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Disclosure: I had paid to fly in Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy cabin but, unbeknownst to me, the Virgin Atlantic PR team (who had kindly granted my request to view the Clubhouse at Heathrow T3) had placed me on the “space available” upgrade list and I was cleared into Upper Class at the gate. This very kind act has had no bearing on the review below.
It has been quite some time since I last flew with Virgin Atlantic and while my last experience in the airline’s Premium Economy cabin was very good, my feelings towards the older of the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class A330 cabins were less than positive. It would be interesting to see how I felt this time around.
Virgin Atlantic A330-300 Upper Class
Virgin Atlantic has a new Upper-Class product but, for the time being, that product is only available on the airline’s Airbus A350 aircraft so the cabin being reviewed here will be the cabin most flyers will find themselves in when they book Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class.
The A330 Upper Class cabin offers all-aisle access seating for all passengers but it does so with a configuration that not many other airlines use.
All the seats are angled forwards and the seats on either side of the cabin are angled away from the windows. This is not a cabin from which passengers are going to enjoy great views of the world below with any ease.
The seats have high walls between them and these are both a blessing and a curse.
The good thing about the high dividing walls is that passengers have a lot of privacy from those seated on either side of them…
…but the bad thing about them is that they give the seats a very narrow and claustrophobic feel.
Also, unless you’re seated on the left side of the aircraft, the seats angle you in such a way that you’re essentially staring at the passengers across the aisle from you every time you look up.
I’ve said this before but it’s no less true here than it was with the older Upper Class product, there’s a feel overcrowding in the cabin and there’s more than a little resemblance here to the horse stalls at the Kentucky Derby.
Storage is an issue too.
There’s a small shelf that can be deployed from the dividing wall close to where a passenger’s head would generally be…
….but it’s not big enough for more than a bottle of water.
There’s a small amount of space under the ottoman that sits ahead of the main seat…
…and then there’s the magazine rack that’s built into the sidewall:
There’s next to nowhere to store a book, cables, chargers, or anything else that a passenger may want close to hand during the flight. And if you want to use the magazine rack to store a tablet or laptop you then have to find somewhere to store the headphones that the airline provides.
This seat was either designed by a team who travel with almost no personal items at all or a team that has never set foot on an aircraft.
The bad news doesn’t really end there either.
The seat controls are basic…
…and there’s a very good reason for this. The seats can either recline a little or lie completely flat. There really isn’t much in between and that means it’s incredibly difficult to watch the IFE or your own entertainment (on a laptop or tablet) as you’re dropping off to sleep because you can’t really see the screens when you’re lying flat.
Amidst all of this negativity, I should point out that there are a couple of positive aspects too.
The tray table (which also deploys out of the sidewall) is a very good size, is solid, and has a broad range of movement towards and away from the passenger…
…and each seat has it’s own air-nozzles so passengers aren’t overly reliant on the cabin crew to keep them at their desired temperature.
The bedding for the seat is stored behind the seat itself…
…and helps turn the seat into a reasonably comfortable bed…but one that does have a certain coffin-like feel to it.
Upper Class Amenities
Waiting for me at my seat was a pair of headphones and a specialist toothpaste…
…which Virgin Atlantic was promoting:
An amenity kit together with the dining menu was also waiting for me when I boarded:
The amenity kit contained all the usual items that we’re used to finding in most Business Class cabins and it was neither good not bad – just average.
The in-flight entertainment screen is fixed into the seat’s sidewall…
…and deploys outwards so that it sits directly ahead of the seat…
….although not so much that you’re not still looking at your fellow passengers.
The headphone input and a USB port are built into the underside of the IFE screen…
…but if you’re looking for a proper power outlet (one that can charge a laptop) you’re going to find that a challenge.
I searched all around the seat for a universal power outlet and, when I finally decided that I clearly wasn’t observant enough to find it, I asked a passing flight attendant to help me out.
Unfortunately, the flight attendant was new to the cabin (or possibly the airline) so she had to go and ask a colleague where the power outlet was…and then returned with the news that there was no such thing on the aircraft.
I’m 99.9% sure this isn’t true but I have to hold my hand up and confess that I never found it. In hindsight, it may have been hidden under the seat.
The controller for the IFE and the overhead lights is housed, unsurprisingly, in the sidewall (along with absolutely everything else) and is attached by a retractable cable.
The entertainment on offer looked promising with lots of “boxsets”…
…but, upon closer examination, a lot of the TV series only offered 2 episodes:
And where some box sets listed 4 episodes it turned out that the second two episodes were just the first two episodes repeated!
If you want to know what Virgin Atlantic is showing right now here’s the webpage to check.
Virgin Atlantic offers Wi-Fi on this aircraft and it’s worth reading the instructions before you start as they tell you exactly what to do if (when!) the Wi-Fi portal doesn’t open up automatically on your laptop/tablet/phone screen.
The cost of 1-hour access was £6.99 (~$9)…
…while the cost for the entire flight was £20.99 (~$27) which strikes me as expensive.
Still, if you only need access to Wi-Fi for basic messaging, the £2.99 (~$3.90) “Messaging Pass” option looks pretty good.
