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 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.
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.
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.
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:
In the bulkhead row you have virtually unlimited leg room and I was able to stretch my legs out fully:
Premium seats get a 7″ recline which is useful. The bifold tray table is stored in the armrest:
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.
You also get individual air vents in Premium:
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.
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.
Here are the contents, including red eye mask, bamboo dental kit, ear plugs, and pen:
The A350 Premium Economy cabin has a 13.3″ screen which looks great:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
You also get an A5 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:
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:
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:
As you can see Virgin Atlantic have some fetching mug designs and I was very tempted to pinch one!
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.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (January 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points):
You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.
Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.
(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.)