While Virgin Atlantic offered excellent service onboard my 787-9 “Upper Class” (business class) flight from London to Los Angeles, everything else about the product left me disappointed.
It had been four years since I had last flown Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. That flight was an overnight flight from Cape Town to London aboard an A340 and I liked just about everything about the flight. Most importantly, I slept well, though perhaps it was because I was exhausted more than anything else. Now I had the chance to try Virgin again.
I booked the flight using 75,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles plus about $500 in taxes/fees. American Express was offering a 30% transfer bonus to Flying Club at the time, so the ticket ended up costing me only 58,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points. While I hated the hefty out-of-pocket expense, this gave me a chance to provide a fresh review on Virgin Atlantic and check out the Virgin Clubhouse at London Heathrow for the first time.
Virgin Atlantic LHR Upper Class Check-In
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 by car, but was dropped off in the general departures area rather than the dedicated entrance for Upper Class passengers. What I should have done is followed the sign for Upper Class check-in, which would have taken me up a private driveway and to a special entrance where I could have sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee or tea while my carry-on bags were screened.
About an hour before departure time I left the lounge and proceeded to the gate, a 10-minute walk. Boarding had already commenced by the time arrived. In fact, most Upper Class passengers were already onboard. I got stuck boarding behind a Lebanese couple that did not have the correct visa to enter the United States. Finally, after 10 minutes, a proactive agent led me and the queue behind me to the second desk to scan our boarding passes.
Virgin Atlantic 23
London (LHR) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Sunday, December 16
Depart: 2:35 PM
Arrive: 5:55 PM
Duration: 11hr, 20min
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 10A (Upper Class)
Boarding the aircraft, I turned left and into the large single business class cabin, featuring 31 flat-bed seats.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class Seat
Virgin Atlantic uses herringbone-style seats across its fleet (with the exception of a few ex-Air Berlin aircraft). Unfortunately, these are the worst lie-flat business lass seats on the market. I find them to be especially uncomfortable in the upright position, making a daytime flight worse than overnight flight.
The seat must be manually folded over to be converted into a bed. The lack of partial recline is what makes the seat most uncomfortable.
If the most important thing in business class is the seat, then Virgin Atlantic is to be presently avoided. I didn’t sleep on the flight, though not for lack of trying. Part of the issue was I was operating on a full night’s rest. But the other issue was the warm cabin temperature: even individual air nozzles, which were present, did not make a difference.
The good news is that Virgin Atlantic is unveiling a brand new business class seat later this year. Let’s hope Virgin says good riddance to its herringbone seat.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class Dining
Meal service on this flight included drinks and lunch after takeoff, then meals on demand for the remainder of the flight. Here’s the food and drink menu for my flight:
Rather than mixed nuts, Virgin Atlantic serves potato chips (crisps) with the first post-flight drink. I appreciated the cocktail menu and ordered a mojito.
FAs set the table for lunch and I like that Virgin has not strayed from its iconic salt and pepper shakers.
I’d call Virgin quite stingy on meal service. Passengers were asked to choose only one appetizer, even though they were small and on many airlines you’d see all three come standard. It was a cold day and I ordered cauliflower soup, which was probably the best part of the meal. The bread was not fresh. Service was via cart.
I ordered coffee-rubbed beef filet for my main course because it came with red chimichurri sauce, something that can make a dry piece of beef taste good. Sure enough, the beef was very dry, but the sauce actually made it somewhat tasty. It was served with au gratin potatoes, cooked carrots, and cabbage.
Dessert comes before cheese in Great Britain. I ordered the rhubarb sponge pudding, which was served warm and was delicious.
Finally, I finished out the meal with a decent cheese plate.
The main meal was not exceptional, but perfectly acceptable. It was the next two snacks that were quite disappointing.
About midway through the flight I ordered a cheeseburger off the a la carte menu. It was so terrible I just took one bite. The beef patty was dry and tasteless and the bun stale and cold. What a disappointment!
While disappointing there was no cappuccino or even espresso onboard (unlike the A340), the coffee wasn’t bad.
Additional snacks were available at the bar including corn nuts, chips/crisps, and gummy bears.
Before landing, I ordered afternoon tea. Once again, Virgin Atlantic seemed to be having a bread problem. The sandwiches were tasteless and frankly repugnant. The scones, thankfully, were acceptable (though British Airways and Aer Lingus offer tastier scones).
I did appreciate the tea menu and enjoyed a tasty peppermint tea.
So in short, Virgin Atlantic onboard dining was not terrible, but also not great. The pre-arrival afternoon tea was very disappointing. I was also disappointed that no hot towels were offered at any point of the flight. Singapore even manages this in economy class…
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class Bar
One of the onboard amenities that is a staple of every Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabin is a bar. I was seated very close to the bar and worried that passengers would congregate there and be loud during the flight. Thankfully (and oddly), the bar was left practically deserted for most of the flight. Perhaps that is because it was also unattended for most of the flight.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class IFE + Wi-Fi
Unable to sleep but too tired to work, I turned to IFE to help me get through the flight. Virgin Atlantic offers an excellent selection of movies, TV shows, audio, live news and games.
I watched The Power of One, which I have not seen since middle school. It’s such a powerful epic and remains a favorite movie nearly 20 years later.
I also greatly enjoyed The Children Act.
Noise-cancelling headphones are provided.
Virgin’s 787-9 aircraft also offers wi-fi onboard, which is ridiculously priced at 14.99GBP for 150MB. I skipped it.
On the wi-fi landing page was an invitation to take a survey in exchange for free wi-fi.
Oddly, when I clicked on the survey I received this error message:
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class Amenity Kit
A Herschel-branded amenity kit was waiting on each seat and included lip balm, eye cream, and body moisturizer from Rituals, a pen, toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, eyeshades, and socks.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class Lavatory
Two lavatories are located just behind the bar. The forward lavatories appear to be reserved for crew use.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class Service
I know this has been a fairly negative review, but I do want to laud the Virgin Atlantic crew onboard my flight. FAs were charming, witty, and worked hard. I do not fault FAs for an uncomfortable seat or poor food; they must work with the tools they have. I appreciated that excellent service they provided.
We landed over an hour late in LAX in Terminal 2. I won’t be rushing back to Virgin Atlantic anytime soon, but it wasn’t a terrible flight. Still, I would have preferred any other carrier (American, Air New Zealand, British Airways, or United) on this route in business class. I know Air New Zealand has the same herringbone seats, but they just felt better padded to me. I’m happy that Virgin Atlantic will finally introduce a new business class seat later this year because its LHR lounge is on the best business class lounges in the world.
How do you find Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?