Review: Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy


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I can’t remember the last time I flew with Virgin Atlantic and I’m not even sure if I’ve ever flown in the airline’s Premium Economy cabin before (if I have it wasn’t this century) but a great Amex Offer combined with a pretty good fare gave me the chance to try it out.

Planning

Joanna and I had been planning to visit New York for some time and we were still in the middle of making our plans when the travel Gods smiled down on us in two wonderful ways.

First Virgin Atlantic came out with some fantastic premium cabin fares for travel between London and New York and then Amex came out with an offer of $200 off a $1,000 spend with Delta…..and it doesn’t really get better than that.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic are partners so, whenever Virgin offers good fares, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to find them on Delta.com….and this time was no exception. My one concern was that as the fares were pricing up in British pounds this may somehow interfere with the Amex offer – but I was prepared to take the risk.

To balance out comfort and cost we decided to book Premium Economy seats for the outbound journey and Virgin Upper Class seats for the overnight return but, because the Amex Offer was loaded on to two separate credit cards, I had to book the two tickets separately:

Booking Virgin Atlantic flights through Delta

Using the exchange rate I got from my Amex Cards £1,320.45 converted to $1,716.98 and, once the Amex offer kicked in…..

…the price per person came down to $1,516.98…and for a premium cabin flight from/to London that isn’t bad at all.

Check-In

Virgin Atlantic flights depart from terminal 3 at Heathrow and the check-in desks are in area A of the terminal (on the far left as you look at the terminal from the outside).

Virgin Atlantic Heathrow T3

Things appeared to be a little chaotic at the check-in desks when we arrived as, although there weren’t that many people around, the were no obvious lines of people waiting to be chaeked-in…everyone was milling around.

Virgin Atlantic Heathrow T3 Check-In

The problem is that people can be very much like sheep in that they need to be corralled before they do what they’re supposed to do – and Virgin Atlantic didn’t have any lines or guide ropes marking out where everyone should stand.

In fairness, the staff on our side of the check-in desks were proactive in moving people around in an effort to balance out what lines were there….but I couldn’t help feeling that none of these staff would have been necessary if Virgin had just invested in some line ropes.

Despite the minor chaos check-in didn’t take too long and we were soon going through security and through to the other side.

Because neither of us have Virgin Atlantic or Delta status and we were only flying in Premium Economy we couldn’t access the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Terminal 3…..but this is where our Priority Pass memberships came in handy – we accessed the No.1 Traveller Lounge.

Link to No. 1 Traveller Lounge Heathrow Terminal 3 Review

Boarding & First Impressions

Joanna and I left the No.1 Traveller Lounge with plenty of time to spare as I had no idea what to expect with Virgin Atlantic boarding.

As I generally fly with oneworld airlines with which I have top-tier status I never really have to worry about long boarding lines…but for all I knew boarding with Virgin for those without status could be a zoo.

It wasn’t…at least not for us.

It turns out that Premium Economy passengers have use of the same lane (to enter the gate area) as Upper Class (Business Class) passengers and that’s very useful if you’re as allergic to long lines as I am.

The departure gate area had free magazines (Joanna’s the TFM expert here and she tells me it was a “good selection”) but, even though we had arrived at the gate 55 minutes before departure, boarding started almost as soon as we arrived.

There was an agent handing out bottles of water on the jetway as we boarded and soon we were inside and in the Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy cabin:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

The cabin is set out in a 2-3-2 layout so, if you’re traveling as a couple you’re definitely better off in the seats on the side of the aircraft.

Having said that, the three seats in the middle didn’t look too bad….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

….but our pair of seats was definitely a lot better:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

Each seat had a small pillow, a blanket and a pair of headphones on it when we boarded….

 Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

….and we hadn’t been seated for more than a couple of minutes before a friendly flight attendant offered us a choice of Prosecco or orange juice.

The headphones were pretty basic….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…the blanket was thin and the pillow was very similar to what I’ve had in American Airlines economy class cabins:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

The Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy seats are 21″ wide and offer 38″ of seat pitch (legroom)…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…..but the bit Joanna liked most was the foot rest……

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…which she tells me makes the journey a lot more comfortable, especially as these are adjustable to different heights. Personally I don’t see it…..but I’m not about to start an argument with Joanna over a footrest 🙂

15 mins before our scheduled departure time the flight attendants handed out menus (which I managed to lose before I got home – sorry!)

We pushed back almost on time and, after 20 minutes of taxiing around Heathrow, we took off.

Take off + 22 mins: The flight attendants served the cabin with alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks together with a bag of mini pretzels.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

At this point I noticed that Virgin offers connectivity for cell phones on its A330s….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

….and the airline leaves the billing up to the passenger’s network operator who will charge whatever roaming fees are appropriate for the phone plan the passenger is on.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

There was no option for wifi on this flight.

The seat controls are basic…but not quite as basic as you’ll find in Economy Class….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

….and the seats come with universal power ports (found at calf level between the two seats):

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

It was while taking the photo above that I noticed just how dirty the area under the seats was:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo but hopefully you can still see how disgusting that is.

I’m not sure if this was an aircraft that had just flown in that morning or if it had been sitting at Heathrow all night….but either way there’s no excuse for this level of filth.

Looking at that picture again it looks as if that dirt has been there a while so apparently BA isn’t the only UK airline with cleaning issues.

I tried to ignore the dirt inches from my legs and carried on looking around the seat.

