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Review of the new Upper Class Suite as we fly Virgin Atlantic’s A350 (Part 1)

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This is our review of Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class Suite on the new Airbus A350-1000, which has just started flying between London Heathrow and New York JFK.

I was on a special celebration flight, and media representatives were joined by a variety of Virgin Atlantic competition winners and their plus ones as well as some of Virgin’s most frequent flyers.  Our ticket was free and Virgin Atlantic also provided accommodation and entertainment in New York.

In the end, only 200 of the 335 seats were filled.  Wisely, Virgin realised that all the excitement would mean significant disruption to the crew’s normal ways of working with most of us standing and chatting in the aisles for most of the journey!

We were on the first Virgin Atlantic A350, although the second had just been delivered and was parked next to ours (click on any of the images to enlarge):

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class Suite review

First impressions

At most airports you will board the A350-1000 through door two, which opens onto the new ‘Loft’ social space that has taken the place of Virgin’s traditional bar.  Although it acts as a corridor for passengers – Upper Class turns left whilst Premium and economy turn right – it has been stylishly designed with room for five or six people sitting and more standing.

Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class A350 loft lounge review

I suspect it might actually be more usable than the bar which, at least on the Boeing 787 fleet, appears more like an afterthough than a key part of the offering.  The Loft offers various areas to sit with friends (or strangers!).  If you would like a drink you can pop your head round the galley next door and request one from the cabin crew.

One wall features a large screen loaded with the usual in flight entertainment as well as the option to pair several Bluetooth headphones. Whether the Bluetooth functionality will get used much is questionable – I can’t imagine groups or families choosing to watch a film together here for example – but it does make a great spot for watching the moving map or tail-cam throughout the flight.  Crucially, the screen is not locked down so you can use it as you would a seat back screen.

The Upper Class cabin

The Upper Class cabin features 44 suites. This business class cabin is slightly smaller than on the British Airways A350, which has 56 Club Suites. It is a good indication of the different markets that BA and Virgin Atlantic serve, with the latter being more leisure-focussed.

The new Upper Class Suite

Virgin Atlantic has chosen the Cirrus NG product from manufacturer Safran for the new Upper Class Suite. These are arranged in a semi-reverse herringbone 1-2-1 arrangement, which is pretty much the standard layout for business class seating these days.

Here is a PR photograph:

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite review A350

and here is the real thing:

Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class A350 seat review

The seats have been styled in typical Virgin Atlantic fashion with chocolate browns, dark reds, white and gold accents. If anything, it looks even better than it did when they unveiled it at the launch party: the natural light really highlights all the beautiful finishes.

It is a million miles away from the more understated dark greys and blues of the new British Airways Club Suite.  On the whole, Virgin Atlantic is using lighter colours (and a lot of white) whereas the Club Suite cabin is darker. Which one you prefer will depend on your individual preferences although, frankly, both look good.

The seat itself is very comfortable and has near-silent operation. The seat bottom was very well padded and it looks very stylish in the claret-coloured leather.

Above your seat you also have two adjustable air vents as well as two reading lights.

Storage

One thing that is immediately noticeable is the lack of storage. Whilst British Airways has increased its business class storage capacity significantly, the new Upper Class Suite has none at all, which is very disappointing.

There are two small open shelves at eye height; unfortunately, these need to be empty during take-off and landing.

Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class A350 seat storage review

This means that all loose items and bags MUST be stored in the overhead bins, and makes the shelves pretty useless.  Luckily Virgin Atlantic has opted for overhead lockers above the centre seats, which many A350 operators such as Qatar Airways have abandoned for aesthetic reasons. Without them, cabin storage would be impossibly tight.

It’s not entirely clear why there isn’t more storage around the seat. The area under the ottoman, for example, is often used by airlines to store bags but here is fitted with some kind of grill or ventilation system.

The tray table problem ….

The tray table pops out from the seat in front and has a very cool sliding mechanism to spin it in front of you. It is also very large.

