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Review: Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Class (HKG-LHR)

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Virgin Atlantic 207 787-9 Economy Class Hong Kong to London Heathrow
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I got to the airport around 2.5 hours early, expecting a long check-in line, only to find nothing. The agent checked me in quickly, and confirmed my assigned seat 46B, which I had chosen free as a Flying Club member (I quickly reverted the points to Singapore Airlines SilverKris after I assigned my seat). While I try to get the best seat I can in business class, I try to stick with who I’m travelling in economy, so I don’t need to be crammed together with a stranger during the flight.

My friend and I bid farewell to our parents, then got through immigration, which was a breeze. We hung out with a few friends also travelling on the day by our gate, in front of the 787.

Apart from it being my first time on a 787, the flight was also on Virgin’s newest 787-9, Pin Up Girl. Naturally I was excited – if only Virgin’s economy cabin didn’t look like it came out of the 90s.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Hong Kong Airport

There was a business, premium economy and economy lane as you’d expect, though unfortunately there wasn’t a separate lane for Virgin Atlantic Red members. We were first in the economy lane, but within ten seconds after we lined up a huge study tour lined up behind us. We bid farewell to our friends and soon were on our way at around 11:05. Both lines were boarded simultaneously, but as an economy passenger, I’m not complaining!

Virgin Atlantic Flight 207
Saturday, July 2, 2016
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 35 Dep: 23:55 (23:45)
Destination: London Heathrow (LHR) Gate: 15 Arr: 05:30 (04:40)
Duration: 12 h 35 min (11 h 55 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Reg: G-VFAN
Seat: 46B/46A (Economy Class)

We made our way past the premium economy cabin and were the first in the economy cabin. The first thing that struck me was obviously the mood lighting, but also that the colour tones were not attractive. I mean, I’ve definitely seen worse, but as far as a brand new plane goes, I don’t think red, grey and black seats are that sleek or sexy.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class

The Virgin Atlantic 787 features 198 seats broken up into two cabins in a 3-3-3 configuration, each 17 inches wide. The front cabin, which we were seated in, featured 66 seats, while the rear back cabin featured 132 seats.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 23.26.33

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Seatmap

Having a smaller cabin technically means less foot traffic, especially at the second row, though not being in an aisle seat that didn’t really matter (I was still sandwiched between two people for quite a bit of the flight, and between my friend and the window after that).

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin

My friend and I assigned ourselves seats 46A and 46B.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Seats 46A, B, C

I couldn’t help but realise how small the cabin was, which is always an upside, given that it is considerably quieter.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin

Behind me was the extra legroom row. While I originally wanted to go for it, I decided not to bother with paying just for this once so I could try out how “normal” longhaul economy was after not being there for so long, and 2″ pitch didn’t seem like that much (it didn’t look like much either, though I guess on long flights every inch counts). I definitely will in the future, though, if travelling with a partner – it’s plain logic that if I take the aisle and my partner takes the window (or vice versa), there’s no way someone would pay an extra HK$590 to take a middle seat. Also, sitting in front I don’t feel as bad reclining, as there’s sufficient space for the people behind me.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Extra Legroom Row

I checked out the seat I’d be in for twelve hours. It felt considerably tighter than the economy seats I’d taken on the A330 or A321, though for me it was acceptable. Legroom was good at 31″, and padding was better than expected (though still very, very hard).

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Legroom

I looked around and explored the seat, which features a PTV, a coat hook, a tray table and a seat pocket (with a pocket to put, say, a phone). I have no idea what my camera was up to, but it didn’t service me well during the flights.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Seatback

In the seat pocket was a water bottle and a little amenity kit, labelled “useful thingymajigs”.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Seat Pocket Water Bottle

While it’s a nice touch that any airline offers amenity kits in economy class, the amenity kit featured just the basics, such as an eye mask, a dental kit and earplugs.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Amenity Kit

The seat features a touchscreen personal TV, which was working on the ground. The screens had privacy screens – while that’s a good thing in theory, it does stop the convenience of watching a movie with a friend, unless you snuggle up. While I didn’t look at the movie selection, I did use the music selection a lot. They have Aerosmith, Olly Murs and quite the variety of artists, which makes me happy.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Screen

It had one of those “touch” things that you see in modern economy seats, as well as a USB port.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class USB Port

The single thing I appreciate about the seat were the air vents. Even if the plane was cold throughout the flight, it’s always better being too cold than too hot on a plane, given that they stock blankets, pillows and you can bring your own clothes.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Air Vents

These came with the 787-style lights, which are snazzy.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Lights and Air Vents

The pillow was nice enough, and the blanket was pretty showstopper as far as economy class goes, and was actually fleecy.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Pillow and Blanket

And the headphones were pretty good for economy (I actually have to care, as my “real” headphones are Bluetooth).

