Hello from London! I just had the chance to try Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product from Hong Kong to London. While I’ve flown the route countless times, this was my first time flying Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class. I’ve flown the route in economy before, as well as in premium economy, so I’m more or less familiar with the aircraft.
Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class intrigued me because of how highly esteemed the product is. I visited the airline’s Clubhouse lounge at London Heathrow last year, which was spectacular – it easily bagged the number one spot in my five favourite business class hub lounges. However, I was convinced that the herringbone seat would bring down the comfort factor of the Virgin Atlantic experience, and predicted that it would be an underwhelming experience.
I’m pretty good with predicting how airline experiences will turn out. As a student I plan my travels far in advance, so I have a lot of time to read into the products that I book. However, as usual, there were things about the Upper Class experience that I was pleasantly surprised by, and others that I didn’t quite like. While a full review will come within the next week, I figured I’d write about my first impressions, as I usually do after experiencing a new product.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class
Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class Seat
Virgin Atlantic uses a herringbone seat in their 787 business class, laid out in a 1-1-1 configuration. The last time I’d sat in a herringbone seat was on a Cathay Pacific 747 back in 2011 (those planes don’t exist anymore). I remember loving the seat, since I was basically a toddler in my own little cocoon.
To put it mildly, this flight was different. More than anything I was shocked by how open the seat was. This seat is great for large groups traveling together, as you’ll easily be able to see one another on the flight while looking around (unless you’re all under 5’, in which case you won’t be able to peer over the low seat walls, and you’ll actually have some privacy). Talking to my dad was as easy as it’d otherwise be in a staggered configuration, which I wasn’t expecting.
When assigning yourself a seat on the left side of the cabin at least you’re looking at a wall, since the seats in the middle face the right. Even that privacy is unafforded when you’re sitting in a middle seat or a right window seat in this configuration.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Seat 4A
All seats feature an impressively large tray table, as well as a personal TV which swings out of the wall that’s closer to the front of the plane.
I was really looking forward to the bed, as I figured the additional convenience of flipping the seat over would result in a much comfier bed. I was wrong – the back of the seat had virtually no padding, and I might as well had been lying on asphalt with a mattress pad over it. I still slept incredibly well as it was 3 AM back home by the time the meal service was finished, and the bedding was awesome (especially the pillow).
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Bed
As you’d expect from a herringbone seat, there’s virtually no storage. I was limited to a pocket by the left side of my seat, as well as an additional nook that had to be stowed for taxi, takeoff and landing. However, I did have my own overhead bin, which was a plus (one advantage of herringbone seats is that there’s direct aisle access, so I could take stuff out of the overhead bin if I needed to).
Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class Amenities
The amenities is where the Upper Class product shines. While you won’t get anything particularly out-of-the-blue, Virgin Atlantic offers a Herschel amenity kit (the one given to premium economy passengers is similar and also from Herschel, but it’s smaller and isn’t quite as nice), great bedding as aforementioned (including a mattress pad, a duvet and an amazing pillow), and pajamas (which aren’t too thick and are quite good quality, contrary to what I’ve heard).
Yours Truly Working In Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Pajamas
However, my single favourite amenity is the inflight bar. Virgin Atlantic’s bar isn’t the most impressive one I’ve seen on a plane, but it’s nice to get to work in an open space after spending 8+ hours in the narrow walls of my seat (which sounds snobbish, since a herringbone seat is leaps and bounds ahead of economy, though there’s no denying the hard product is subpar especially given how much Virgin Atlantic charges for it). The bar had snacks and champagne set up for those who were interested as well, which was a nice plus.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Bar
Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class Food
As I’d learned flying Virgin Atlantic in the past, food isn’t exactly Virgin Atlantic’s strong suit. Well, today I learned that their business class dining experience is considerably better.
There were three choices for all courses – appetiser, main course, and dessert. For starters I asked if I could have a soup and a salad, and my request was granted. Both courses were delicious, though from pictures from other bloggers I was expecting the salad to feature sliced mozzarella and not bocconcini. Not that it makes much of a difference, but it’s a long time since I’ve had legitimate mozzarella, so…
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Appetiser – Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
The main course featured a roasted Atlantic cod, which was okay. The cod was overcooked, though all of the sides were well-executed (which isn’t something I’d expect on a plane).
