Review: Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy (Airbus A330-300)


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Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy cabin is known for offering the widest seats you’ll find outside of a First or Business Class cabin and, combined with the airline’s reputation for friendly flight attendants, that’s what made this cabin an appealing choice for an overnight flight that I had to take between Washinton D.C. and London at a time when Business Class fares were sky-high.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy Cabin

The Virgin Atlantic A330’s Premium Economy cabin is set out in a 2-3-2 layout as shown by this screenshot from SeatGuru.com:

The A330 may be narrower than a number of other aircraft that also offer Premium Economy cabins, but the presence of just 3 seats in the center section rather than the 4 seats that you’ll find on, for example, the 747, gives this cabin a good feeling of space.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin

All the seats in the Premium Economy cabin offer an impressive 21″ of width (that’s more width than you’ll find in any other major transatlantic carrier’s Premium Economy cabin) and the standard seats offer 38″ of seat pitch (legroom).

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin

38″ can be considered the industry standard for Premium Economy seat pitch but you can enjoy more personal space if you’re able to snag one of the bulkhead seats.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin Bulkhead Seats (On One Side)
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin Bulkhead Seats (Center Section)

The bulkhead seats weren’t available to me when I booked this flight so I had chosen to sit in seat 21G (an aisle seat in a standard row) but, once boarding was complete and it was clear that there would be no one sitting in the center section bulkhead seats, I asked to move to row 20 where I got to see just how much legroom was available.

I’m almost exactly 6ft tall and this is how much legroom I had in the center section when I was seated upright…

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Center Bulkhead Legroom

…and this is how much legroom I had when I stretched out:

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Center Bulkhead Legroom

Most passengers will not need any more space than this.

All the standard Premium Economy cabin seats come with a small footrest that deploys from underneath the seat ahead…

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Footrest (Non-Bulkhead Seats)

…while passengers in the bulkhead seats are offered moveable stools which the crew stow in the overhead compartments.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Moveable Footstool (Bulkhead Seats)

The seats in the Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy cabin are very comfortable (the cushions are just the right balance between soft and hard) but they’re far from modern…as the controls will testify:

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Seat Controls

Still, the range of movement that the seat offers is still pretty good but it’s worth noting that the amount of recline it offers is only an inch more than is offered by the seats in the Economy Class cabin (7″ v 6″).

Regardless of which row you find yourself in, the tray tables are stowed in the seats’ armrests (so the tray tables don’t make one set of seats narrower than another as they do in a few other Premium Economy Cabins)…

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Tray Table

…and they deploy to offer a reasonably-sized area on which to work or dine.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Tray Table

Above all the seats are air vents that passengers can control manually (so there’s no over-reliance on the cabin crew to regulate the cabin temperature) as well as reading lights which can be switched on and off via the in-flight entertainment controller.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin

Cabin Thoughts

I’ve tried out a number of transatlantic Premium Economy products in the past few years and these are the most comfortable of the seats that I’ve flown in.

Yes, the seats are old and the mechanism used to operate them may be from the last century, but they offer a comfortable position in which to work and eat as well as comfortable positions in which to relax, watch movies, read or get some rest….and there isn’t much more than you can expect from a Premium Economy seat.

The amount of legroom on offer in the regular rows is fine – unspectacular, but fine – while the amount of legroom available in the bulkhead seats is impressive. When you combine that with the wonderful amount of lateral room that each passenger gets courtesy of the wide seats, this quickly becomes one of more comfortable non-First/Business Class cabins in which to fly.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Premium Economy IFE & Wi-Fi

In the non-bulkhead rows, the inflight entertainment (IFE) screen is built into the seat that’s directly ahead of the passenger with the controller (for the screen and the overheard lights) housed directly underneath.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

Below the controller, are two USB sockets and an array of audiovisual inputs that haven’t been of much use to anyone for the past decade.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

The screens are “touchscreens” but the ones that I tried out were poor at responding to my touch (I tried a variety of touches to see if that would make a difference…but it didn’t) so the controller is almost certainly the best way to navigate through the various movies, TV shows, and music choices that the airline offers (link to the current Virgin Atlantic IFE offering).

Passengers seated in the bulkhead seats will find that their IFE screens are locked in place under one of their armrests…

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

…and that they deploy to offer a slightly smaller screen than the screen the regular seats have (at least that’s the impression I got).

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

In the bulkhead seats, the USB ports and antiquated audiovisual inputs are found under the seat controls in one of the armrests (rather than under the screen)…

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

…while the IFE controller is embedded in the opposite armrest.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

The headphones offered in the Premium Economy cabin are a noticeable step up from anything normally seen offered in Economy Class, but they’re nothing special and shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement to the headphones most people already have at home.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Inflight Entertainment

Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus A330-300s come equipped with Wi-Fi which, as this was an overnight flight and I wanted to get some rest, I didn’t get to try out …but here’s the information provided by Virgin Atlantic:

And here’s what the pricing looks like:

The key takeaway from this is to make sure you don’t expect your device to automatically connect to a login page – on the A330 customers should navigate to airborne.gogoinflight.com.

