Virgin Atlantic is one of four carriers flying on the competitive Delhi-London market. On a recent trip, Simple Flying had the chance to fly the airline’s premium economy offering on the Boeing 787-9. Here’s a comprehensive review of the seat, service, and if it’s worth the upgrade on your next trip!
My trip began at 01:30 AM local time at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) with check-in. I was flying Virgin’s only daily service from Delhi to London Heathrow, VS303, departing at 03:55 AM and landing at 08:00 AM sharp. Tonight’s flight was particularly packed since it was a Sunday night departure after Diwali weekend, with premium economy and upper class fully booked.
Despite the UK’s recent easing of entry requirements for travelers from India, document checks before check-in remain in place. Premium economy passengers have their own check-in queue. However, similar to my last flight, doc check remains chaotic, and it took me a minute to realize where the premium economy queue begins. Nonetheless, the process only took 15 minutes and was painless.
Sadly, Virgin has not integrated its document check with apps like IATA’s Travel Pass or VeriFLY on this route. This means agents have to scan Passenger Locator Forms and verify the details against vaccination certificates and passports. With restrictions here to stay, airlines should adopt this sooner than later.
After check-in was a quick stop at immigration. While premium economy is not usually entitled to use the business/first class lanes, I was waved through to the red-rope section by the agent. However, it’s unlikely that all travelers got the same privilege. It was a relatively light night at immigration, despite the busy 3 AM bank hour at IGI.
Roughly 20 minutes later, I was greeted by the maze of duty-free shops airside in Terminal 3. Premium economy passengers don’t get access to any lounges, but Priority Pass and select cards will get you into the same lounge used for Upper Class passengers on Virgin Atlantic (Plaza Premium). In good news for travelers, the open air Plaza Premium Lounge in T3 is open again!
Boarding commenced at 03:15 AM, so I had a little over an hour in the terminal. Flights to the US and UK require a secondary screening at Delhi, so all passengers must use select gates that are closed off. VS303 was departing from Gate 7A that night, which is about an 8-10 minute walk from the main atrium to the gates.
At the gate, you aren’t required to take out your electronics except those in your pockets. An X-Ray for the bags and a quick wanding are enough to allow travelers to access the aircraft. Boarding began on time, and I went directly from screening to the aircraft in five minutes.
Onboard the aircraft
The Boeing 787-9 is one of Virgin Atlantic’s most efficient long-haul aircraft and is used on all but its flagship routes (which see the A350). Onboard, Virgin’s 787 is a stunning aircraft with high ceilings, mood lighting, and modern interiors. The entire cabin is bathed in a signature purple hue from the intense mood lighting.
Premium economy is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration, offering generous legroom and wider seats than economy (a full 3.5″!). My seat for the red-eye hop was 22D, an aisle seat in the middle row of the cabin. While I had hoped to snag a window seat, all were occupied while selecting online.
Virgin’s premium economy closely resembles business class on domestic narrowbody aircraft globally. The recliner seats offer 38″ of pitch and 21″ of width, compared to 31″ and 17.5″ respectively in economy. Perhaps the most surprising feature in the seat was the 8″ recline, which was particularly important given the overnight service.
Despite being in the last row, there was still enough room to fully recline since the seat moves forward while reclining. Overall, the seats were comfortable to sleep in but more on that later. Here’s a look at the pair seats on either end of the cabin, which are perfect for any pair traveling together.
As the pandemic eases, Virgin has restored much of its onboard service. The flight began with a pre-departure drink, which included water, orange juice, and champagne. I opted for the orange juice, which was a nice start to the nine-hour flight across the continent. The cabin crew was cordial and tried to make service quick to maximize sleep.
Premium economy passengers all receive an amenity kit, pillow, blanket, and headphones on their seats (as seen in the photo above). The kit is the only thing exclusive to the cabin and is stocked with all the essentials. The bag is made of recycled paper and can be easily reused. Here’s a look at what’s inside.
The blanket did the job for the overnight flight but was just a bit short at times (it shouldn’t be a problem for most unless you’re taller than 6’2″!). The headphones were average and disappointing since they offered no noise reduction. Many in the cabin opted to use their own headphones instead if they were compatible.
However, the IFE did not disappoint. While the screen wasn’t the biggest, there was a good selection of movies, an interactive moving map, and a lot more. While there were only some episodes of all TV shows, there was more than enough to keep passengers occupied during the flight. The remote was a nice touch despite the screen not being too far from the seat.
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After a long taxi, we were off in the night sky toward London. There were two meal services on this flight, a snack and a full breakfast. Many passengers opted to skip the snack and sleep instead. I opted for the non-vegetarian snack, which consisted of a chicken pastry and a piece of chocolate cake. The cake came in a glass bowl and with metal cutlery, giving the meal a more premium touch.
The cake was filling and delicious, while the pastry was light yet tasty. Overall, it was a quick and substantial enough meal for a snack. The whole service took an hour and 30 minutes, a bit slower than hoped for a flight of this timing.
For those midnight hunger pangs, premium economy passengers have access to the snack wall behind the Upper Class cabin. Bags of crisps, popcorn, chocolates, drinks, and water were all offered throughout the flight. For anything else, the cabin crew was always available in the galley and by pressing the call button.
The flight ended with a breakfast meal service, served a full two hours before landing. The substantial meal of the flight consisted of an omelet, sausage, mushrooms, and sauteed potatoes for mains. The dish was served warm and tasted fine, with the potatoes particularly tasty and definitely the stand out of the meal. Alongside came some fruit, a muffin, and juice or tea or coffee.
Once again, everything was plated beautifully and definitely offered a premium experience.
Perhaps the most important part of any red-eye flight is sleep, and that’s why most travelers pay to upgrade to premium economy. In this department, Virgin Atlantic shines through. The 8″ recline was augmented by a footrest that deploys from the seat in front. The footrests had two settings, a ‘zero-G’ mode for sleep and a regular fold-out for lounging.
This proved to be highly comfortable, and I got five and a half hours of nearly uninterrupted sleep. The footrest and recline make for a cradle-style design and offer a substantially more comfortable experience than a standard economy seat.
Overall, Virgin Atlantic offers a compelling premium economy product on its Dreamliner. The seats are a major step up from economy and allow for uninterrupted sleep, while the service standards were those seen in Upper Class, especially with meal service. The only drawbacks were the lower quality headphones and the lack of space once the seat forward reclines. However, for an overnight flight with Virgin, I wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade if reasonable.
What do you think about Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy experience? Let us know in the comments!