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Some more thoughts on the new Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class service

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If you have not yet done so, it is worth reading my review of the new Upper Class seat Virgin Atlantic is fitting on its new A350-1000 aircraft before reading on.  This is based on the press launch flight to New York last week.  I go into some detail about the seat itself and how it compares to the new British Airways Club Suite.

What I didn’t write about in that review was the service or soft product – mainly because, on the outbound flight, we were served items that are not normally available on Virgin Atlantic flights.

….. or so I thought.  It turned out that in addition to all the journalists, Virgin employees and frequent flyers on our flight there was also a representative from Gate Gourmet, Virgin’s in-flight caterers.

He was there to see how the food was enjoyed, and revealed that some of the dishes were being trialled and tweaked for commercial service.

The food service was, it has to be said, impressive. Although it took 4 hours for cabin crew to get meals on tables (I’m not sure if this was down to passengers blocking the aisles, or lack of familiarity with a special menu, or just plain poor planning, or a combination of all these things) the food, when it arrived, was exceptional.

I had the citrus seared prawns:

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class review

and my Herefordshire Short Rib main:

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class review

and Chocolate Hazelnut Tart:

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class review

followed by a selection of British cheeses.

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class review

The prawn starter, in particular, blew me out of the water. It was really tasty and I hope it becomes part of the regular menu, if it is not already.

The bedding is impressive

My return flight, also on an A350, was overnight and I was able to try out the bedding. This includes a fitted sheet and mattress topper, which fits snugly around the seat. This makes the bedding look really neat and stops it from migrating during the flight. Here is a photo I took, although it is very dark:

Virgin Upper Class A350 bed

… and here is the lighter PR photo!

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class review

Virgin Atlantic is also trialling different mattress toppers with a small hole at shoulder height for your shoulder belt. This would enable Upper Class Suites to be made up ready for bed mode before take-off, enabling an even more seamless sleeping experience which is all too necessary on the short flights from the US East Coast.

Premium Economy and Economy

Having said all that, the biggest and most noticeable upgrades might be happening at the back of the plane to Economy and Premium.  I had a peek:

Virgin Atlantic A350 economy

The new Premium and Economy seats feature a range of improvements that will make a big difference to passengers, including amazingly large new seat-back screens (11.5″ in economy) and connectivity options.  Virgin has done a great job making these cabins look as classy as Upper Class, utilising beautiful textiles and textures that make them look really premium.

More improvements are coming

If you read my Upper Class overview yesterday, you will know that the seat is experiencing what can only be called teething trouble, with Virgin modifying and improving the product as we speak.

This will include a new tray table, and two other refinements to the seat itself (including a neater seat-back fitting) as well as a new table-cloth/place mat, improved control of the in-seat mood lighting and of course the new fitted mattress topper.

Having spoken to various Virgin Atlantic representatives on the trip, including the VP of Customer Experience, the sense I get is that Virgin is pursuing an innovate-fast approach to its customer experience across the board.

Whilst these issues are annoying for early passengers (and, frankly, some should have been spotted in testing) the fact that Virgin is rapidly rethinking aspects of the in-flight experience and rolling them out to all aircraft is not something you would normally see an airline doing.

These improvements are fairly remarkable for a notoriously slow-moving industry. Rob is hoping to try out the new Upper Class seat himself later this year, by which time many of these changes should have been implemented.

Virgin A350 upper class review

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Comments

  1. Question regarding virgin upgrade voucher. If I use the voucher to upgrade from economy to PE, do I have to pay higher PE taxes or economy taxes? Thanks.

    • You pay the TFCs of the cabin you fly.

    • For the USA return think close to £500 for premium taxes and fees.

      • Spaghetti Town says:

        Waste of time unless cash prices are sky high

        • Agree… now I’m trying the save up for Premium redemption (one way only probably 😂), wish I had chosen the paid Virgin CC now, much better earning rate… and my voucher will waste

          • Spaghetti Town says:

            I wish the club house voucher was available on the free card – would be much more use to me!

  2. Is it possible to use upgrade voucher to premium and then miles to upper?

    • Algor

      No.

      Well not in advance.

      However at the airport 2hrs before your departure.. all bets are off. 😀

      https://www.headforpoints.com/2018/12/30/use-part-pay-avios-book-iberia-flights-vueling/comment-page-1/#comment-313181

      YMMV

    • No on the miles upgrade. I believe you can upgrade at the airport for cash.

