Virgin Atlantic has recently launched its new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on its headline London to JFK route. Boasting brand new Upper Class, premium economy and economy cabins, the new products have been much-anticipated. But is the new aircraft any good? I flew Upper Class on my outbound trip to New York, and economy on the return. In this review, I’ll focus on Upper Class.
I also filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 by Uber, and took advantage of the drive-up check-in Virgin have here. It’s marvelous, private, personal and without a doubt the finest airport check-in experience at Heathrow.
The Upper Class Wing continues from there with its own private security line. An excellent and hassle-free start to the day.
The Clubhouse is at Lounge complex H further into the terminal (yes, you do need to mix with the hoi polloi when passing the duty-free area I’m afraid!). I hadn’t used this lounge before but had read several rave reviews of it before.
It’s excellent. There’s a spa, hair salon, copious seating areas, a garden, a loft area, a sit-down restaurant… and more.
My 30 minute back neck and shoulder massage in the spa cost £35; a little under the going rate for London.
There’s also table service everywhere in the lounge, even outside the dining area; there’s no buffet which contributes to a sense of peace over “feeding time at the zoo”. All food items are complimentary.
The terrace/garden is outside on the roof and offers good views of the apron and northerly runway.
In summary, a faultless ground experience.
Boarding was through one of the furthest gates from the lounge. I was able to snap this nice shot of my aircraft, an Airbus A350-1000.
The seats are in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration and wow – what an improvement over the old product! I loved the choice of textures and finishes on the new seats.
Two things of note about the seat: firstly, the quality of the finishes betrayed some rushed or weak workmanship. See this rough join on the seat surround for an example:
Secondly, the seats now all face the window, but a storage console obscures one of the two windows adjacent to each seat. This was less annoying in practice than I had imagined, but it is still not ideal and will annoy those who value looking out of the window easily. On the flip side, there’s now a good amount of storage in these seats; the predecessor product was particularly weak in this area.
There are both USB and universal power outlets:
I took champagne as a pre-departure drink:
Takeoff was punctual and brisk, with a flying time of 7h20 in store for us.
Each seat in Upper Class comes with individual air vents – please take note, competing airlines!
One of the big selling points of this seat is the “privacy divider”. Not quite a door, it supposedly provides some additional privacy. It doesn’t, really. It’s just a few inches and doesn’t impact on the (in)ability of other passengers to see you. It’s still a decent reverse herringbone seat, all things considered.
The IFE screen is in HD and slides in and out of the seat in front – the choice was excellent, as you would expect from Virgin… there’s also a tail cam:
It’s been well-documented that Virgin have had problems with their factory-installed table. It’s far too big, and too close for comfort for many passengers. Some larger passengers simply can’t lower it! A big design flaw – but Virgin are retrofitting better ones, so they have acted fast on the feedback!
There’s good connectivity on board with a full flight WiFi bundle competitively proved at 26.95 USD. The speed was good and the connection was consistent.
Virgin’s food service was excellent onboard. Although the menu was the same as a recent Manchester-JFK 747 trip, I had the option to pre-order different choices.
I’m happy to report that even my second preferences were more than acceptable. The salmon was delicious and the prawns turned out nicer than the cumin cauliflower on my other trip.
I couldn’t help but order the raspberry sponge again, which was superb – great, uncomplicated comfort food!
Virgin has rolled out recyclable and sustainable amenity kits – so while they look rather cheap. They are, apparently, making a difference to waste and landfill footprint:
I then took a nap; the bed is good, the bedding better and there’s also a mattress topper which outshines most of the competition. I slept well for a few hours.
Service concluded with a fine afternoon tea with Eric Lanlard patisseries; way, way better than BA’s offering on this route and the yuzu macaron was exquisite – wow!
Behind my seat, 11A, was the Loft, a communal area for passengers in Upper Class which replaces the bar on predecessor aircraft – sorry, I didn’t manage to take a good picture! But it was hardly used and I didn’t see anyone stay there for more than a minute or two. Fresh fruit and snacks were available all flight in the Loft:
We landed half an hour ahead of schedule thanks to a favorable approach.
In summary, a fine experience with Virgin. Despite a few flaws, one of which is being rapidly fixed this is a competitive seat and soft product. All things being equal, with the new A350 on line, Virgin would be my preferred option to cross the Atlantic from London. Well done to Virgin and I look forward to many solid flights in the future.