The table itself is extremely stable – probably the sturdiest I have ever used on an aircraft – but there is just one problem. If you are pregnant or have anything over a 32″ waist you will struggle to use it.

Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class A350 tray table review

Because the table slides around to the side you cannot adjust how close or far it is to you. Even I only had an inch or two wiggle room before my body would be butting up against it.

The other issue is entry and egress into your seat when the tray table is down. At the moment, it is virtually impossible to get out without popping the table back up – a clear inconvenience if you need to nip to the toilet during a meal service.

These are issues that Virgin Atlantic has already acknowledged and they are quickly trying to fix it. By late November a bi-fold table should be rolling out across the fleet, including the A350s already delivered, to alleviate this problem.

The privacy partition aka The Half-Door

Yes, the new Upper Class seat has a movable privacy partition. Yes, it can only move about a foot, which doesn’t exactly make for the most private setting.

Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class A350 door review

Nonetheless it is enough to shield you from the aisle and your neighbour if you so desire. Crucially, it also makes for a more open, sociable cabin with the centre seats ideal for couples or those travelling in pairs.

This is not a bad decision from Virgin Atlantic since they do tend to fly more leisure passengers. The verdict is still out on whether full-doors are necessary or desired, although they do make for easy PR!

Virgin’s A350’s have mood lighting

In addition to the usual lighting and the overhead and in-seat reading lights that Virgin offer, the new Upper Class Suite also has some cool LED mood lighting.

It makes for some rather attractive ambient light, although as I discovered on my return flight, it is impossible to turn off. This is an issue Virgin is reportedly working on, although whether they will give passengers the option to set their seat lighting to any colour of the rainbow remains to be seen!

What about the in flight entertainment?

The A350 has Virgin Atlantic’s signature ‘Vera’ in flight entertainment system. In Upper Class this is on a 18.5 inch HD monitor, although most airlines do not load HD content.

The screen pops out from the sidewall at the push of a button, and can be neatly folded away. It is, however, certified for gate-to-gate operations so you are likely to have it out for the entirety of your flight.

Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class A350 seat IFE

So far so good. What does need a little work is the Vera interface, which I found a little confusing. It does not conform to the rules we have come to expect from our smartphones and tablets. There is no ‘home’ button that I could see, for example. If you want to pop out of a film you are watching to order some food quickly it’s a bit of a faff.

Speaking of ordering food, Virgin have enabled touch-screen ordering on this aircraft. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this feature and belive every airline should roll it out. It lets you order snacks and drinks from your IFE, saving both you and the cabin crew time and giving you a full overview of everything that’s available. I didn’t try it out on this flight but given my experience on other carriers it should work a treat.

The new Upper Class seat does not have a secondary screen on the remote control – in fact, it has no remote control at all. If you would like to control your IFE remotely, it is possible to pair your smartphone or tablet with your seat. The problem is that this relies on wi-fi technology which isn’t exactly reliable at 30,000 feet.  On our press trip many of us were struggling to pair our phones and I eventually gave up.

This is the end of Part 1.  Part 2 of our review of the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite on the A350 can be found here.  There is a lot more to discuss!

Hotels.com Rewards adds an avoidable £4 reward booking fee
Review of the new Upper Class Suite as we fly Virgin Atlantic's A350 (Part 2)

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Comments

  1. “The area under the ottoman, for example, is often used by airlines to store bags but here is fitted with some kind of grill or ventilation system…”

    Finally! Somewhere to cook some burgers! “Grille”, perhaps?

  2. Sorry, another OT.
    IHG Paris hotels, I need to be near Opera 2e for a couple of nights, cash stay. IC Le Grand and Indigo both available, website says renovations at the IC ! a classic room (small) is €100 more than a Jnr suite at the Indigo …
    However I’m Spire Elite and IC Ambassador … what are the chances of a decent upgrade at the IC ? Anyone have any first hand experience at either please …

    • If you pay cash, Emyr gets you free lounge access and upgrade to Superior at time of booking at LeG. May get another Ambassador upgrade on top. IC has limited capacity at present due to refurb works though.