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Headphones

We sat down and I admired the overhead bins, which are huge on the 787.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Overhead Bins

The cabin filled up quickly. In the back cabins was largely study tours going to UK universities, and in 46C was a Chinese girl our age with her parents (presumably) in front. Behind us was a family of three and to our right in the middle block was another family – it’s good that they didn’t have any babies, or this would’ve been significantly less pleasant.

Soon the safety video played, which was very thrilling and well animated. That’s something Cathay Pacific should definitely learn from.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Safety Video

To whoever’s interested, here’s the entire video (it’s by far the best safety video I’ve currently watched, for those wondering):

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Safety Video

Then Richard Branson came on. While the video was on a charity, I’m not sure what they were actually trying to advertise.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Charity Video

The captain soon got on the PA, saying that we’d push back on “shed-jewel”, and arrive possibly early with a 11 hour 25 minute flying time.

With the mood lighting I couldn’t get any good pictures, so skipped on that, though there was a bit of traffic upon departure.

Traffic Hong Kong Airport

Even though we were seated less than a few centimeters apart from each other, my friend and I somehow thought that seat-to-seat chat was the best way to communicate, as far as the taxi went. Suffice to say that we gave that up really, really quickly, though it is a good feature to have if someone else is seated in another cabin or even a few seats away.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Seat to Seat Chat

It was a short taxi over to the runway. I did find the 787 quieter than, say, a 777, but still didn’t really feel all that quiet to me.

Takeoff Hong Kong Airport

Before the seatbelt sign turned off, for whatever reason I decided it was a good time to visit the washroom. A flight attendant yelled, “you need to sit down now“. It was the first time I’d done that in a long time, and unfortunately on my next two flights I found myself doing the same thing. Thankfully none of these flights gathered the same reaction, but I did have to walk back to my seat in shame.

I got to work, and soon dinner was served. Menus were passed out like pamphlets, and they read as follows (sorry for the quality, I tried six times to take a good photo with my camera and eventually resorted to my phone):

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Dinner Menu

Both my friend and I decided to go with the fusilli, which seemed like the safest option. While Virgin Atlantic did make all three dishes sound good, pasta/fish is really the safest to go in economy, where they have to heat 150+ dishes in a matter of 10 minutes.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Dinner

The fusilli was slightly bland, though there was cream cheese by the side which I mixed in. It was actually really flavourful after that.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Dinner – Fusilli Puttanesca

I asked for lemonade with it, which was served in a mini can that I saw in neither Hong Kong nor anywhere in London.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Lemonade

The mango sago pudding was good.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Dessert – Mango Sago Pudding

Dinner was served over Guiyang, which is a pretty reasonable pace as far as longhaul economy goes (we were in the second row, so were one of the first to be served).

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Meal Position

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Meal Position

After the trays were gone, the crew came around with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. I selected hot chocolate, which was good as far as you’d expect in economy.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Hot Chocolate

Though I wasn’t that impressed with the service at all, the food was way better than I expected. It was simple and well executed. While I haven’t said anything positive about the crew, they weren’t too bad – I’d be lying if I said they treated us well, but they weren’t actively mean like I expected. They didn’t do anything, though, so they still can’t compare to the Asian economy trips I’ve had this year. It’s worth noting that the same flight attendants serve premium economy, so my return flight was technically also served by an “economy” crew.

My friend and I for a while to adjust to London time – while it was past 1 AM in Hong Kong, we wanted to wait until around 3 ish to get used to London time. Afterwards, I tried to sleep, but the seat was far too hard for me to get any good rest.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin

I managed to get three hours of sleep, and woke up to the mood lighting being turned back on. Premium economy was decorated in orange, so being at the front of the economy cabin we got a pretty cabin view of where the two colours met.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin before Breakfast

The breakfast service was executed at around this time. I chose the frittata, because as much as I don’t really have any expectations of frittata on planes, it seemed better than the other two options. It was served with yoghurt, fresh fruit and some dry bread.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Breakfast – Spinach and Sweetcorn Frittata

While the fries were terrible, the frittata was surprisingly decent. With the sauce, it wasn’t sour and actually tasted good for an airplane frittata, despite the underwhelming presentation.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Breakfast Frittata

By this time we were somewhere over Denmark – it was still dark outside, but approaching sunlight. I noticed purple tints outside the window.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Position upon Breakfast

Over the entire flight, the flight attendants were efficient, and a couple tried to be friendly. But they just didn’t have the “fun” vibe that I’ve heard of from people that had flown economy on the airline before. I expected economy service to be quick but friendly – it was quick, but it sure wasn’t friendly.

