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Review: how is Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy cabin on the A350?

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This is our review of Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy experience on the A350 from London Heathrow to New York JFK.

After reviewing BA’s premium economy (World Traveller Plus) in 2019 I was hoping I would be able to do the same for Virgin Atlantic in 2020. Obviously that never happened, but better late than never!

Virgin Atlantic won ‘World’s Best Premium Economy’ at the 2021 Skytrax awards so I was keen to see how it turned out.

Virgin Atlantic A350 premium economy review

Virgin Atlantic provided the flight for free, but I paid all other costs relating to the trip myself.

First, a quick trip down memory lane…

Premium Economy has a long history at Virgin Atlantic. It was joint-first to launch the new cabin in 1992, together with Taiwanese carrier EVA Air.

Back then it was called the somewhat less beguiling ‘Mid Class’ and was described a “revolutionary new product that will deliver the requirements of the business traveller paying full economy”. Many of the perks of ‘Mid Class’ were the same as Premium offers today, including dedicated check-in, separate cabin and priority baggage handling.

Others benefits have changed. In 1992 you could check in at Victoria Station for London Gatwick flights, you only got a pre take-off orange juice and the in-flight entertainment screens were a high-tech 3″ across!

If you have any memories of ‘Mid Class’ then please leave them in the comments – I’d love to hear them.

Back to the review ….

These days Virgin Atlantic calls premium economy ‘Premium’ (not to be confused with Economy Delight, which is the extra legroom section of the Economy cabin). Whilst many airlines treat premium economy as a better economy product, Virgin Atlantic still seems to approach it as ‘Upper Class minus’.

This starts in the check-in hall, where Virgin Atlantic offers dedicated check-in desks for all Premium customers. British Airways World Traveller Plus customers need to queue at the standard economy desks.

Unfortunately check-in and bag drop at Heathrow Terminal 3 were still a little chaotic, despite the recent relaxation of travel restrictions to the United States, with the burden of covid documentation checks passed on to the airlines.

Virgin Atlantic Premium document check

It wasn’t made entirely clear, but before you queue for the check-in you have to get your documents checked in a separate queue. Fortunately another lovely passenger held my spot in the queue whilst I dashed off to do so, but it could have been a lot better sign-posted.

Virgin Atlantic Premium checkin

Once I finally reached the top of the queue the check-in staff were very friendly. You can check in up to two bags when flying Virgin Atlantic Premium and they are given a priority bag tag.

Lounge access is not included with Premium unless you are Flying Club Gold or have your two Clubhouse passes as a Silver, as I did. You can read my review of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow here.

On board – Premium on Virgin Atlantic’s A350s

The A350 is the flagship of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet and carries the newest Premium cabin. There are 56 seats in the cabin on both the Heathrow and ‘leisure configured’ A350s.

On the Heathrow A350 fleet the Premium cabin is to the right of boarding, in a cosy seven row cabin. Seats are in a 2-4-2 configuration, with everyone just one seat away from the aisle at most. Unfortunately the flight was packed so I wasn’t able to get a good shot of the cabin itself.

I was able to try out both a normal seat as well as a bulkhead extra legroom seat at the front of the cabin.

Virgin Atlantic Premium seat

The seats are made of a chocolatey-burgundy leather, whilst the tray table and other flat surfaces have stoney texture. Coupled with the pink/purple Virgin lighting it looks very smart.

There is plenty of leg room too, with 38″ of seat pitch. I’m 6’2″ but you can see there’s still several inches between me and the seat in front:

Virgin Atlantic Premium leg room

In the bulkhead row you have virtually unlimited leg room and I was able to stretch my legs out fully:

Virgin Atlantic Premium bulkhead legroom

Premium seats get a 7″ recline which is useful. The bifold tray table is stored in the armrest:

Virgin Atlantic Premium tray table

I like this sort of tray table because you can have it out without having it full extended, which can be convenient when you don’t want to be completely blocked in.

There is also a USB port in the arm rest, in addition to another USB port under the in-flight entertainment screen and a universal plug socket between the seats.

Virgin Atlantic Premium screen

You also get individual air vents in Premium:

Virgin Atlantic Premium air vents

Waiting for me at my seat was a small cushion, a set of headphones and a purple fleece blanket. The cushion is quite small and in a sort of plasticky case similar to what British Airways used to have. It is the one thing that felt a bit out of place in an otherwise premium-focussed cabin.