      • Thanks Rob, have sent Emyr a message

      • With Spire (or even Platinum) and Ambassador the Le Grand will definitely give you an upgrade from their classic room. They have less options than normal because about half of the rooms are being renovated. Otherwise the renovations are probably less of a nuisance than you would expect. The first phase didn’t bother us when we stayed in April.

        As Rob suggests, Emyr could book the Le Grand for you, and we can recommend this. If you check the flexible rate for a classic room on the IHG web-site that should be the rate Emyr can book for you, with club lounge access and possibly a better upgrade in addition to your Spire/Ambassador. The Club Lounge staff are wonderful and their food and drink offerings are very good, although unfortunately it has probably already moved downstairs from it’s fantastic top floor location looking out over the Opera. Customer service in the whole hotel is excellent. We haven’t stayed at the Indigo so can’t compare.

    • Colin MacKinnon says:

      Stayed in Indigo and going back in Feb. On a quiet cul-de-sac. Last time as gold got a nicer room at end if the corridor. Just loved the quiet.

  3. I regularly fly Virgin to JFK for work, and took one of these new planes just over a week ago. Personally I found it pretty disappointing.

    It’s good to hear that they are planning to change the tray tables, because that was a nightmare. But the hassle of enterning/exiting the seat was probably even worse…not just when the table is down, but any time when the seat is partially reclined.

    The other thing you don’t mention is just how crowded it feels. The aisles are tiny…very very narrow, and it felt like we were sardines on top of eachother.

    On the plus side, the entertainment system is a big step up – I loved the new screen and gate to gate functionality is a nice bonus.

    • Aisles are about the same on BA’s A350, too

      • The Original Nick says:

        Resulting in the crew struggling with the trays. They’re having to carry the trays above the door heights in the new CW suite with the risk of knocking their elbows and dropping everything on people. I was on BA107 last week and witnessed how much the crew where struggling with many things including running out of time. I felt very sorry for the cabin crew and have noted it in my complaint.
        The new CW suite is nice though. My only niggle with it is that you have the seat belt digging into your shoulder but that is it.

  4. fivebobbill says:

    O/T, Am sure this has been asked before, but has anyone any experience of ordering Foreign Currency via Curve, primarily through Hilton or Virgin? Can it be done, is there a fee?
    Done a search of the site there for Travel Currency but all I could find was an article on Avios from Travelex, but the rate is awful.

    • Spaghetti Town says:

      John lewis rate is always okay – they only accept debit cards. Would probably work there?

      • Spaghetti Town says:

        Or any other retailer with a good rate..?

        • fivebobbill says:

          Thanks ST, I guess I should have been clearer. I know I’ll be able to use Curve to buy, but wondering has anyone used it, and if the transaction was seen as a cash advance or a purchase?

          • memesweeper says:

            I’ve drawn a total blank when needing to get cash in FX using Curve at various outlets. Cash machines abroad are OK, of course. If you need under £200 then draw the cash on Curve in sterling from an ATM and hand the readies over to your local money changer. I’ve found Thomas Exchange in London to have consistently excellent rates provided you book in your requirement in advance online.

          • Lady London says:

            I have found travelmoneymax dot com (part of the M Lewis empire) to be a really good starting point for FX if readies are needed. Thomas and Best seem regularly to come out on top at several locations, so far as London is concerned.

          • Lady London says:

            City people have told me the Thomas near Monument (Cannon Street side) rates are ok if you just want to nip over there at lunchtime to get a small amount of cash for an upcoming weekend trip.

          • @Lady London. Remember to order online as rates are much better than if you just rock up. I always use as my “seed money” when travelling.

          • thomas global exchange are pretty much the best rates you can get for cash, but you have to order in advance. they have around 15 branches around ldn

  5. OT, United introduced MileagePlus shopping portal in UK.

    • Spaghetti Town says:

      They seem to be really going for it in the UK currently

      • Big media event today, we have sent someone (I’m in Doha, Rhys is in Ho Chi Min City)

        • This may be old news, but United have also taken away the 18 months expiry restriction. So now United miles don’t expire, which could make it more useful to credit the odd Star Alliance flight.

