Upper class now feels distinctively posh…
There are some flying experiences that aim to impress you from the word “go”. Not once you’re through security, or when you’ve arrived at your seat, but the very moment you arrive at the airport. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class has long aimed to offer this level of excitement, but for around 10 years, it’s been let down by one thing, and pretty much one thing only – old seats.
Travellers would always say that they love the feeling of flying Virgin, but the damned Upper Class seat just wasn’t quite up to its new, more modern peers, especially as airlines added doors and large entertainment screens. I just flew the new Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1000 in Upper Class, and it’s now one of the top tier business class experiences to be reckoned with, especially departing from London Heathrow. Perhaps the coolest feature? You can order anything off the menu digitally, to your seat or to the loft bar.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing London Heathrow
If you’re departing Heathrow, as tempting as mass transit may be, it’s hard to pass on taking a taxi, Uber or car service, just so you can enjoy the Upper Class Wing. Like a hotel lobby, hidden away from the main terminal this is the first “well, this is different” moment, where you’re greeted by name and presented with a boarding pass, while a porter grabs the luggage.
The Upper Class Wing an experience which would be fantastic in first class, and for an airline to deliver this level of personalisation in business class is superb. You don’t even need to book a slot in advance, so even if you take the train to Heathrow, you could always hail an Uber, just to experience this little bit of wow factor.
The Virgin Atlantic Heathrow T3 Clubhouse
Someone once said that if you’ve tired of New York, you’re tired of living. In my opinion, fi you’re tired of the Virgin Clubhouse, there’s something wrong with you. Perhaps it’s less quotable, but I’d say it’s equally true. If you really want more knowledge on all things spa, boozing and eating in the Clubhouse, here’s a separate review, but basically – it’s great.
I still adore the deli counter, the a-la carte waiter service from any seat in the lounge and of course, a seat at the bar. The fact that treatments are still free, including haircuts, and that they’re relatively easy and accessible to book is a lovely thing. I could spend hours here, and if its your first time, I suggest you do. They’ll let you know when it’s time to board, but just make sure you can still walk.
On Board Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 Upper Class
By design, Virgin Atlantic aims to razzle and dazzle from the moment of boarding, and in this case, it has largely succeeded. All passengers board through the second door of the aircraft, which gives a glimpse into the new Upper Class seats, the new “loft bar” and of course premium and economy.
What instantly impressed me on this plane, a la Qatar Airways, was the stunning cabin lights, which make everything look far more exciting than the dim off-white walls you find on most planes.
As to the new A350 Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite, where do you start? If you’re starting from the benchmark of the previous seat, it’s night and day, and probably day and night all over again.
If you are comparing the cabin to the current top 10 business class products, it’s firmly somewhere in the latter end of the top 5 when you include the entire ground and on board bar experience. Is the colour scheme funky? Totally, but I like something with a little spirit. It’s the Virgin way, right?
And yes, you can expect the new “goodie bags” on these flights, in addition to a nice new rose gold “ish” set of salt and peppers shakers, which aptly have pinched from Virgin Atlantic inscribed on the bottom. They are reusable, after all, so go for it – but do note that it’s best to empty the salt and pepper, otherwise your bag may forever be salty…
And where do you sit in the new A350 Upper Class? I’d say the best seats are without a doubt in row 1, which feature extra bed width and cubby space for your feet. If you’re tall, or wide – no judgement on that front- these seats will be extra forgiving and really are up there in the business class echelon.
If you are planning to hit the loft bar to catch up with friends or perhaps have your James Bond Casino Royale moment and order a “Vesper”, then Row 11 is nearest the bar, but surprisingly quiet and provides a quick escape upon landing through Door L2.
Every seat in between is great, and if you’re with someone and aren’t #avgeek enough to insist they sit in front or behind you in a window seat, middle seats G and D are definitely the choice for A350 Upper Class.
With the privacy screen, or door – whatever you want to call it – closed, noise nor neighbours are really much of a factor. The seats face just out from each other, but angle in a way that if you’d like to speak to your middle seat neighbour, it’s very easy.
Tech, Tech And More Tech Please
Don’t get me wrong, I love this seat on many merits, but it’s the tech initiatives which are pulling it ahead of similar products, which to non airline geeks are what we call “seats”. For starters, the new 18.5’’ HD screens, with HD tail and belly cameras are superb.
You can watch your IFE from gate to gate in every cabin, so I was able to watch a forward facing take off view from two angles. I heard a rumour Virgin paid extra for higher def cams, and i’d say it was probably worth it. Scratch that, it was definitely worth it.
— Gilbert Ott | GSTP ✈️🌴🌏 (@godsavethepoint) September 18, 2019
As to fabrics, colour schemes and material, the soft touches are design forward and the comfort and privacy are excellent, and amongst the top tiers in business class, with few exceptions. If the seat had a peer currently flying, it would be most similar to the lauded Cathay Pacific A350 seat, but with the addition of a semi closable privacy door, personal air vents, phone pairing and in app menu ordering, I’d say it’s more sophisticated.
Plus, with the Virgin lighting schemes, it looks far more distinctive than your average cabin. It’s like an old friend who got a Hollywood makeover and saw a good trainer. One of my favourite features? The water bottles you are given fit snugly under the gold and glass tray, creating a locker without a lock.
Another favourite? You can order anything from the menu using your in flight entertainment, and have it delivered to you at your seat – or at the “loft bar”. It’s super easy. You go into “food & drink”, select anything from the menu and choose where you want it delivered.