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Main Course – Roasted Atlantic Cod
The dessert featured an apple and cranberry tart, which was doused in vanilla sauce. It was SUBLIME. Like OHMYGODICOULDHAVETENOFTHESE delicious. The tart was warm, sticky, and sweet, and I loved the vanilla flavour in the sauce.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Dessert – Apple and Cranberry Tart
Breakfast was served at once and laid on some sort of a “mat” on the tray table (each item was placed individually). Virgin Atlantic knows how to do breakfast – the bacon butty, English muffin and the cranberry muffin that I’d ordered were all incredible, which I wasn’t expecting (the scrambled eggs were quite good too). I’m not sure what I was doing ordering so many carbs for a meal at 2 AM in the morning London time, though good food should never come with any regrets.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Breakfast
I appreciated that all courses were served individually, and I was also impressed by the plating. No, it wasn’t restaurant quality, though Virgin Atlantic uses a variety of plates as opposed to a single porcelain container for all meals, which is appreciated. That said, I was quite disappointed at the lack of a snack menu (apart from chips, bar snacks and “crap like that”, according to the inflight service manager). I’d heard that the airline offered snacks on longer flights, though apparently that wasn’t the case (Hong Kong to London is one of the airline’s longer flights).
Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class Beverages
Virgin Atlantic has a cocktail selection on their flights, but all of them bar one are alcoholic. The mocktail was quite refreshing, though tasted somewhat like carbonated lemonade.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Mocktail – St Clements
There’s a very extensive coffee and tea selection which I somewhat took advantage of – there were nine teas and four coffees to choose from, one of which was an alcoholic brandy coffee. Additionally there were four juices to choose from, none of which were fresh, unfortunately; alongside that were a few soft drinks, and lemonade.
Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class Service
Virgin Atlantic definitely has a strong service mentality in Upper Class, and from some of the procedures it’s clear that they’re aiming to differentiate themselves from other players in the market. Meal orders were taken after takeoff, and there was a separate breakfast card which had to be filled out so breakfast could be served. That said, I’m not a fan of the fact that breakfast cards had to be completed after takeoff, since your preferences might change overnight.
I also lucked out with an awesome crew on this flight. I was mainly served by the very nice flight attendant serving my aisle, as well as the inflight service manager, Alastair (class act – more on that in the full report). Best I could tell there were only four crewmembers serving the 31-seat Upper Class cabin, which isn’t an easy job. However, as well as being incredibly nice, the crew still managed to be somewhat attentive, and very personable.
Bottom Line: How Is Virgin Atlantic’s 787 Upper Class?
There’s no getting around it: Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class hard product is in desperate need of a refresh. The seat’s been around for far too long, though I’ve heard rumours that a new seat is in the works for next year, and it’ll include a door, to compete with the likes of Qatar’s QSuite and Delta’s A350 (and apparently Etihad, but I’m not sure what they’re competing against).
It’s a shame, because I personally found the soft product on this flight to be exceptional. The food on this flight was a cod short of amazing (though I’d appreciate a legitimate snack selection beyond chips), the amenities were beyond sufficient, and the service on this flight was great. When Virgin Atlantic introduces their new suite, their Upper Class product will be industry leading.
The seat isn’t terrible – it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of economy, even though there’s virtually no privacy. I’d probably still take a herringbone seat over a forward facing fully flat seat due to the luxury of direct aisle access (there’s limited privacy either way, and I don’t find the walls to be claustrophobic), though I’d take any other seat with direct aisle access over a herringbone seat. I was most disappointed by the seat in bed mode, as I found the bed too hard (to the point where a mattress pad didn’t help much, unfortunately), which negates the point of a separate sleeping surface completely.
I’m happy to have tried the product, though I’m not dying to fly it again (and wouldn’t go out of my way to, at least before they switch up their hard product). That said, under a valuable mileage redemption or a cheap fare I’d fly it again in a heartbeat.
Have you flown Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class? How was your experience?