Virgin Atlantic Premium bedding

and

Virgin Atlantic Premium blanket

No amenity kits were laid out and when I asked the crew they said these are only available on overnight flights. I’m not sure if this is a new policy or not but again this feels a little tight, especially given BA’s recent improvements to amenity kits and pillows / blankets.

The amenity kits are in a similar vein to the Upper Class kits, albeit slightly smaller and in brown Kraft paper with red accents, which I actually think is a bit more fun.

Virgin Atlantic Premium amenity kit

Here are the contents, including red eye mask, bamboo dental kit, ear plugs, and pen:

Virgin Atlantic Premium amenity kit contents

In-flight entertainment

The A350 Premium Economy cabin has a 13.3″ screen which looks great:

Virgin Atlantic Premium movies

If you’re in the bulkhead it is slightly smaller as it needs to be stowed inside the arm rest during take-off and landing:

Virgin Atlantic Premium bulkhead screen

The selection is decent with 114 films available. These were mainly classic titles but of course there have been very few big cinema releases for 18 months. I watched Cruella, which was pretty average, although I don’t blame Virgin Atlantic for that!

Virgin Atlantic Premium headphones

The headphones are nothing to shout home about – I think these might be the same as in economy. The A350 may be one of the quietest aircraft out there but having noise cancelling still makes a huge difference so I prefer to bring my own.

In-flight connectivity

The A350s come with wifi if you choose to pay for it. The packages are as follows:

  • Messaging – £2.99/$3.99
  • Chat and Surf – £12.99/$16.99 – 150MB
  • W-Fi Max – £29.99/$39.99 – 500MB

In general the wifi is fine for social media, emails etc but you would struggle to stream or upload video. Trust me – I tried to do that on my last flight with the synchronised take-off.

Food and service

On boarding you are given a choice of champagne or orange juice.

Virgin Atlantic Premium welcome drink

Cabin crew also come through passing around Virgin’s health kits. These contain three masks, some hand sanitiser and a wipe. I’m pleased to see these are now in paper packaging as they were plastic-wrapped previously.

Virgin Atlantic Premium hygiene kit

You also get an A5 menu:

Virgin Atlantic Premium menu

On my flight the service consisted of a three course meal served shortly after take-off followed by afternoon tea 90 minutes before landing.

The cabin crew make their first round through the cabin to serve drinks before proceeding with the meal. It is served on a single tray, albeit with proper crockery and cutlery:

Virgin Atlantic Premium venison stew

The starter was a feta, pea and herb frittata bite with olive tapenade and sun dried tomato. For mains I chose the venison stew (other options included spicy jerk chicken and vegan penne bolognese) and although it just looks like brown sludge (being a stew and all) it was very delicious. Dessert was a cheesecake.

Cabin crew come around several times with drinks so you are always topped up.

During the flight you can also get up and head to the ‘Wander Wall’ in the galley, which features a selection of snacks and drinks:

Virgin Atlantic Premium Wander Wall

Just over an hour before arrival Eric Lanlard’s Mile Heigh Tea is served, featuring a small cheese and tomato sandwich and a scone with clotted cream and jam:

Virgin Atlantic Premium Mile High Tea

As you can see Virgin Atlantic have some fetching mug designs and I was very tempted to pinch one!

Conclusion

Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy continues to impress almost 30 years after it was first introduced.

The airline has done well to position it as a halfway house between economy and business class rather than just as economy ‘plus’, although clearly on a night flight there is a big jump between Premium and the flat bed in Upper Class. Dedicated check-in desks and free seat selection for all are key benefits that set it apart from British Airways.

The only thing I would change – and this really is nitpicking – is the cheap cushion and the lack of an amenity kit on day flights. British Airways has upgraded its soft product in the past few years and now actually offers a better (and more stylish) amenity kit, pillow and blanket.

The crew are – as always on Virgin – outstanding, and I just want to say thanks to Stewart and his team. You really do feel the benefit of having a couple of crew dedicated to the Premium cabin rather than sharing them with economy.

In terms of Virgin Points, you earn 100% of miles flown on a non-refundable ticket or 200% if you book a fully flexible ticket.

In terms of tier points, you earn 50 tier points each way on a non-refundable ticket and 100 each way on a fully flexible ticket. To put this in comparison, in 2022/3 you will need 300 tier points for Virgin Flying Club Silver status and 800 for Gold.