You’ll see the progress of the order, and with any luck – it’ll be with you very shortly. I tested it once, and it was tap to cheers in about 3 minutes. Much easier than using the dreaded -and crew hated – call button. Those days are over now, thankfully.
As to the essentials, there’s two USB ports, an AC power port, a personal reading light, two individual air vents and connectivity to pair your phone with the IFE on Virgin A350 Upper Class. On the right side, you can find the power port close to the window, about knee level out of sight, and the USB ports are where your armrest is. Just look for the gold accent colour and you’re getting closer.
You can’t yet use bluetooth headphones to listen to the audio outside of the loft bar, but you can use your phone to control the in-flight entertainment at your seat and flick between outside A350 HD tail cameras, TV dramas and knee slapping comedies, or just something boring and dry – depending on your taste.
With clear glass and gold lining, the water bottle and person storage space at eye level feels more like a boutique hotel bedside inspiration than an aircraft, which means a lot to me. When you add in the social space, which really was comfortable for numerous guests, I felt like this was not only a refined, but legitimately fun way to fly. I’m smiling, and not just because I stole the A350 napkin holder.
If there’s an initial gripe to be had with the new upper class suite, it would simply be the proximity of the large tray table to the body, and the lack of storage space during taxi, take-off and landing.
The tray swivels nicely allowing you space to eat on the side, but if you’re on a laptop and working away, you may need to do a few crunches or crash diet to ensure enough space if you’re reclined in the slightest. As I write this, I feel a need to hit a gym, fast. Fortunately, it sounds like these tray table cartridges are being swapped out, quickly on new deliveries as soon as the coming weeks.
Amongst business class seats, padding varies immensely, and this is one of the three best padded business class seats I’ve ever been in, full stop. That number goes even higher, when you add the new mattress topper. It’s firm, but thick enough to create real comfort and the leather brings some luxury. No jokes or puns here, please.
But all jokes aside, I had probably the best sleep I’ve had on a plane in years sitting in 1K, with the mattress topper and duvet set deployed. It’s like proper bedding.
In bed mode, the airline hit things out of the park by keeping the fitted topper concept it still uses on the older seats. It didn’t need to, but it developed a topper which I’d instantly compare to set used by American Airlines in first class from Casper, which fits over the headrest to ensure it stays put while you move around. It’s at least 3’’ thick and creates a fantastic sleeping surface.
The rest of the bedding is good too. No puns here either. I was pleasantly surprised at how wide and long the bed is fully reclined, which is extra welcomed news for anyone who used to stress about the previous shape of Upper Class seats.
Virgin Upper Class Food & Drinks
Virgin Atlantic offers Canard Duchene champagne in Upper Class, as well as three whites and three reds, plus the usual booze menu, cocktails, teas and all that good stuff.
I was particularly impressed with the Etna Rosso, which not only has excellent critical reviews from people who theoretically know about wine, but it also held an impressive price point for business class while winning lots of praise on the app Vivino, which I’d say is a more reliable indicator of wine drinking joy.
For food reviews, you’ve come to the wrong place. I aim to minimise my airplane food intake, but I found the yoghurt and cauliflower starter genuinely outstanding in the air. I then skipped ahead to the chocolate and hazelnut tart, which is a 100% recommendation. Rich chocolate, light texture and yummy hazelnuts.
I’m no Jay Rayner, but it’s great. The chances that you’ll get the same menu are slim, which is why this section is borderline pointless, but you’re here – so hey – why not. The afternoon tea from Eric Lanlard was the star of the show though. The passionfruit and yuzu macaron was ridiculously punchy and refreshing in air, and the salted caramel and chocolate eclair was all kids of wrong that felt so very right.
To reiterate, one thing that blew my mind grapes was the ordering system. The crew were proactive, and kind in the typical Virgin fashion I expect, but being able to order menu items or drink items via the app without any awkwardness in between formal meal or service times was a treat I look forward to over and over again, even if the crew doesn’t.
The New Virgin A350 Upper Class Loft Bar
“Where’s the bar” was one of the first statements I heard quite a few times as passengers spilled into the plane. As a previous stalwart of the old Virgin Atlantic bar set up on more occasions than I’d care to admit, I personally prefer the new setup.
The old Virgin Atlantic bar created the potential for awkward third wheel encounters, with limited seats all in a row. That, or people would actually try to make small talk, and as a fan of medium and above talk, I just wasn’t a fan.
The new loft bar allows two or three separate groups to each congregate, or solo travellers to relax and kick their feet up in a much more spacious and laid back setting. With the bluetooth pairing and the massive touchscreen, you can really go solo-dolo over there, or kick it with others. Plus, there’s USB and AC power ports under the seats.
The 8 bluetooth headphone connections mean you can screen a film, or host a silent disco – which is my big idea for it all – and there is a bar around the corner, where someone was always happy to shake up a cocktail. In my eyes, it’s a tremendous improvement.
To go from a seat which some travellers chose to avoid to a top 10 product, which I’d place in the top 5, given the incredible ground experience and on board bar Virgin Atlantic brings with it, this is a huge leap. I love seeing the latest connectivity, super HD screens and ample room to move around.
Is it better than the BA A350? I’d say the seat wins marginally thanks to the tech and the effort put into sleep, connectivity and relaxation comforts. It’s a tight call. But overall, the cabin really does win on ambiance, and the addition of a social space to stretch your legs out or chat is just such a welcomed feature, whereas there’s absolutely no space on the other.