The tray table comes out of the seat armrest rather than down from the seat back ahead…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…and it can open up as a half-table or a full table as seen below:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

We were seated in row 21 and had the best part of two full windows out of which to look….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…and that’s more than I’ve had in some Business Class seats I’ve been seated in.

Take off + 1 hr : The flight attendants brought around hot towels.

Take off + 1 hr 27 mins: Lunch was served with choice of red or white wine – Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz – and still or sparkling water.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

I ordered the Halloumi and quinoa meal…

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…..which, despite the quinoa being overcooked and the meal being too oily for my liking, wasnt as bad as that picture makes it look.

It was edible and ok.

Joanna ordered spicy chicken with beans in a tomato sauce with olives….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…and, despite appearances to the contrary, she said it was “very tasty with just the right amount of spice” but “if you don’t like spicy food don’t order it thinking it will be very mild”.

The salad that came with the meal wasn’t bad…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…..surprisingly the raw green beans and peas worked quite well.

The cheese and biscuits were good……

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…..and it was nice that Virgin offered spreadable cheese (rather than the rubbery block of fake cheddar you often find onboard). It was also nice to have 3 different types of cracker.

Dessert was a small piece of carrot cake which we both enjoyed.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

It has spices added in which gave it a warm Christmas-sy feel (I can’t think of any other way to describe it).

Take off + 1 hr 55 mins: The flight attendants cleared the remnants of lunch away very promptly (almost too promptly) but that’s better than a long wait with a pile of garbage sitting in front of you.

Take off + 2 hrs 7 mins: Tea/coffee mugs were brought around……

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…..and tea and coffee were served shortly afterwards.

Take off + 2 hrs 25 mins:  The flight attendants offered a choice of two after-dinner drinks – it looked like it could have been a liquor and a brandy but, as neither of us ordered a drink, I didn’t get a chance to check.

Now that the meal service was over I had time to see what the inflight entertainment was like.

The screen is positioned in the back of the seat in front….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…with a remote control, audio inputs and 2 USB points just below it:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

2 USB points is pretty good especially as, disgustingly dirty or not, the seat also offers a regular power port.

I found the touchscreen to be a bit random – sometimes pressing on a show or movie just scrolled the movie or show listings and sometimes I needed a few touches on the screen to get any kind of response at all.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

It got most annoying when I was pressing one part of the screen and an area an inch away was being selected.

Virgin Atlantic offers “over 300 hours of the latest and greatest award winning entertainment to choose from” and, to be fair, the selection of movies….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…and TV shows….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…weren’t bad….but, when it comes to TV shows, they could do with fewer titles and more episodes of each series.

Take off + 3 hrs 57 mins: The flight attendants handed out strawberry popsicles:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

Take off + 4 hrs 47 mins: More drinks were served (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic)

I knew that Virgin Atlantic offers snacks throughout the flight to its Premium Economy cabin but, with 3 hours of flight time left, there was no sign of them in the galley.

I asked one of the flight attendants about this who then promptly opened a drawer in the galley and took out a selection of crisps, nuts, popcorn, milk chocolate, biscotti……

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…..and “boost balls” as modelled by Joanna:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

Take off + 6 hrs 17 mins: The crew served “afternoon tea”

There was a choice of sandwiches on offer but the flight attendant in our aisle just handed us the first tray that came to her hand……so we had to ask for the sandwiches we wanted (not a big deal but I didn’t understand why she thought we didn’t want to choose)

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

The sandwiches weren’t big….but they were good….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

…and the mini cakes were delicious:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy

The scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam were also very nice.

Take off + 6 hrs 37 mins: The flight attendants collected the remnants of the afternoon tea service.

Take off + 7 hrs 42 mins: We landed at 2:35pm Eastern Time, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. 

Thoughts

Negatives:

  • The dirt around the power ports was truly disgusting
  • The pillow and blanket were pretty poor (no different from what I’ve had on American Airlines in Economy Class) and, while that doesn’t really matter on a daytime flight like this one, Virgin will offer the same on a night flight and the blanket is simply too thin to do any good at all.
  • The crew needed to be reminded to put out the snack in the galley –  not a big issue but if you’re going to advertise that you offer something then you should offer it.

Positives:

  • Being allowed to use the same line as Upper Class when entering the gate area at Heathrow is a big bonus and saves a lot of hanging around
  • The seats were comfortable and perfectly acceptable for a flight like this one – definitely noticeably more comfortable than Economy Class.
  • The crew were friendly (although not entirely efficient)
  • Despite what my pictures may show, the meals in general were pretty good – Joanna really liked her chicken dish and I thought the afternoon tea was pretty good.
  • The popsicle was a nice touch – I don’t think I’ve been offered one on a flight before.
  • Two USB ports are nice to have – phone and iPad can charge simultaneously without having to go anywhere near the main power ports.

Overall, and taking the dirt out of the equation (I have to assume that not all Virgin Atlantic aircraft are like this), this was a pretty solid experience. I’ve flown transatlantic Economy Class quite recently (admittedly on American Airlines) and this was quite a few levels above what you get there.

Would I book Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy again? Yes, I probably would….at the right price of course 🙂

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hey, thanks for this review. My husband and I are flying Premium Economy on an A330 in November. We’re excited — I’ve only ever flown Virgin Australia out of all the Virgin products. Should be a nice way to get to London.

    • Always good to hear a review is useful 🙂
      Hope you guys have a great flight – IMO Vigin Atlantic PE is the best cabin the airline offers so it should be ok for you.

      Safe travels.

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