Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. There's just no in between. Those that love one often hate the other.. and anyone that feels differently. After recent experiences on both airlines, I decided it was time 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 I really, truly do love both. As with my reviews, we will break it 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 exclusive. Outside of London it's a more fair fight.
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 a general member of either frequent flyer program, 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.
Winner: Virgin Atlantic
In its upright position, I find the British Airways seat far more comfortable, especially on the A380 and A318. The angle is more conducive to a relaxed slouch position and the legroom is substantial. On the other hand, not all British Airways Club World seats offer direct aisle access, a necessity 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 or stare at strangers (which can be fixed). For couples, it's nice to face each other on British Airways window and aisle seating combinations. 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. Taittinger helps...
Winner: British Airways
Here comes the drama. I think having any bed on a plane is brilliant. There are a few basic considerations which separate British Airways and Virgin Atlantic seats converted into a bed. 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. Virgin Atlantic's seat flips over, converting to a more "bed like" mattress, which is generally done by a member of the crew. Laura doesn't like waiting for the bed to be flipped or needing someone to do it, I don't mind so much. If you're often in between wanting to sleep and work British Airways give you more flexibility to pop up and down. As far as comfort goes, I truly enjoy both, giving Virgin Atlantic the nod for offering a slightly longer bed with more padding. If you enjoy seclusion, you'll likely prefer the privacy of a well selected Virgin Atlantic seat, like 9A or 10A, where you only face a divider, no faces in sight.
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 pressed, I tend to feel that I've had better, more memorable meals on British Airways. On our most recent flight there was a delicious mix of options, with inventive, restaurant inspired food and very bold flavors. 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!
However it is you've managed to fly in business class, it's a remarkable feat. Modern business class services are designed to maximize your time from check in, right up until the minute you yell "taxi". I don't think any airline, even many first class offerings, rival Virgin Atlantic's ground services. Their "business class lounges" offer full service meal options for everyone, their Upper Class Wing makes you feel like a rockstar and the general aesthetic is unmatched in style. British Airways has really impressed me of late with their on board food and beverages, and I do love being able to semi recline for movie time and then go full flat without assistance. I'm 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.