a group of people sitting in an airplane

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

Home » Reviews » Flight Reviews » Review: Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Class (LHR-HKG)
Review Overview

The default experience in economy is "not great", and there's not much that separates Virgin Atlantic from the default experience, including narrow and hard seats. The food and service are still on the upper end of the spectrum, though.


While I’d flown Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy class on the 787 countless times, I’d only flown their economy product once prior to this trip. Since we didn’t have any bags to check and had already checked in online, we got straight off the Heathrow Express and made a beeline towards immigration. My dad headed towards the Upper Class immigration channel (he couldn’t use the Upper Class Wing, since the Wing is used as a drop-off point for car transfers only).

After that and waiting for a while at the VAT refund stand, he guested me into the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which is hands down my favourite airport lounge in the world. While the experience I had was exemplary, I’ll refrain from reviewing it again here, so check out my review from last year to learn more about the lounge.

The gate was scheduled to open at 8:55 PM for our 9:55 PM, though Heathrow’s Terminal 3 has one of those annoying holding pens where boarding doesn’t start for another 30 minutes. I figured I’d just head over around the half-hour mark, and got to gate 17 at around 9:30 PM. At that point everyone in the holding pen had already lined up to board.

From the holding pen I was able to grab pictures of our 787 under the sunset. One of the friendly gate agents approached me so she could look out of the window as well, saying “beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked if she was referring to the sunset or the 787, to which she replied, “both”.

a large airplane parked at an airport
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 London Heathrow Airport

There was quite a hold-up at the jetbridge, which I’m not used to, since I usually race to be first onboard for cabin photos.

Virgin Atlantic 206
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Origin: London Heathrow (LHR) Gate: 21 Dep: 21:55 (22:05)
Destination: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 41 Arr: 16:55 (16:50)
Duration: 12 h (11 h 45 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Reg: G-VDIA
Seat: 53K (Economy Class)

After passing through Virgin Atlantic’s 35-seat premium economy cabin, we passed through Virgin Atlantic’s 60-seat Economy Delight cabin. While Virgin Atlantic’s old 787s only had six extra-legroom seats with 34 inches of pitch, in the meantime they’ve retrofitted the entire forward economy class cabin to feature 34 inches of pitch, which they sold on this flight for a premium of around ~HK$500. Economy Delight also comes with dedicated check-in and priority boarding, and 34″ of pitch is quite an upgrade over the standard 31″ – on an ultra-longhaul flight, 3″ is quite a difference.

a seat in a plane
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Delight Seat

Here’s a picture of the Economy Delight cabin that I took later in the flight. While the seats have the same “bones”, they’re upholstered in a beige-ish grey, instead of the standard red used in the rest of Virgin Atlantic’s economy seats.

a group of people sitting in an airplane
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Delight Cabin

Soon I got to the rear economy cabin, featuring 132 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. While Boeing designed the cabin to feature eight seats across in economy, almost every airline owning the 787 decided to install their economy class cabin with a nine-abreast configuration, so the 787 is an especially tight plane to fly in, unless if you’re flying Japan Airlines. Here’s a picture of the economy cabin that I took on a previous flight, since I didn’t have the opportunity to take a good picture this time round.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class

I’d assigned myself an exit row bulkhead seat, which I thought was a great decision. I’d assigned myself seat 53K, the right window seat in the first row of the rear economy cabin.

a seat on an airplane
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Seat 53K

The seat itself was hard and not very well-padded (the sleeping surface on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class seat is actually made of the same material), and the headrest was plush, though could only be tilted and adjusted up and down. However, these seats came with an insane amount of legroom, given that the emergency exit row was right in front.

a white object with a purple light
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Exit Row Legroom

From the window seat I directly faced the exit door, which acted as a very good place to rest my legs. During takeoff and landing there was a flight attendant seated in the jumpseat across from us, though that didn’t end up to be as awkward from my seat as it would’ve been from the aisle seat.

a close-up of a seat
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class View from Seat 53K

The exit row bulkhead seats are special because there aren’t any seats in front. Now that seems like a very good thing, and it is – though it also means that there’s literally no floor storage. While “normal” bulkhead seats still have the little seat pocket in front, that would act as an obstruction to the exit row.

