This is our review of the new Upper Class suite on Virgin Atlantic’s A330-900neo aircraft.
Virgin Atlantic’s first A330neo, called ‘Billie Holiday’, arrived last week and is now in commercial service, operating all flights to Tampa and a couple of weekly trips to Boston.
I was on a special celebration flight. 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 Tampa.
Introducing Virgin Atlantic’s A330neo ….
Virgin Atlantic is currently in the midst of a big fleet renewal program. Whilst it already operates a fleet of A330 aircraft, it will gradually phase these out in favour of 16 newer A330neo. By 2027, the entire Virgin Atlantic fleet will comprise latest-generation aircraft, including the A350 and Boeing 787.
The A330neo is an updated version of the Airbus A330. The ‘neo’ stands for ‘new engine option’ – Airbus has teamed up with Rolls Royce to offer a brand new and more energy efficient jet engines based on the A350’s that need less fuel to fly the same distance.
Other improvements include new carbon fibre winglets and aerodynamic improvements that, in total, mean the A330neo is around 14% more fuel efficient than the original A330. It can also fly marginally further.
Inside the cabin the differences are less stark. The A330neo still uses the same aluminium tube from the A330, and no changes have been made to the size of the windows or the cabin pressurisation. This remains at 8,000ft vs the A350’s and 787’s 6,000ft, which has an impact on how your body reacts to the flight and how tired and fresh you feel afterwards.
That said, Airbus has redesigned its cabin fittings, including with larger overhead bins. Virgin Atlantic is also fitting a brand new business class seat, which is why Virgin flew me to Tampa!
First impressions of Virgin Atlantic’s A330-900
At most airports you will board the aircraft through door 2, which opens onto an updated and tweaked version of ‘The Loft’ social space that Virgin Atlantic first unveiled on the A350.
This has taken the place of Virgin’s traditional bar space, which you can still find on its older A330s and Boeing 787s. The 747, which had the bar in the Upper Class cabin, was retired in 2020 – you can read my farewell report of that aircraft here.
A lot of people are still on the fence about Virgin Atlantic replacing the bar with the Loft, but I have to admit I like it. On many flights the bar is not properly staffed and so it turns into additional galley space for the crew. In my opinion the Loft is a better use of space and offers a more comfortable and friendly environment to sit in.
Virgin Atlantic has made a few changes to the Loft since the A350 which I think improves it. This includes a fridge and freezer, which are stocked throughout the flight with ice creams, soft drinks and cans of beer, cocktails and wine that you can help yourself to. It brings an element of the bar back but also means you are not constantly asking the crew for drinks, which means they are free to deal with the main cabin.
Other changes include the addition of fold-down armrests with flat surfaces for drinks and a slightly higher seating level, which means you are not constantly craning your neck if talking to someone else who is standing. It feels a lot more natural now to sit and chat with other passengers or crew.
Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic’s A330neo
Turn left from the Loft and you’ll find Virgin’s new Upper Class, which in this case accommodates 30 passengers in one cabin. There are just eight rows, so it still feels exclusive.
The big attraction is Virgin Atlantic’s brand new Upper Class suites and the exclusive Retreat Suites (pictured above), which it calls its “most spacious yet”. Virgin Atlantic now has three distinct business class seats flying:
- Thee legacy Upper Class seat, introduced in 2003 and still flying on the Boeing 787 (review here)
- The A350 Upper Class suite, introduced in 2019 on Virgin’s A350s (review here)
- The A330neo Upper Class suite, new this year
Unlike the first two, the new Upper Class suite on the A330neo is a staggered, rather than herringbone seat. That means all the seats are forward-facing, rather than angled, with alternating rows. You can see what I mean here:
That means that there are multiple different versions of the seat, all with slightly different variations from each other. It is particularly noticeable in the window seats, where odd rows are ‘aisle side’ whilst even rows have you sat closer to the window.
The change also means that Virgin Atlantic is able to fit removable panels to ‘aisle side’ window seats. This helps it accommodate passengers with accessibility requirements or who need to be lifted into their seat, so that is a positive.
