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I’m a long-time fan of Virgin Atlantic – I like the staff and I like the feeling that I get every time I fly with the airline – and I’ve always considered its Premium Economy cabin to be among the best in the sky. Its Upper Class cabins, however, I have always hated, so I was particularly excited when, back in 2019, Virgin announced a completely new Upper Class seat which it calls a “suite”.
Because something called COVID became a word all too familiar to all of us just a few months after Virgin Atlantic started offering the new Upper Class suite, it took a lot longer than I had hoped before I got to fly in the new cabin. Thankfully, earlier this year and after many cancellations and rebookings, I managed to make the most of an exceptionally good Business Class fare between London and Los Angeles to finally try out the new Virgin Atlantic product. I’m not embarrassed to say, I was very excited.
Late last year, Virgin Atlantic published some incredibly low Business Class fares for travel in 2021 and I managed to use one of those fares to finally try out the new Upper Class suite (I probably wouldn’t have persevered with the numerous cancellations and rebookings had the fare not been so amazing).
At £992 (~$1,327 at the time), this was (and still is) the cheapest transatlantic Business Class fare that I’ve ever booked for non-stop travel between London and Los Angeles.
Selecting Seats Before Departure
The screenshot above shows me assigned to seat 2K on both flights but by the time I was finally able to travel, Virgin Atlantic had matched my top-tier British Airways status to Virgin Flying Club Gold status and that opened up the option to select seats in row 1.
Because I had been keeping up with the reports from others who had managed to try out the new Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class cabin before me, I knew that the seats in row 1 offer a little more space than the rest of the seats in the Upper Class cabin, so 1K was the seat that ended up flying in.
At the time of this trip, Virgin Atlantic was still operating out of Heathrow Terminal 2 so with the airline now back at its home in Terminal 3, there’s not much to be gained from telling you what the check-in experience was like in great detail.
Suffice it to say that check-in was swift and that the lines were non-existent (one of the very few good things to come out of the pandemic).
Boarding was almost as swift as check-in and that was primarily because the flight was carrying just 43 passengers (12 of whom were traveling in Upper Class).
The Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class Cabin
Virgin’s A350 Upper Class cabin is set out in a 1-2-1 layout with the seats on either side of the aircraft angled towards the windows and the center seats angled towards the aisles. This is neither a herringbone nor reverse herringbone layout and is something that Virgin Atlantic came up with in conjunction with its seat designers and, supposedly, gives passengers more personal space.
As I mentioned towards the beginning of this review, the seats in row 1 are a little different from the rest of the seats in the A350’s Upper Class cabin and the two key differences are as follows:
Firstly, the regular Upper Class seats have a small footwell that’s built into the seat directly ahead…
…while the seats in row 1 have considerably more room:
Secondly (and less importantly), the regular Upper Class seats have an IFE screen that folds out of the seat that’s directly ahead…
…while the seats in row 1 have an IFE screen that “pops out” of the bulkhead that’s directly ahead:
From a comfort point of view, the seats in row 1 are the best seats in the cabin and for solo travelers, the seats in 1A and 1K are the ones to reserve.
Virgin Atlantic likes to call its new Business Class seats “Upper Class suites” and that’s because each seat comes with its own door…but it’s only a partial door. Anyone expecting a fully enclosed suite (as you’ll find on the Qatar Airways A350-1000) will probably be disappointed.
This was the view from 1K with the suite’s door open:
And this was the view when the door was “closed”:
I think we can all agree that this isn’t really a “suite”.
Dubious nomenclature aside, one of the first things that you’re likely to notice as you settle into your seat is that the new Upper Class seats have the same car-like seatbelts as, for example, some of the American Airlines Dreamliners.
The second thing that you’ll probably notice is that the seat doesn’t offer much storage space. In fact, for a seat as new as this one, the lack of storage space is unforgivable.
There’s a very shallow storage area secreted behind the seat’s table which will barely hold an iPad without its case (don’t be fooled by the water bottle in the third image – the left side of the storage space is slightly deeper than the rest of it).
There are two incredibly small shelves to one side of the seat which can’t hold much at all.
There’s a small pocket-like space under the window which looks like it may be of use…
…until you realize that it’s full of Virgin Atlantic paraphernalia.
And, finally, there’s the shelf by the window. This is useful as somewhere to place a phone while it’s charging, but not much use if you need to store things like a wallet, passport, or anything else that’s likely to get thrown around if (when) the aircraft hits a bit of turbulence.
Still, now that I’ve pointed out just how little storage space there is around the new Virgin Atlantic seat, I should also point out that this is still an improvement on the older Upper Class seat that you’ll find on Virgin’s Dreamliners which have next to no storage space at all. Those 787 seats are the very definition of an abomination.
Looking at everything else that the A350 Upper Class seat has to offer, the news is mostly good.
Overall, the seat itself is comfortable and well padded. It was easy enough to use the seat controls to get into a comfortable position when working, relaxing, reading, and when lying down (this was a daytime flight so I didn’t sleep).
In most seat positions, there was no feeling of being hemmed in or of being confined so this new Upper Class seat is a huge upgrade on the seats that are still offered on Virgin’s Dreamliners. The narrow footwell found at most of the seats, however, may be an issue.