By my seat was a little pocket that proved very handy for my phone and a few small things, though only the window seats have this storage option. The aisle and middle seats don’t even have that option, but I let my seatmate put his menu in the pocket.

a close-up of a magazine
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Seat Pocket

While I tend to prefer the aisle seat in 3-3-3 configurations, here I was very happy in my window seat. I basically had direct aisle access, I even had a space to rest my feet, and I had a little pocket for storage, unlike the aisle and middle seat. While I wrote a separate post recommending people to choose exit row bulkhead seats in general, I would go out of my way to select a window seat in an emergency exit bulkhead row.

As there’s no TV in front, the TV unlatches from between seats. The screen itself wasn’t massive, though was very responsive.

a screen with a picture of a pair of red shoes on it
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class TV

The screen could be unlatched by firmly pressing a button to the left of the seat. Note the two-pronged headphone jack below the button.

a close up of a button
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Seat Controls

Waiting on my seat were headphones, a pillow, and a blanket. The headphones provided were single-prong headphones, while the headphone jack provided was two-pronged. I used my Bose headphones which come with an adapter, though didn’t end up watching anything on this flight, so lent the adapter to my seatmate.

a headphones on a shirt
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Headphones

The pillow was cheap and wasn’t supportive at all, though that’s quite standard for an economy seat. It’s worth noting that Virgin Atlantic has great pillows in premium cabins, even in premium economy.

a white pillow on a plane
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Pillow

The blanket itself wasn’t scratchy, and was definitely one of the better economy class blankets I’ve had.

a red cloth on a seat
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Blanket

Do note that Virgin Atlantic used to have little plastic pouch amenity kits for all economy class passengers. Either it wasn’t offered as a one-off on this flight, though based on a few other reviews I’ve read in the meantime it seems like they’ve done away with those kits completely. It’s a shame, since amenity kits in economy were one thing that set Virgin Atlantic apart.

Soon the captain, Peter Hancock, came onto the PA to announce our flying time of 11 hours and 15 minutes. He also noted that there were 227 passengers on the flight. Meanwhile, a friendly flight attendant came over and asked us to raise up our TV screens so we could watch the safety video.

The view from our side of the plane was pretty good, though the sunset was on the left side.

an airplane wing on a runway
View of London Heathrow Airport upon Pushback

While Virgin Atlantic has one of my favourite safety videos, the “Crew Announcement” blurb was up during the entirety of it, which was annoying, and also worrying, since we could’ve missed out on some key visual details. I’m surprised this was okay with the crew.

a screen with a black box
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Safety Video

After the safety video we were well on our way to the runway, where I spotted a Qantas A380 taxiing by.

a large airplane on a runway
Qantas Airbus A380 London Heathrow Airport

Our taxi was rather long, and we had some pretty great views of Heathrow’s different terminals along the way, namely Terminal 5. In the meantime, the inflight service manager mentioned that “as many of our frequent flyers with us today would know, we prefer to darken the cabin lights during our nighttime departure, so please use your reading light at your convenience”.

an airplane wing on a runway
View upon Taxiing London Heathrow Airport

airplanes at an airport
View upon Taxiing London Heathrow Airport

We were second in line for takeoff after a Malaysia Airlines A350, eventually taking off on runway 09R. The takeoff was beautiful, and since the sky was crystal clear, we could even see some stars upon our climbout.

a sunset over a field
View upon Taxiing London Heathrow Airport

While I couldn’t get a ton of great pictures, our climbout over London was equally stunning. Since the sun sets very late in London during the summer (I’ve never been during the winter), London’s sprawling evening skyline was quite foreign to me, despite the fact that I’ve been many times in the past.

an airplane wing and city lights
View upon Takeoff London Heathrow Airport

After we levelled off we were distributed menu cards. While I know quite a few airlines in Asia that have menu cards in economy, I believe that Virgin Atlantic is one of only a small handful of European airlines that do so.

a pink rectangular menu on a blue surface
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Menu

There was a choice of main meal and breakfast, with complimentary alcoholic beverages on offer.

a purple menu with text
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Menu