          • United Mileage Plus has become my fav StarAlliance program. Very generous on Transatlantic basic fares, especially when they are Air Canada (50%).

      • For transatlantics, I’ve been flying from Edinburgh more frequently than London (I live in Oxford).

        Mostly in the back of the plane, but the service in Economy on both Delta and United has been far superior to that on BA.

        It’s the really stupid things that make a difference… The 330ml cans of soft drinks rather than 150ml, the full size branded Magnum ice creams, along with slighty more generous portions and (on Delta) far superior entertainment system…

        Not forgetting stepping off an inbound plane from the US, and being through immigration and outside Edinburgh airport in about 10 minutes.

        • Spaghetti Town says:

          do you fly back to london then?

        • Spaghetti Town says:

          I actually notice the American Airlines are generally better in the back of the plane but at the front, generally poorer than the European airlines

        • The Original Nick says:

          Hi Andrew. You’re just down the road from me. I live in Bicester. I was drinking 330ml cans of BrewDog Speedbird 100 on my BA flight yesterday from Dubai. That was in CW though.

  6. OT

    If your Employee Benefits Package is powered by NextJump, they are offering 20% WOW on all UK & European flights, train and bus journeys booked via Omio for the next 4 days.

    (As usual, there’s no WOW on VAT or “taxes”).

    • not impressed with WOW points atm…they offered 20% additinal points on SIXT bookings, which they have now retracted for no good reason. im chasing them but they just give generic answers…even though the car hire is completed and fully paid…

      • I’ve never had any points charged back on NextJump, even when I was earning £1,000s of WOW every month doing a bit of temping for a friend’s firm. (It coincided with an Accor 25% offer and their staff were spending months at a time in one.)

        There’s occasionally stuff that doesn’t track properly but it’s the same for most of them.

        • that’s interesting to know thanks. the purchase tracked fine and shows in my history and then shows it being retracted but they wont give a reason why, only asking if i returned my purchase blah blah which being car hire and fully completed and paid for, obviously i didnt. have send a pdf of my invoice from sixt so will wait and see

  7. Wildly OT: just had an email from Hotels.com saying they’re introducing a £4 fee for redeeming an award night. The fee is waived if you redeem through their app.

    Time for another one of my periodic reviews of Hilton/Marriott versus Hotels.com. I also should get round to using the 4 reward nights I’ve got waiting!

    • memesweeper says:

      That’s going to mess up the return calculations for those of us ‘saving up’ with cheaper nights. 🙁

    • Lady London says:

      So hotels.com has calculated the value of being able to track you everywhere, and selling your data, and recording all your searches and preferences at £4 per customer?

      I’ll pass.

      • I’ll probably still do all of my searching on a computer (bigger screen) then book on the app

        • Lady London says:

          The app will still track you, though, unless you disable it.

          I think that’s why IHG may be giving me ridiculous targets on Accelerate. Recently remembered I installed their app a couple of years ago. It’s been tracking me so unless you know me, you’d figure out I would be constantly booking hotels. Except I don’t need hotels in most of my locations.

          I am certain hotels.com app will be hoovering up that kind of data on where you go and using it to target you. they will also sell that data , for money, to others. In theory you might not be identified when that data is sold on but factually, huge advances have been make in linking data across different sources to profile someone. That’s why the providers of software that does this, and companies that buy the output of it, all keep very stumm on this because it’s so good.

          • I tend to go through the app permissions every few weeks removing location, microphone, camera etc. from lots of apps that have no legitimate reason to need access to these things.

          • Search ‘O2 motion’. They’re one of the biggest companies that do this kind of thing and they don’t try to hide it at all…

          • I have the app on my tablet, but rarely switch on the wifi. I have a phone for comms and use the tablet mostly for offline stuff. If IHG or hotels.com want to track me, it seems I very rarely leave the house.