After breakfast I visited the washroom, which was large for economy standards. It was pretty standard for a 787.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Lavatory

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Lavatory

From here we were about an hour into London. Man, even in a window seat it’s pretty hard to get stuck in a 17-inch wide space for 13 hours. From now on, I’m either getting extra legroom or Cathay Pacific economy if I do get the choice.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Airshow

The sun started rising at this time, bringing me into one of the best sunsets I’ve ever had at 38,000 feet (and the only one I didn’t miss, subsequently). I do prefer sunrises over sunsets nowadays, so this was just heaven to me.

Sunrise approaching London Heathrow

Sunrise approaching London Heathrow

Sunrise approaching London Heathrow

The cabin was soon pretty lit up, which was definitely a surprise given that it was 4 AM in London. What I forgot from my first visit to Europe was that the sun rises at around 4 AM every day, so it sure came as a big surprise to me.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin

I played with the dimming function, which now worked. It took half a minute to get from the dimmest to the brightest setting, which looked as follows:

Boeing 787-9 Dimming Function Setting 5

Boeing 787-9 Dimming Function Setting 4

Boeing 787-9 Dimming Function Setting 3

Boeing 787-9 Dimming Function Setting 2

Boeing 787-9 Dimming Function Setting 1

We gradually descended into Heathrow around an hour ahead of schedule, and it was still rising outside, so we got some stunning views of Heathrow. I do wish I could have picked a seat further back, so I could’ve got even better pictures from there. Whatever – I get good wing pictures, I lose the good landing pictures.

Descent into London Heathrow

Descent into London Heathrow

Descent into London Heathrow

Descent into London Heathrow

Descent into London Heathrow

Unfortunately London was so humid that the windows fogged up upon landing, so I wasn’t able to get any good plane pictures.

Touchdown London Heathrow

Taxiing London Heathrow

The cabin lit up upon arrival, with different hues that looked amazing.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Cabin

As there weren’t any planes arriving at the time and we were one of the first in economy to deplane, immigration was a breeze. Interestingly they allowed my friend and I to get through immigration together, and my Oxford Royale welcome packet wasn’t needed.

Unfortunately our coach left at 9, so that just translated to more waiting time (and therefore, working time at crappy terminal 3).

Terminal 3 London Heathrow Airport

Bottom Line

While I haven’t flown longhaul in economy in quite a while that could have negatively tweaked my expectations, I was rather disappointed. I’ll start off with the good things – the plane was really new and the food was decent.

But the service just didn’t live up to my other economy flights this year, which may be the norm on non-Asian airlines. But, gosh, the hard product. I’ve actually felt comfortable in economy flights before, so I can’t say I’m biased about this one – but 17 inches is really narrow to spend a long time in, and will give me plenty of reason to avoid 787 economy or 777 in 3-4-3 configurations in the future.


  1. Great post!

    I just came across this site looking for info on the upcoming CX Gatwick flights.

    Keep up the great work! Thanks for making this effort.

  2. Thank you so much for a detailed description of your trip. I will be flying Virgin Atlantic for the first time from LAX to London. Really appreciate you giving me a headsup on 787-9. Will greatly appreciate it if you would comment on the different seating in your future work. Really nice to read something in clear prints and with all the details other than info from Seatguru. Please keep up with the great job.

  3. I’ve heard many times that people are saying that 9-abreast economy on the 787 is too tight, but I find this to be too much of an overstatement. It really isn’t too bad and I find the 10-abreast 777 and 9-abreast A330 much worse. The most comfortable seats on a 787 I’ve been on is Air New Zealand and the wonderful entertainment, good legroom, adequate padding, excellent service, excellent food, large dimmable windows, and lower cabin altitude not only cancels out the drawbacks of the narrower seats, but makes the experience overall very positive. I was on NZ282 from Auckland to Singapore and immediately after that SQ856 to HKG on the A350 and I hardly ever noticed the difference in seat width. It even convinced me to avoid certain aircraft like CX 777 because I find it much too dry and the cabin to be too dated (the sidewalls and overhead bins, not the seats); and that Cathay does not use the A350 to Toronto strongly made me to avoid the 777 even more. I mean, who still uses yellow cabin lights on the 777 when every one else on the A350 and 787 switched to LED lights with lots of colours?

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