      • You can get a good deal at the airport if they’ve got loads of seats spare, a number of years ago, I heard about a friend of the family, who was travelling to Havana with his wife, and upgraded at the airport to Upper class, for I’ve heard for £2000, I’m almost certain that was for both of them, and I don’t know which class they originally booked on, but £1000 per person (presumably from basic Economy, Economy Delight, Classic and Light didn’t exist back then) is good value.

        This does of course take a complete gamble on how busy the flight is, and how many seats may be going empty, of course even VA don’t know many people will be on the flight until shortly before take off, since there’s always going to be people who turn up at the airport with a ticket just looking for the first flight for wherever they need to go, and people who get held up in traffic and miss their flight etc

  3. Mr(s) Entitled says:

    “innovative fast approach”. That is new business jargon for me. Does it mean insufficiently thought out?

    • Borrowed from the software industry where they refer to it as ‘Agile development’ I believe?

      The idea is to release a ‘Minimum Viable Product’ ASAP then react to feedback to iterate the product.

      • Sussex Bantam says:

        ..or if you’re into video games like I am.

        Release a game that doesn’t work and then expect the users to download multiGB patches before they can even play it..

  4. It certainly means untested 🙂

    The subject of testing these things – you would have thought that either Virgin, or the Seat Manufacturer would enlist the help of people like Rob and Rhys and maybe select Frequent fliers to test these things. I think the designers often get stuck in their own ‘bubble’ of design and not practicality. In these situations, the designers should be forced to endure the problems they have created for the rest of us – like the tray table and the lack of storage – have they never flow in an airplane before? Argh!

  5. The gripe with premium economy for me has always been you cannot lift the armrest, handy when travelling as a couple or you have no one sat next to you…..cannot tell from the photo if this has changed.

  6. Having flown Qatar a few times this year and a bit of BA, this doesn’t look great. For storage such as water, headphone case, phones, book etc storage is key. BA isn’t great when it comes to storage but this looks even worse.

  7. What are the better uses of the virgin upgrade/2 for 1 with red tier? 2 for 1 kinda sucks cos economy only but the upgrade to premium use will incurr 500 in fees, which isnt much good either, are there any uses that result in lower charges, flights from outside london or anything?

    • With Red level the best use of the voucher is to watch it expire. As always fees and taxes make miles pretty useless for all but business class.
      You’ve got to go to Inverness or Jersey to avoid APD, maybe a couple of other places, nothing gets round the YQ which is the really heft chunk of these additions. I have no idea if you can then use the voucher. If you’re really happy to travel from somewhere check ex-EU, say Dublin and look at cash fares, which earn you more miles that only really work in business 🙂

  8. Spaghetti Town says:

    OT: Out of interesting, how many people on here bank with Coutts?

    • I used to, and they were fine, but when they started charging £££’s to run a basic current account, I decided that the costs din’t jusify the “status” benefits. Now Santander pay me, and I haven’t seen any negatives.

  9. the_real_a says:

    I may have missed it on the review, but do you have to “commit” to a bed or seat like the old style UC? i.e. do you have to get up and flip the seat to make it a bed? I really hate this…

  10. I have to admire Rhys’ and Rob’s dogged defense of the new Virgin UC Suite despite its obvious shortcomings.
    BA are fortunate for not electing this seat as we all know they would have been lambasted by those on here for doing so.

    • At least they have been honest about the shortcoming unlike another points blog that has essentially been calling the VS seat perfect!

  11. OT – schoolboy error. Didn’t cancel Virgin credit card and got charged 2nd annual fee. Rang up to cancel and they refused to refund the annual fee (in contrast to Creation IHG). Oops, oh well I will have to absolutely rinse the MS to make as many miles as possible in the next 11 months before cancelling.

    • Unfortunately you can easily trip up on things like that in life, it’s frustrating I know, but you could end up earning a 2-4-1 voucher before you know it, then if you’ve got other credit cards that offer a better return, then you’ve already got nearly the best return from the credit card possible.

      I think I remember Rob mentioning that having a Amex BAPP credit card for yourself, then having your partner getting the same card, just to get the 2-4-1 vouchers, once the vouchers have been earned, then you don’t really need to use the card any longer for the rest of the card year.

      • Yeah… I already have one of those useless Virgin vouchers, plus 2 Lloyds vouchers and soon to earn a BA 241 as well. Can’t use any of them now as we are having a 2nd baby. Poor planning!

    • Lady London says:

      I have just had an unwanted German Bahncard renew. I’d forgotten about it as I worked for the client last summer.

      With the amount I paid for that, nobody on here should ever be embarrassed about something they accidentally let renew. And I didn;t even get the version that gives access to Eurostar lounges. Grrrr.

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