      • You mean you don’t have a “burner” tablet for this kind of thing?

    • Got this as well. We saw it happen in the US (I believe) and were waiting for it to launch here.

      Bookings via the app still free, of course

      • Will it cover Tesco vouchers? As that means less value.

      • On the subject of hotels.com – just looking at resorts for next summer and the option to pay later seems to have been removed from all of them. Wonder if this is a reaction to the Thomas Cook failure? I locked in a pay later booking a few weeks ago but was considering cancelling it in the light of the current 12 avios per £1 offer via BA but it will mean having to stump up £2k now as opposed to next July!

        • I’ve seen this too recently – when I looked at rebooking my current place, in case the price had dropped, the ‘pay on departure’ option had gone.

          • I would never pay a lot of money months in advance to hotels.com as it’s far from clear how much protection bookings have and their customer service is erratic. Hopefully this will drive a lot of their business away and they will persuade their properties to reconsider!

  8. OT: Looking for availability on AA using Avios. On BA showing nothing between PHL and LAX however when I look at award flights on AA there is plenty. If I call BA will they be able to book same with Avios – or is it different availability for avios users on AA?

    • Lady London says:

      You are looking for the type of award space that is called “Saver” on AA website. BA can normally book these.

      As a rule of thumb, cross-airline award bookings often can only access the lowest class which is often called “Saver” or something similar.

  9. O/T – Rob, do you have a link for booking on Iberia, like you do for BA? Thanks.

      • Thank you! Noted for next time I’m booking Iberia. And hopefully good for others to be aware of as well.

        Any other magical hidden links, like Qantas or American? And another question I’m not clear about – do flights using your links have to actually originate in the UK to benefit HfP?

        • We have Qantas but not American.

          Usually works for global sales but policies vary.

          If you click the disclaimer at the top of articles on desktop, it pulls up a list of partners which you can click through.

          Alternatively search for a HFP article mentioning the company and click one of the links in that. Thanks.

          • Thanks Rob, now I know where to look. But I can’t actually find a link to Qantas on your affiliate links with the disclaimers. Asking because I’ll probably be booking with Qantas in the next two or three weeks.

          • Fixed, sorry! Reason it wasn’t there is that we’ve not written about them in so long it wasn’t necessary, but I’ve added it anyway.

  10. I was recently thinking about how hotels com reward nights is better than hotel specific points. I was very happy when the Amex 1:3 on Hilton rather than the usual 1:2 appeared, but having checked the numbers it still makes no sense for me. I’m sure Marriott, Hilton and IHG sell points on deals so frequently because they know except in very specific circumstances the points are of such minimal value. The hotels com charge for redemptions is trivial but very annoying, I don’t think it changes my attitude to continue using them over direct bookings, but it is just a further erosion of value in the scheme, which is common across all travel schemes.

    • Have you read the comments above about the option to pay at the hotel being removed from most properties on hotels.com? It’s also impossible to filter the search options to show which properties offer free cancellations and other things such as the number of bedrooms in an apartment or villa. It’s getting to be too much hassle to trawl through pages and pages of resorts and hotels to find something suitable.

  11. OT – I flew WTP recently, back row of the cabin with an empty seat next to me (26B, I was 26A and this was aisle). My sister in law was 3 rows behind me in economy but flight attendant refused outright for her to move next to me. Seem standard practice?

    • Yes, and there has been quite a bit of coverage of this issue on FT recently. The rationale is that the passenger hasn’t paid for the seat they want to move to, and if they started allowing pax to move they would then be free to go into CW and F unimpeded 😮

      • I was travelling in F last month and we were grounded for a couple of hours – I would have been happy for WT pax to stretch their legs a bit in the premium cabins, especially as the load was very light at that point (the aircraft has a stop where most pax offload en route to the final destinationd). However again the cabin crew wouldn’t hear of it.

    • The Original Nick says:

      People with status would be bumped up first I’d say.

    • Pay for the cabin you want to travel in.

    • Did you ask if you could move ‘back’ to sit together ?

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