Once we levelled off I also pulled the tray table out from the armrest. While not the sturdiest, the tray table was large, and I had no qualms working with my 13″ laptop on it. Another advantage of an exit row seat is that no one reclines into your space (I believe you are fully entitled to recline on a plane, especially during a night flight, as long as you’re considerate during meal services, and when the person behind you needs to get out of their seat).

a purple and black tabletop
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Tray Table

20 minutes after the menu cards were passed out, a drinks service was executed. I requested some iced water, which was served with a bag of sour cream and chives pretzels.

a glass of water on a table
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Water

a bag of pretzels on a table
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Pretzels

The main meal wasn’t served until an hour after the drinks service, which seems long, even for economy. That said, the flight attendants seemed to be serving from the back to the front on this flight – at one point I dropped off and woke up seeing the meal service trolley behind me, and initially believed I’d missed it. Finally, at 11:50 PM London time, the meal service trolley reached our row. They had ran out of my first choice, the rigatoni, so I selected the Malvani chicken curry. It’s impressive that Virgin Atlantic offers three main meal choices, even in economy.

The entire meal was served on one tray.

a tray of food on a tray
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Meal

The chicken curry was quite good. It was spicy, and the aloo provided a nice contrast in texture, though I found the spices somewhat too in-your-face. For an economy meal, though, this wasn’t bad at all.

a tray of food on a tray
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Dinner – Malvani Chicken Curry

The rice and cucumber salad was citrus-y and packed quite a punch – certainly preferable to your average, leafy airplane salad.

a bowl of rice and vegetables
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Appetiser – Rice and Cucumber Salad

The dessert was a pudding from Gü, a UK dessert brand. Looking it up now it seems to be quite a high-end brand, but the last thing I wanted after a few consecutive meals in a row was a packaged pudding, be it any good.

a small white box with orange logo on it
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Dessert – Gü Passion Pud

At that time we were also asked if we wanted anything to drink. I made the stupid mistake of not getting myself any water prior to boarding (usually there’s water in the seat pocket, but my exit row seat didn’t have a seat pocket), so I asked for more water. It’s impressive that Virgin Atlantic loads entire bottles of water for economy class passengers which they hand out even during meal services.

a bottle of water with a blue cap
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Water Bottle

While I wasn’t impressed with the pace at which the meal was served, the entire crew was friendly, efficient and mostly personable. They were unapologetic about the fact that my preferred meal choice was unavailable, but otherwise I have no complaints about them.

After the meal I visited the lavatory, which was right across from my seat (since the lavatory lights are dimmed dark blue when vacant, I didn’t find the light to be disturbing). The lavatory was large enough, and pretty standard for a 787.

a bathroom with a sink and a toilet
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Lavatory

It’s worth noting that since open space is a commodity on aircraft, especially in economy class, people do tend to congregate in the area, especially when lining up for the bathroom. This didn’t bother me much, except when a man went to the area so he could do leg exercises. Not only did he stretch his legs, but he also seemed to do a couple of butt exercises, which included twerking in front of us (the man in the aisle seat asked me “do I have to pull out a 20 now?”).

a man standing in an airplane
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Live Entertainment

At this point I decided to purchase onboard WiFi, which was working on this flight. Virgin Atlantic charges WiFi by usage, offering two different WiFi plans on the 787:

  • 40 MB for 4.99 GBP/5.99 USD
  • 150 MB for 14.99 GBP/19.99 USD

Virgin Atlantic uses T-Mobile as their inflight WiFi provider, though they’ve recently switched to Gogo 2Ku, so their A330s, A340s, and 747s feature WiFi charged by time, as opposed to by usage, which I far prefer. The 787s don’t have that, though, so the WiFi system still charges by usage.

I purchased a 150 MB package, which cost me 15 GBP (~HK$155). The WiFi was fast enough for texting and browsing, probably due to the fact that not many people were using it on this overnight flight. That said, I never use my computer for onboard WiFi charged by usage since there are so many background apps open on my computer, so I stuck to my phone. I forgot to pause my WiFi plan before I went to sleep, and despite that, the WiFi lasted me until after the breakfast service, including quite a bit of heavy usage.

