UC

    A serious case of abbreviation clash here! I am just back home from my weekly stint at Citizen’s Advice, where UC=’Universal Credit’.
    Really does not tally with Frequent Flyers! 🙂

  2. These A330-200s are indeed operating on some Caribbean routes out of LGW but are also flying on the MAN-SFO/BOS & BGI routes along with ATL until late October.

  3. These seats are terrible,the planes are old and shabby.
    Someone commented about the footwell when lying down, this caused me considerable pain in my knees. If this is hat Virgin call upper class one wonders how they can charge several thousand pounds for a sub par seat.
    As also stated above the food and staff were excellent,but nothing makes up for lack of comfort.
    Two of the girls even apologised for the aircraft and seemed quite pleased that they were being withdrawn two weeks later.
    Manchester/Atlanta has been our preferred route to Florida for several years now. No more,I’d rather have a three and a half hour drive from Orlando than nine hours one one of those sheds again.

  4. James says:

    I love the crisps, always ask for a refill. One of the highlights for me!

  5. PS also – it’s bruschetta (not ‘brushetta’)

  6. Brian says:

    Can you take your pet cat on board?

  7. Brian says:

    No bar?

    It’s coming home

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