Other good news includes the fact that Virgin Atlantic has opted to keep all the overhead storage bins which means there is plenty of room. Many airlines these days have chosen to remove the two rows of bins down the centre of the aircraft, which creates a more open environment but can lead to a fight for locker space.
I was also pleased to see that all seats have individual air vents. I often find myself over-heating when sleeping on flights and find the additional airflow a life saver.
The new-new Upper Class Suite
I was sat in 3K, which meant I was an aisle side window seat:
As we saw at the unveiling event, first impressions are that this seat is very Virgin Atlantic, with classic chocolate brown leather seats, woven fabrics, textured plastic panelling and gold accents. It looks very classy – even better with the sunrise shining through the windows!
Every Upper Class suite on the A330neo gets two windows each, which is a nice touch too.
The seat itself is very comfortable. I was a little worried that the seat would feel narrow because the A330neo is a narrow aircraft, but to be honest I think it felt wider than Virgin’s Boeing 787 seat.
Storage has been improved from the A350 Upper Class suite. Next to your headrest is a small storage cupboard, similar to the one that British Airways has in its Club Suite:
Inside you’ll find a mirror as well as your headphones. Small touches like the little label under the mirror which reads “Well, don’t you look lovely?” add a little Virgin touch:
Underneath this is a raised area with wireless charging for mobile phones. This is tucked out of the way and means you don’t have to faff around with a spiders-web of cables in your seat, albeit that wireless charging is not as fast as a cabled connection.
I did find I had to shuffle my phone around to find the charging ‘spot’ but once I did it charged fine. A little ledge means that your phone won’t slide out during turbulence or take-off and landing.
Beside this you also have a plethora of charging options, including two USB-A ports and a 60W USB-C port which should keep a laptop going. There’s also a universal mains socket for charging laptops and other, bigger gadgets.
The safety card, Vera inflight magazine and other literature are tucked away neatly in a little slot to the side and you also get extended seat controls here:
Straddling (almost) the entire length of the seat you’ll also find a large console table. I mostly used this for drinks, my amenity kit etc but you could also plonk a 15” laptop on it no problem.
Underneath this is a little more storage, in the form of a little cubby hole. This is accessible in bed mode as well so quite useful for tucking away anything you might want during the night but don’t want rolling around on the surface above.
The tray table is also tucked away inside the console table. This has a clever mechanism that pops out from the side and offers a little cocktail table, or you can unfold it and have the full tray table out. A clever little crescent has been cut out as well so that it can fit closer to your body.
The mechanism feels sturdy and is also adjustable. My only criticism is that it does not push back far enough for you to get out of your seat during a meal service – there simply isn’t enough space. Parents may find this an issue if they need to get up to help their children whilst eating.
You can also flip up the armrest on your right to find a small remote to control the screen, plus another mirror:
In front of you’ll find a big 17.3″ 4K in-flight entertainment screen. This looks great and feels bigger than it is because it is actually quite close. It is fixed in place which means you have gate-to-gate entertainment, one of the biggest features I thought was missing from the A350 Upper Class Suite. It’s good to see it here. The software, which Virgin calls Vera, is very responsive and modern.
For the first time, I was also able to connect my own Bluetooth headphones to the IFE which let me avoid a tangle of wires. I expected the pairing process to be an absolute nightmare – Bluetooth so often is – but I was shocked at how easy it was. It took literally 15 seconds. What a game changer!
The plane is also equipped with Viasat wifi and this was equally impressive. At one point, I was told 130 devices were connected but I was still able to browse fairly normally. I even ended up writing most of this review directly into the HfP system rather than into a Word document hosted locally.
On one side you’ll also find a discreet pop-out coat hook, another nice touch. I didn’t have a coat with me but a lot of the other passengers did and this worked a treat.
Is it a comfortable bed?
After getting up at 4:30am to catch the flight I had the perfect opportunity to test out the Upper Class suite in bed mode and try and get a couple of hours sleep. I’m pleased to report I found it very comfortable.