After a bit of working on pre-loaded work on my computer as well as catching up with some friends on my phone, I decided to sleep. I put my feet up on the exit row door creating some sort of a lazy-Z position (in case you’re wondering, airplane doors are fastened very tightly, so there’s no way on earth that this would be a safety hazard in any way or form).

a person's leg with a purple light
Getting comfy in Virgin Atlantic 787 economy class!

While I had a ton of legroom, obviously you won’t get that in a non-exit row seat. Virgin Atlantic’s 787 economy class seats feature 31″ of seat pitch, so legroom is rather limited compared to most Asian carriers, though not unbearably so. For more information, check out an old report I wrote in a “normal” Virgin Atlantic economy seat a couple years back (I was using an inferior camera, though, so the pictures aren’t as clear).

The 787 also tends to have tighter economy seats (due to the comparatively narrower fuselage and the 3-3-3 configuration), so despite the abundance of legroom I slept intermittently for six hours, waking up every once in a while to browse on my phone. At one point I woke up realising that I’d lost my glasses, and started looking around with my phone flashlight. A flight attendant saw me looking for something, and graciously helped me look for it — it was in the crevice between my seat and the wall. I found that very nice of her.

Once I woke up to spot the cabin crew coming around offering a drinks service, to which I asked for more water. It’s impressive that Virgin Atlantic does a drinks service in economy between meal services – I’ve seen other reviews where they actually came around with hot food, though that wasn’t the case on this flight.

Once I woke up I browsed the entertainment system, which was very good, featuring an abundance of movies, TV shows, music and games.

a screen shot of a television a screen shot of a television a screen shot of a television a screen shot of a television
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Movie Selection

a screen shot of a television a screen shot of a television
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class TV Selection

a screen shot of a television
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Music Selection

a screenshot of a television
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Games Selection

Virgin Atlantic’s inflight entertainment system also feature a seat-to-seat chat. I’ve known about this feature in the past, though didn’t actually find it useful until this flight, since I wasn’t seated in the same cabin class as my dad. He’d lent me a card so I could access inflight WiFi (since my own debit card was out of cash), and I wanted to thank him, though couldn’t go up to Upper Class to do so. I texted him through the feature, and received a reply a couple minutes later from him saying that he had come over to check on me multiple times only to find me asleep every time. Oops.

a computer screen with a keyboard
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Seat-to-seat Chat

However, my favourite feature of this (and any) inflight entertainment system was the airshow, which was very extensive and featured a range of views. While most modern entertainment systems provide pretty extensive information about the aircraft, Virgin Atlantic’s airshow has an interface that’s particularly intuitive.

a screen shot of a map
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Airshow

When I woke up it was already light outside, though the cabin was still dark, as the windows were locked on the dimmest setting.

an airplane wing in the sky
View upon Cruising from Heathrow to Hong Kong

We cruised for another half hour or so, and an hour before landing we were offered breakfast. The flight attendants came over and asked if I wanted English breakfast, but I was more in the mood for waffles.

Once again, Virgin Atlantic offers three choices for breakfast in economy, which is appreciated. Most airlines only offer a savoury breakfast even in business class, so it was nice to see a sweet option on the menu. However, the waffles were terrible – the waffles themselves were spongy, the crème anglaise had scrambled in the heat of the oven and stuck to the sides of the container, and the blueberry compote was overly acidic. When fruit is cooked, the fructose in the fruit breaks down and becomes less sweet, causing the fruit to become sour – so more sugar should be added to that to compensate for the lost sweetness. Then again, I had low expectations (as I do for any airline for breakfast in economy), and was hungry, so stomached the meal.

a food in a container on a tray
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Breakfast – Belgian Waffles

We were also offered some fresh fruit in a plastic bowl, orange juice, and some honey Greek yoghurt. While the waffles themselves were terrible, the yoghurt, in particular, was delicious – it was mildly sweet and very creamy. The fruit was fine, and I didn’t touch the orange juice.

a bowl of fruit and juice on a table
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class Breakfast – Seasonal Fresh Fruit

After the meal was cleared, a line formed for the bathrooms. On the 787s four bathrooms are shared between 192 passengers, which isn’t terrible, but is still 48 passengers per bathroom. It’s worth noting that our windows were set to maximum brightness in preparation for landing, though the windows on the left side of the aircraft continued to be dimmed for a bit longer.

