Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. There's just no in between. Those that love one often passionately hate the other, and share a similar sentiment for anyone who disagrees. We've experience both airlines countless times, so we decided to join the ranks of reality television drama, confrontation and controversy; directly comparing Virgin Atlantic Upper Class against British Airways Club World. It's a heavyweight prize fight and let's be honest, business class is wonderful, we shouldn't complain, but we'll nitpick anyway for your amusement! As with all our reviews, we will break it all up into all the categories of a flight: check in, lounge, cabin and seat, food, bed, overall experience and arrival offerings. The winner?
Flying from London there is no contest, Virgin Atlantic offers a private wing, where a member of ground staff brings your boarding pass directly to your car while luggage porters take your bags out of the trunk. Flawless. Elsewhere, Virgin does a better job at separating and keeping their check in areas seemingly exclusive with solid branding and velvet ropes.
Winner: Virgin Atlantic
You just can't beat a Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, unless of course you are a top tier British Airways flyer. You'll find higher end champagne in British Airways Galleries First or Concorde lounges, but assuming you're not a top tier flyer of either program, and simply have lounge access based on your ticket, you'll find a more refined experience in Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, with waiter service, wide ranging complimentary food, craft cocktails mixed and delivered to your seat and more leisure space. The British Airways Galleries buffets are great, but sitting and relaxing is tough to beat. As a side tip, even though you won't find it anywhere, you can always request Taittinger champagne from a member of British Airways lounge staff.
Winner: Virgin Atlantic
In its upright position, the British Airways seat is far more comfortable, especially on the A380 and A318. The basic angle is more conducive to a relaxed slouch position someone may naturally find themselves in, and the legroom is substantial. On the other hand, not all British Airways Club World seats offer direct aisle access, a staple in today's business class world. Virgin Atlantic offers direct aisle access in every seat and a less "shared" experience for solo travelers aiming not to climb over limbs, though Virgin travelers still face staring at strangers if they don't select an A row seat. For (most) traveling together, it's nice to face each other on British Airways window and aisle seating combinations, a seamless way to chat. Assuming you can book a seat with direct aisle access, I'll give the upright seat a win for British Airways, which on a recent hour delay before take off was very comfortable. The Taittinger helps...
Winner: British Airways
Here comes the drama. Having any bed on a plane is brilliant, but there are a few basic considerations which separate British Airways and Virgin Atlantic's beds. British Airways supplies you with a pillow and duvet, with the seat requiring just a push of a button from the passenger to convert the seat into a bed without a single move. Virgin Atlantic's seat flips over, converting to a more official and comfortable "bed like" mattress but it requires physically standing up. If you're often in between wanting to sleep and work, British Airways give you more flexibility to pop up and down. For comfort however, Virgin Atlantic offer a slightly longer bed, which is arguably a bit softer. When you add in the seclusion factor , you'll likely prefer the privacy of a well selected Virgin Atlantic seat, like 9A or 10A on any aircraft, where you only face a divider, no faces in sight, unless you're able to select an Upper Deck 747 seat in British Airways Club World, which is a truly fantastic experience.
Solo Travel Winner: Virgin Atlantic
Couples Travel Winner: British Airways
In Flight Food + Drinks
Both carriers feature excellent, well sourced wine and food choices. Virgin Atlantic has an on board bar, which is very tough to contend against, creating real separation in the business class cabin and a very swanky setting, if not just a bit of novelty. If pressed, we tend to feel that we've had better, more memorable meals on British Airways, which focus on very bold flavors that hold up at altitude with less ability to smell and taste. A must at 30,000 feet. Couple that with the best wine I've ever had on a plane, The Carmel Road Pinot Noir, and I'm going to give British Airways a W here. If sitting at a bar on an airplane sounds like a thrilling, fun experience as a solo traveler, or a couple, you'd be right, and in this instance, you can't beat Virgin Atlantic for that. Food and drinks overall, British Airways though.
Winner: British Airways
Crew + Service
Laura correctly reminds me that business class is mostly about the bed. It's the main reason that those extra miles or dollars are justified. I do believe that service, and a feeling of exclusivity and luxury go a long way in further enhancing a flight. I've had hit or miss service with both airlines, but I've also had some of my happiest flying memories with them as well. It's for that reason I'm going to waive the Swiss flag of neutrality, thanking both airlines for continuing to create intelligent, service oriented and seasoned crews. I also just don't want either airline to spit in my food. I travel a lot!
Modern business class services are designed to maximize your time from check in, right up until the minute you yell "taxi". While both airlines excel in the air, Virgin Atlantic's ground services are truly world class, even compared to many first class offerings. The Upper Class Wing at Heathrow makes you feel like a true rockstar and the general aesthetic is unmatched in style. Without furtheir adieu, we're giving the win to Virgin Atlantic based on it's before and after the flight experience, and that everyone is guaranteed aisle access, plus...they have a bar on board. One exception, the Club World London City offering was the best flight we've ever had, so if you get to experience that, go for it. Close to call but Virgin Atlantic wins overall.