If you are considering trading up from economy to Premium, the extra Virgin Points and tier points you earn should be factors in your decision.

Thank you to the Virgin team for arranging my flight. You can find out more about Virgin Atlantic’s Premium cabin on their website here.

Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.


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(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 (78)

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

  • Graeme says:

    The seat is 2.5 inches thinner width wise than the rest of the fleet, although the same as BA. I always sought out their 747s for the wider seat. Would be enough for us to choose the 787s over the 350s.

    • Doug M says:

      I have to bite on this I can’t help it. The seat width thing is a complete nonsense. It’s entirely about how you measure it. Virgin’s claimed seat width on the 747 was always just misinformation, something that they’re rather good at, and their disciples just repeat.

  • Thywillbedone says:

    Virgin persisting with the childish messaging on anything that moves …painful.

  • moni says:

    Taking into account BA just offers now a selection of shortbread biscuits as a snack, the second meal consist in half a sandwich of dubious content (and a KitKat), the water is being ration, the disappearance of Tanqueray and of the sparkling wine, Virgin looks like a much better place to be.

  • David says:

    I think those are the same headphones and amenity kit I got given on Saturday in Upper class – all round was a very poor experience.

    • MD says:

      Really? Wow. Had to cancel my first ever Upper Class flight earlier this year due to something about a virus, but I was expecting great things due to all the praise they get on here. OK, wouldn’t expect the likes of the First amenity kits from the ME3, Acqua di Parma etc., but if that’s the same kit you get in Upper Class that’s really poor…

      • David says:

        On the out bound flight I had proper upper class amenity kits and headphones and on the way back prem economy ones. Generally my impression was it wasn’t great – maybe I’ve been spoilt by Qatar.

    • Nick says:

      Worth a complaint – UC get a much nicer amenity kit. Along with pyjamas, and far too much food, it’s a wonder anyone is picking BA on routes that Virgin fly.

  • Paul says:

    Have they changed the pre take off drink? It never used to be champagne, always was Prosecco.

    Does the 350 have dedicated WC for premium customers, to me this is a massive PLUS over BA in the same class.

  • Paul says:

    The headphones & amenity kits seem a big waste of single use plastics. Wish they could look at improving this.

  • BAgonesBE says:

    Eric Lanlard must be proud! Afternoon tea looks incredible!

  • BJ says:

    I would love for premium economy to work for me on long haul daytime flights but it doesn’t. I’m not convinced Virgin or any other airline has figured out what mist people probably want with PE. Not sure what I want is same as most others but it is primarily a seat something like the typical old business class cradle seats, on say UA for example. The current typical PE seats offered by almost all airlines are simply too similar too economy to seriously contemplate for flightsmuch in excess of 8h in my view. Secondly, I would want fast check in, security and lounge access. I care little about meals, baggage, IFE, amenity kits and the like. I’m ignoring price and flexibility as those obviously depend on many factors and vary widely. For me, it is all about the seat, just wish the airlines would rethink it. For the past 10-15 years business class has generally got better and better for most airliness but sadly PE has gone in the opposite direction.

    • Tim says:

      What has changed is economy seats have got worse and worse driving people to PE to get a basic but comfy seat of the kind they used to get in economy

      • Richie says:

        Some PE seats have a calf rest on some airlines, which does add to comfort.

        • kiran_mk2 says:

          I’m always surprised how much difference a simple foot rest makes to comfort. Virgin PE was always good enough as a hard product for day flights to the East Coast / Midwest for me.

      • Doug M says:

        This.

    • Mikeact says:

      Totally agree…we just want a guarantee, if possible, to ‘get there safely ‘

    • John T says:

      Agree – the seats aren’t much different to economy

    • Will says:

      Agree, the old AA 757’s used to have wide leather recliners in donestic first. That’s the perfect premium seat in my opinion if you don’t need a bed and let’s face it, do we really need a bed for a 6-8 hour day flight?

    • Doug M says:

      @BJ – what you want is called Business. As things level down you’re basically describing business class. PE is economy of 25 years ago, and economy is just to be avoided on anything over a couple of hours.
      Virgin like to dress everything up, but there’s no real outstanding player across the Atlantic in my experience. I like BA simply because the EC and status work for me on Euro flights and US domestics.

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