Finally, at around 4:05 PM Hong Kong time, captain Peter Hancock came back on the PA and announced that we’d begin our descent. Around 10 minutes after that, the seatbelt sign was turned on.

the wing of an airplane in the sky
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

The landing views were quite nice, as the weather was good, and we had good views of neighbouring cities.

an airplane wing above land
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

an airplane wing and land in the sky
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

an airplane wing in the sky
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

an airplane wing and land in the sky
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

As we neared the city the views got even better, as we were landing over runway 25R, and flew over the city along the way.

an airplane wing in the air
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

an airplane wing over a body of water
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

an airplane wing over water with city in the background
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

Finally, at 4:40 PM, we touched down on runway 25R into Hong Kong Airport. From my economy seat, I could see the flaps on the beautiful 787 wing go up.

an airplane wing on a runway
View upon Landing into Hong Kong

The captain quickly came back on the PA to announce the ground temperature of 33°C. He ended his announcement with “for those lucky enough to call Hong Kong home, welcome home. For those lucky enough to be visiting Hong Kong, enjoy your stay. And for those connecting, enjoy your onward journey”.

We enjoyed some interesting traffic on our way to the gate, including a South African A340.

an airplane on the runway
South African Airbus A340 Hong Kong Airport

This also included an Air Niugini aircraft, which I’m intrigued in, as I haven’t seen many reviews of them. I’d be excited to visit Port Moresby by flying them, or connect to Australia with one of their cheap fares.

a large airplane on a runway
Air Niugini Boeing 767 Hong Kong Airport

Other aircraft we passed by included an Etihad 787, and Cathay Pacific 777.

a large white airplane on the runway
Etihad Boeing 787 Hong Kong Airport

a large white airplane on the tarmac
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Hong Kong Airport

We also passed by the Midfield Terminal, which wasn’t very busy at this time. I’ve used the Midfield Terminal a couple of times in the past, including when I was using the Hong Kong Airlines Club Autus lounge.

a building with a plane in the background
Hong Kong Airport Midfield Terminal

We got to gate 41 at around 4:50 PM, five minutes before our scheduled arrival time. It took a while before we could deplane, and once we did it required an extra transfer by train to immigration. However, once we passed immigration and purchased tickets for the Airport Express using the ticket counter prior to leaving the restricted area, we were back home in half an hour.

Bottom Line: Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Class

After a string of experiences in premium cabins, moving back to economy class on a 787 obviously wasn’t very pleasant. However, keeping in mind that economy class is where the bulk of people fly, I’m pleased to say that Virgin Atlantic offers one of the better economy class products out there.

The hard product isn’t great; the seat is tight and not very well-padded, and I can’t judge the legroom based on this flight alone since I was in an exit row seat (based on a previous flight, it’s not too bad, and up with the industry standard for European carriers). They’ve also cut back on their amenities – they cut their amenity pouch, which was a reason to pick Virgin Atlantic over other economy experiences, the pillow was crap, though I did like the blanket. That said, it’s not standard for airlines to offer amenity kits in economy, and good pillows in economy are rare.

However, it’s the food and service that makes Virgin Atlantic’s economy product still competitive. I was quite pleased with the first meal service, and since I don’t remember the last time I had a good breakfast in economy, I can safely say that their breakfast offering is above par. I was pleased to see that there was a variety of options for both the main meal service and breakfast. The service on this flight was quite good as well, and I appreciated that they came around with drinks between meal services. The inflight entertainment system was also stellar.

Virgin Atlantic is the only European airline I’ve flown longhaul in economy, though in my understanding their soft product in economy is as good as it gets in the market. However, premium economy is usually priced marginally above economy class on similar legs, and offers a much better product, so I’d probably pay the slight premium for that if I had the choice – especially on the 787, since economy seats are particularly narrow on the 787.

Read more from this trip:

Have you flown Virgin Atlantic in economy before? How was your experience?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *