Virgin has a quirky reputation and known for its fun side, so we were looking forward to our first experience on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flight. We’ve previously travelled in Premium Economy and Economy to Hong Kong and New York City, and we were impressed by the overall experience. The clout that the Virgin brand carries meant that our expectations were high. We wanted the flight to Los Angeles International (LAX) to be unique but did Virgin deliver on this trip? Read on to find out!
Flight No: VS7
From/To: London Heathrow (LHR) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Departure time: 09:20
Ticket Class: Business Class / Class I
Seat: 11 K
Flight time: 11 hours
Check-in & Fast Track
The best thing about travelling on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from Heathrow Terminal 3 is the use of the private check-in wing if you’re arriving by car. Depending on your fare class you can book a Virgin chauffeur to pick you up (click here to find out more). This is eligible for J, C or D booking classes and pick up location within 75 miles of the airport.
As we arrived at the gate, we were met with a barrier and we had to buzz the intercom to be let in. They asked for our name and flight details before we were allowed through. As we drove up to the private wing, one of the check-in staff was already standing by to open the car door and help us with our check-in.
Note: You can use the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Private Wing and Clubhouse at Heathrow if you’re travelling in DeltaOne too.
Check-in was amazing. Smooth, as they already had our details after giving this to them at the barrier, which meant that the whole process took about 5 minutes. Once we’ve checked our luggage, we were whisked through a private security channel straight to the Clubhouse. All-in-all it took less than 10 minutes to reach the lounge.
So far, our experience travelling on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class has met and exceeded our expectations. The Virgin Clubhouse is one of the best lounges out there. It’s spacious, trendy and the decor is quintessentially Virgin. We felt like we were transported back to an Austin Powers film due to the retro style. There were several “zones” within the lounge; a self-service food area if you’re in a rush, a lounge area generally for drinks, a bar area, a hair salon/spa, and a restaurant area.
Although the lounge was very spacious, we were conscious that it got very busy, which was down to the number of Virgin (and Delta) flights flying out in the morning around the same time. It resulted in the service in the restaurant being sub-standard. There was a lot of staff, but they were all swamped. We waited about 10-15 minutes for a menu in the restaurant and waited another 10 minutes before the waiter came back to take our order. As much as we loved the experience of the private wing and Virgin Clubhouse, our high expectations were quickly diminishing, and it was an indication of things to come.
Boarding was a bit chaotic. After leaving the Clubhouse at the designated boarding time, we were met with long queues at the gate. At first, there was a bit of confusion, as the Upper Class queue seemed longer than expected. We joined the line, and while we were queuing, a few people arriving after us said they were travelling business and tried to push in, to which the rest of us exclaimed; “So are we.” That quickly sent them to the back of the queue, but left everyone wondering why was boarding taking so long? It was because the Upper Class cabin was at maximum capacity.
There are 31 seats in Upper Class. As you can imagine, it started to feel quite crowded when everyone arrived at the same time. It was exacerbated by the usual checks the staff conduct for people travelling to the US. We hoped the cabin crew were ready for us! To put things in perspective, there are 32 seats in Premium Economy, but I’m uncertain if they have the same number of cabin crew serving both cabins.
Onboard welcome and pre-takeoff
When we eventually got on to the plane, we were greeted at the door, but due to the sheer number of Upper Class passengers boarding, there was no one to help us to our seats. It’s not a problem as we can navigate around a plane, but it signalled that the cabin crew were going to be swept off their feet with a 100% full cabin, and we were right, the cabin crew tried everything, but the service ended up being mediocre. Anyway, we got a glass of champagne as a welcome drink to ease the nerves.
Just an observation, the cabin crew never used salutations to refer to us, there was no Mr X or Mrs X, and no mention of Sir or Madam. We wondered if this was intentional to fit with their hip and trendy reputation?
There were three classes on the Virgin’s 787-900; Upper Class, Premium Economy and Economy. 31 seats in Upper Class, 35 in Premium Economy and 192 in Economy. Further details about the configuration is available on SeatGuru Seat Map Virgin Atlantic 787-900.