As on other aircraft Virgin Atlantic provides a sleep kit in the overhead lockers which includes a mattress pad and quilted duvet (a pillow is already at your seat). I always appreciate when airlines provide mattress pads as it adds just a little extra comfort and makes it feel a lot more hygienic. I was able to fit these myself no problem:
Unlike the A350 Suite, this Upper Class seat also comes with a full width door. I like to use this when I’m trying to sleep so that I’m not accidentally bumped by other passengers or cabin crew:
Like other modern business class seats, Virgin’s A330neo seat features the dreaded ‘foot coffin’. Sitting down I thought this looked tight, but in reality there is plenty of room, even accounting for my 10.5 size feet. Here I am, under the covers, with my feet well into the cubby hole. I probably have 15cm or so of space above:
This is partly achieved by a seat that lowers when it goes into bed mode, which means you regain some of the space lost that would otherwise be lost. An ingenious solution – for an A330, there is plenty of leg room.
Sleeping is comfortable, even for odd side-sleepers like me. I always pull my knees up and end up knocking the sides but it was less of an issue in this seat and in the end I managed to get a couple of hours sleep. I will see how it fares on a night flight on my return.
Food and drink on Virgin Atlantic
Whilst not a focus for this review, I do want to quickly whizz through the meal service on this flight. Bear in mind that this was not a ‘normal’ flight and more of a party flight – I was out of my seat for most of it!
Of course the cabin crew came round with the usual pre-departure drinks (orange juice, a Virgin mocktail or champagne) as well as after takeoff.
We were served lunch a couple of hours into the flight, although in reality I imagine this would normally be done much sooner as the scheduled Tampa flights depart just after lunch time. This media flight had been moved forward to 8am.
There were two options for every course, and I went for the chicken parfait starter:
I think this is the first time I’ve ever had pate on a flight and it was nice to get something slightly different than a cold smoked salmon starter that is all too common (if delicious) these days!
For my main course I opted for the miso and sesame crusted salmon which was equally good, full of umami flavours. The alternative was a chicken pie which I thought was a bit too heavy for me.
For dessert the choice was between a chocolate gateau and brioche bread pudding. Undecided, I asked the crew to surprise me and they brought the bread pudding which was warm and delicious, if not the most photogenic.
A cheese board and port is also available, if you are still peckish. There was no official second meal service; instead, Virgin Atlantic offered a number of ‘dine on demand’ options including cream tea, a fish finger sandwich, chicken caeser club sandwich and a chickpeak and vegetable samosa. I wasn’t particularly hungry so I didn’t try these.
What are the best seats on Virgin Atlantic’s A330neo?
As you have probably realised by now, not all Upper Class seats on Virgin’s A330neos are equal. You can actually choose from a number of different variations.
I think there are some definite ‘top picks’. The most obvious is the new business-plus Retreat Suites, the front two middle seats. These offer additional leg room, storage space and a bigger inflight entertainment screen. These can currently be booked for an additional £200 from two weeks before departure.
If you don’t want to splash the cash, your next best options are definitely seats 1A and 1K. These are adjacent to the Retreat Suites and offer some of the benefits – including improved legroom and a larger ‘foot coffin’ for when you sleep as there is nobody sitting in front of you cutting into your space.
Other than that, I would always pick even-numbered windows seats which are closer to the window and therefore offer a bit more privacy than odd-numbered seats. The only downside is that anyone on the larger side will have to squeeze through the side console table and the seat in front to access it, so it is not for everyone.
I have to admit, I am impressed. Whilst the new Upper Class cabin wasn’t a complete surprise – I saw it unveiled in Shoreditch over the summer – seeing it installed inside an aircraft cabin made it real.
Kudos to the Virgin Atlantic product design team, who I think have delivered the best Upper Class seat now flying. Whilst some people dismissed it as a Virginified version of Delta One, which has been flying for five years now, it is a genuinely good seat and Virgin has managed to put its own stamp on it. It is comfortable and stylish, and it improves on some of the missing features from its other seats.
My only hope now is that Virgin Atlantic commits to retrofitting the seat onto the Boeing 787 fleet and finally retire the old, cramped and outdated Upper Class seat on that aircraft. It would be even better if they can squeeze it onto the A350, although I admit that’s unlikely given how recent that product is.
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 (December 2022)
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.)