IFE & Wi-Fi Thoughts

I can’t offer up an opinion on the quality of the Wi-Fi onboard this particular flight as I didn’t try it out but I can say the following:

  • I like the idea of the messaging pass option – a lot of people don’t need full access to the internet during a flight so this is an economical way to keep in touch with friends and family.
  • At £20.99 for a full flight pass, this isn’t a cheap wi-fi service…but at least Virgin Atlantic doesn’t change for Wi-Fi by the megabyte like a number of airlines do (e.g.Iberia).

Overall, the IFE hardware available in the Virgin Atlantic A330-300 isn’t great. The screens are old and, on this occasion, didn’t work very well without the control unit. Also, the headphones are pretty basic. I’m a big believer that passengers shouldn’t trust airlines to keep them entertained during a flight and, while Virgin’s content is perfectly ok, the frustration of dealing with poorly functioning or old equipment just reinforces that point.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Amenities

Virgin Atlantic supplies all Premium Economy passengers with an amenity kit, a pillow, and a blanket, all of which are usually placed on the cabin’s seats before passengers board.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Amenities

The pillow is only a small step up from what you can reasonably expect to find in an Economy Class cabin (it’s slightly larger but no denser) and the blanket is pretty thin….but at least it’s comfortable.

The amenity kit provides all the usual basics that are found in most Premium Economy amenity kits…

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Amenities
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Amenities

…but anyone expecting more will be disappointed.

Amenities Thoughts

There’s not much to get excited about here and the amenities on offer are only a small step up from Economy Class rather than a small step down from Business Class. To be fair to Virgin Atlantic, this is more or less what you’ll find offered in most transatlantic Premium Economy cabins so the airline is simply in step with the competition.

Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Dining & Service

Premium Economy passengers were offered a choice of water, orange juice, or sparkling wine before take-off and the latter was a little surprising as there wasn’t a sparkling wine on the Premium Economy drinks menu (as you’ll see momentarily).

More drinks were served after take-off (alongside a bag of mini-pretzels)…

…and the crew took meal orders almost as soon as this drinks service was completed.

Dining Menu – Click To Enlarge
Drinks Menu – Click To Enlarge

Dinner was served approximately 1 hour after take-off and, in my case, consisted of the following:

  • Starter – Caprese salad with mozzarella, tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Main – Beef stroganoff with wild rice and roasted Mediterranean vegetables
  • Dessert – Key Lime pie
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Dining
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Dining
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Dining
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Dining
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Dining

The stroganoff was very nice (hot and flavorful) while the rest of the meal was fine but not very memorable.

Brandy and liqueur were offered after dinner and, approximately 2 hours after take-off, the meal service was complete and the cabin lights were dimmed to allow passengers to rest.

Between the lights being dimmed and the lights being raised as we approached the UK, two flight attendants came through the cabin (quietly and unobtrusively) on at least two occasions to check if any passengers wanted water or juice.

Within 10 minutes of the cabins lights being raised, a “light breakfast” was served:

  • Croissant
  • Yogurt
  • Jam/jelly/marmalade
  • Juice
  • Tea/coffee
Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Breakfast

With this being one of the shorter transatlantic flights, the interval between dinner and breakfast isn’t particularly long so, assuming you eat before the cabin light dim, the light breakfast is sufficient.

Dining & Service Thoughts

The food and drinks on offer were fine if unremarkable but it’s probably unfair to expect much more out of a Premium Economy selection.

What stood out for me was the friendliness of the cabin crew and the effort they put in to offer a good service. Dinner was served with a smile and, at under an hour in length, the service was efficient (something that’s key on a short flight where there isn’t much time to get some sleep).

The fact that the flight attendants made sure they came through the cabin during the hours of darkness to check if anyone wanted a drink (twice) was a very nice touch and one that you’re unlikely to see on a number of other transatlantic carriers (I can’t remember the last time I saw an American Airlines flight attendant came through the cabin on one of my LA – London transatlantic flights…and that’s when I’m flying in Business Class!).

Overall, there was a very nice feel to the mood in the cabin and the flight attendants were obviously keen to make passengers comfortable and to provide as good a service as possible – it’s hard to ask for any more than that.

In Summary

Negatives

  • The IFE screens and controls aren’t very good – they’re old and in need of updating
  • The pillow on offer isn’t very good – too soft and not well packed at all

Positives

  • The crew were friendly, smiling and efficient
  • The seats (the regular seats and the bulkhead seats) were excellent for Premium Economy Class seats – good/excellent legroom and a lot of lateral space.

Bottom Line

Virgin Atlantic offers one of the better transatlantic Premium Economy products on the market and the two key drivers of this are the crews and the seats. The good news is that the crews appear to all have the same work ethos and ethic so you’ll find a similar attitude in most cabins and in most Virgin Atlantic aircraft. The bad news is that only some Virgin Atlantic aircraft offer a Premium Economy seat with an impressive width of 21″ – the A330-200s and the new A350s both offer Premium Economy Seats that are noticeably narrower – so if lateral space is important to you make sure you check which aircraft you’re likely to be flying as all are definitely not equal.

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