There was a lovely bar on the aircraft, which was next to the two seats in row 11. So beware if you’re sitting in 11 A or 11 K, like I was. As it was a day flight to LAX, other passengers were keen on boozing. When we spoke to the cabin crew about it, they confirmed that the flight usually gets a bit rowdy! All good if you’re looking to party but harder if you would like a nap, hence why the ear plugs came in handy. We didn’t have a choice of seats on this flight as it was full, but we made sure we were further up the cabin on the flight back to London.
The amenity kit we got, aligned to Virgin’s trendy image. We were given hipster retro Canadian branded, Herschel bags. Inside you got a toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs (you’ll need them!), socks, eye masks, Rituals lip balm, moisturiser, eye cream and pen. Apart from the Herschel bag and Rituals goodies, the contents isn’t too different for what you got in Premium Economy. There were no surprises or anything fancy inside, just a lovely bag for your toiletries.
We’re not sure who approved the Upper Class seats as it only comes with two configurations; 8″ recline or fully flat, it’s one or the other. You needed help from the cabin crew to turn it into a bed as the seat had to be flipped over to turn it into a fully flat bed. You can’t recline at your pleasure, which meant that we couldn’t go between sleeping and watching movies. We tried to watch a film while in the bed configuration, and trust us, it’s quite difficult to find a comfortable position. There was also a small tray for drinks positioned at the back of your head, which isn’t the best place for it. All the seats were also facing inwards, which meant that even with a window seat, you can’t easily look out the window. You had to turn your whole body and look backwards. Not great for people that love looking out the windows and day dream.
The Inflight Entertainment (IFE) screen is tucked in the right hand side of your seat. It had to be folded away during take off and landing, but the screen is a decent size. The system was also fairly responsive. There was a wide selection of films, TV shows and music available on demand. Remember to go to the bathroom before you start settling down for a movie and meal, as once the tray table and IFE were set up, we had to move everything to go.
Great drinks selection, see the menu above. Virgin does an awesome signature drink called the Virgin Redhead, a delicious gin based cocktail.
The food selection on Virgin Upper Class was fantastic, and we got a proper three course meal service (rather than all three courses given to you on one tray like DeltaOne or Malaysia Airline business class). The table and food were beautifully presented and kudos to the cabin crew and food & beverage team. Unfortunately, the service was patchy, due to the cabin being full, my drink remained empty for most of the service. Even though I was sitting by the bar I couldn’t get there because my tray table and IFE were all set up for dining and therefore I was stuck in my seat. Worst still, the cabin crew used the bar to make drinks for other passengers in front of me. So close and yet so far. I had to rely on the attention bell to ensure the cabin crew did not forget about me.
We also got breakfast before we landed and you chose what you wanted by ticking a sheet provided to you. It took a long time for the cabin crew to get to serving me for breakfast. The cabin crew were already swept off their feet for breakfast, not only were they helping other passengers convert everyone’s beds back into chairs, everyone wanted food as well! I felt like the cabin crew were avoiding eye contact with me to prioritise all the other requests. I finally decided to press the attention bell, and they said they’ll come back to me shortly. The only consolation was when they did eventually managed to take my order the food came out pretty quickly. All-in-all, we felt like we were always asking the cabin crew for service. Perhaps Virgin should put more cabin crew in Upper Class when it’s full?
There were no fast track lanes at LAX, as usual with US immigration you had to go through the allocated lanes. I must admit, US immigration is not a friendly place, everyone seemed miserable and quite angry! There also isn’t a Revival arrival lounge at LAX.
The onboard customer service manager came round to chat to all the passengers before landing and we shared some feedback about needing more cabin crew for what was a very busy flight. She took my details so that one of the Virgin customer services team could contact me about my feedback. I also sent an email to customer service, but I never heard anything back. Perhaps like the cabin crew they were also swept off their feet?
Unfortunately, the journey left us with a feeling of indifference, and will likely deter us from from travelling Virgin Upper Class again unless there is a great sale or offer on. Having travelled on other business class products where we were made to feel special, the journey with Virgin was just OK and nothing to shout about. Do you have a different experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments as we would love to be proven wrong!
Be aware of how busy the cabin gets for Virgin flights and don’t be afraid to ask for service. Competition flying from the UK to US is tough, so price is usually competitive.