If you want to keep in touch with friends and family (albeit without being able to share images of your trip) this sub-$4 option seems by far the best value.
Pre-departure beverages were served shortly after I boarded…
…and there was a further drinks service after we had leveled out.
Popcorn was served alongside the post-take-off drinks which made for a refreshing change from a bowl of nuts which is what you’ll find most other airlines offering.
The tray tables were prepared for lunch service a little over an hour into the flight and it quickly became apparent that anyone who wants to watch the IFE during the meal service has to have their screen deployed before the food is served – the screen is so close to the tray table that deployment is impossible while there’s anything on the table.
Here’s the menu that was on offer (click to enlarge):
For my starter I decised to choose something I wouldn’t ordinarily choose and I went with the cumin roasted cauliflower with asparagus, tomato, cucumber and minted yoghurt dressing.
It was fine, but the description sounded nicer than the actual dish (I should have chosen the prawns).
Still, the warm bread was very nice and I did better with my choice of main course.
I followed up the vegetarian cauliflower started with the most carnivorous option on the menu – braised beef with horseradish mashed potato, honey carrots, kale and Madeira sauce.
When it appeared in front of me I wasn’t wowed by the presentation and I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it…but it was great. The beef was flavorful and soft…and the mashed potato was delicious. I’d definitely order this again.
For dessert (or “pudding”) I chose the chocolate hazelnut tart with chocolate mendiant…
…and this was another good decision that I made. It didn’t taste fake (as some of the cheaper desserts that airlines serve will taste) and the only way I can think to describe it would be to say that it was very, very “chocolatey”…and that’s a good thing!
After the remnants of the dessert were taken away the flight attendants came through the cabin with a “cheese and port” trolly service.
There was a selection of three kinds of cheese on offer – Cotswold brie, Rutland red and Cropwell Bishop stilton…
…and all three went well with the chutney that accompanied them.
Lunch was served and cleared away very efficiently (something I always appreciate) and then, around 90 minutes before we landed, “Mile High Tea” was served.
The hot smoked salmon wrap was delicious and the salt beef roll was pretty good too but it was the scone, cream, and jam that I enjoyed the most.
Last But Not Least…
…I should really mention the Upper Class bar which sits between the Upper Class and Premium Economy cabins on the A330-300.
This is a space where Upper Class passengers are encouraged to mingle and enjoy a drink…
…and where you’ll find a few snacks laid out during the flight.
On the whole, I like the ideas of the onboard bar, and I think that it’s pretty cool that Virgin Atlantic persists with it despite the fact that none of its competitors (or partners) chooses to offer the same.
Sure, this isn’t in the same league as the bar you’ll find onboard the Qatar Airways A380…but then this isn’t an A380 and Qatar Airways doesn’t offer a bar on its A330’s.
It may be small but I like that the onboard bar is still a ‘thing’ on Virgin Atlantic flights.
- I hate the seat. I wanted to like it more than I liked it the last time I reviewed Virgin’s Upper Class cabin but I really, really didn’t. This is a woefully designed seat with next to no storage space, nowhere to put anything down and where everything feels compressed, confined and claustrophobic – BA’s Club World seat is better and I’ve been very clear in the past what I think of that.
- The Wi-Fi is expensive if you want to use it to its full capacity – $27 is just too much to charge for a full flight.
- The in-flight entertainment was well below what I’d expect of an airline like Virgin Atlantic. Yes, I don’t rely on airlines to entertain me so this didn’t really affect my flight, but anyone expecting to be able to immerse themselves in a season of their favorite show is going to be disappointed – 2 episodes per TV show is just poor.
- The crew were great…as always. Virgin Atlantic has a culture that allows its crews to be friendly and fun without being overly informal and I really like that. I’ve never encountered a Virgin Atlantic crew that didn’t appear to want to make my flight as comfortable as possible (regardless of the cabin I was flying in) and this crew were no different. Top marks to whatever team trains the crews!
- The food was, on the whole, very good. Leaving aside the cauliflower starter (my fault for choosing a vegetarian option) everything was flavorful and enjoyable to eat – I don’t expect more than that onboard an aircraft.
- The Wi-Fi messaging option is a nice touch and is an economical way to keep in contact with friends and family on the ground…especially on the longer west coast flights ($3.90 for 10+ hours of inflight messaging is very good value).
- I like the fact that Virgin Atlantic keeps offering a bar onboard its aircraft. This is something I associate with the airline going back decades and it’s nice to see some of the good things from the past still living on.
I really like Virgin Atlantic as an airline but the Upper Class seat that’s currently available on the majority of its aircraft is one of the worst Business Class seats I’ve reviewed.
Virgin Atlantic clearly knows how to offer great service and good food but there’s no way the current Business Class seat can compete with the majority of seats that you can now book across the Atlantic.
I can’t think of any reasonable way to sugarcoat this so here goes: The most commonly found Virgin Upper Class seat (it’s on the airline’s Dreamliners too) is truly terrible – the new A350 suites can’t be rolled out quickly enough.