In row 1 there’s more than enough room for a passenger’s legs and feet but the smaller footwells offered at all the other Upper Class seats may feel a little tight when the seat is in lie-flat mode. For daytime flights (like this one) that probably won’t be much of an issue, but it could be annoying for some when it comes time to sleep on a nighttime flight.
The dining table is large, well designed, and sturdy enough that it doesn’t flex too much when you lean on it to do some work.
An aspect of the table that I particularly liked was that because of the way the table folds out, a passenger has enough room to place an iPad on one side of the table while they enjoy a meal on the other – you can watch your own entertainment while you dine.
Another nice touch that the seat offers is that the armrest can be raised (if a passenger needs somewhere to rest an arm during the flight)…
…or it can be lowered to give a passenger more lateral space.
This can be particularly useful when the seat is in lie-flat “bed mode” as it gives a passenger noticeably more space in which to move and get comfortable when lying down.
The seat controls (built into the main shelf) are pretty basic and are more like the seat controls we’re used to seeing on older aircraft than the seat controls found on most other A350s.
The controls did their job well enough (although occasionally one of the buttons was a little stubborn), but they weren’t slick or smooth and they felt a little “clunky”.
When it comes to lighting, passengers are well catered for. There’s a small reading light built into the seat’s sidewall…
…and there are two further lights in the ceiling above the seat (next to the two air vents which are great at allowing a passenger to regulate the temperature around the seat).
Lastly, at least as far as the seat design goes, there’s the matter of the power outlets.
The seat’s main power outlet is easily accessed and completely unobstructed so even if you have a big and cumbersome charging brick (like the type that comes with the larger MacBooks), you won’t have an issue plugging in. It also comes with a separate USB port.
The seat also offers a second USB port located at the rear of the shelf so a passenger can charge up to three devices at once.
This second USB port is especially well-positioned to charge a device that a passenger may be resting on the shelf ahead of it.
Apart from the significant improvement in the Upper Class seats, the other big difference between Upper Class in the A350 and Upper Class on Virgin’s Dreamliners is that the bar area has been replaced by a space the airline calls “the Loft”.
The Loft divides the Upper Class cabin from the Premium Economy Cabin and as most passengers will board this aircraft from door 2, everyone will probably see it the moment they step onboard.
There’s no bar area in the Loft (although a snack basket was available on this flight and the crew will bring drinks to the Loft upon request) but it offers a large interactive flatscreen (which passengers are encouraged to play with) and there are outlets at the base of the sofas to allow visitors to the Loft to recharge devices that may be running out of power.
If you like to have somewhere to stand up, to stretch out, and to get away from your seat then the Loft will be somewhere that you’ll probably enjoy spending some time but as a place to meet fellow travelers, it’s not on a par with the bars on the A380s flown by Emirates and (at one time) by Qatar Airways and I don’t see it being a particularly suitable place to get any work done either. Once passenger numbers get back to normal, the traffic in and out of the Loft and the chatter of fellow passengers will not make it an environment that’s conducive to getting some work done.
Because this flight was taken during the pandemic, all passengers were given a sanitary kit at their seats (face mask, surface wipe, hand sanitizing gel, and disposal bag) as well as a Virgin Atlantic amenity kit in an eco-friendly bag.
As well as the bag in which they came, some of the contents of the amenity kit also showed signs of being a little more eco-friendly than the amenities that we’re used to seeing most airlines offering.
The contents themselves we’re pretty standard fare – socks, eye mask, pen, dental kit, earplugs, etc… etc…
Because this was a daytime flight only a large pillow – which was very comfortable – was offered as standard, with blankets only available upon request.
In-Flight Entertainment & Connectivity
The Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class cabin is the first long-haul Business Class cabin that I’ve flown in this century that doesn’t offer a remote control to go alongside the in-flight entertainment system (IFE). This is partly down to the fact that the touchscreen on this aircraft is so stunningly good that a remote is surplus to requirements, and partly down to the fact that smartphones and tablets can be paired to the entertainment system and used as remote controls.
Not only is the touchscreen aspect of the IFE system exceedingly good (it’s super responsive), but the picture quality is excellent too, and those things put together make this the best IFE screen that I’ve ever used.
As you’d expect, Virgin Atlantic offers hundreds of hours of movies, TV shows, and music for passengers to enjoy and if you’d like to know what’s playing on board right now, this is the Virgin Atlantic page for you.
When it comes to Wi-Fi, Virgin Atlantic offers 3 plans on its flights to Los Angeles. The plans can be purchased in British Pounds or in US Dollars, and there’s a lot to like here.
Firstly, at $26.95, Virgin’s full flight pass is considerably cheaper than the full flight passes offered by the likes of American Airlines and United Airlines (both of whom charge at least $35 for a flight of the same distance).
Secondly, the wi-fi on this flight was considerably more reliable than anything I’ve experienced across the Atlantic on a US carrier.
Thirdly, I love that passengers are given the option to be able to keep in touch with friends and family on the ground for just $3.95 for the entire flight. Neither United nor American offered anything similar when I flew with them on the same route earlier this year and this is a nice affordable option that most people should be able to use.
Note: If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge FX fees it’s worth checking to see which currency offers you the better deal as, often, Virgin’s exchange rates aren’t the same as the actual exchange rates on the day of travel.
Dining & Service
As I’ve come to expect when I fly with Virgin Atlantic, the crew was charming, courteous, friendly, and fun to be around. The flight attendants alone are often reason enough to fly with Virgin Atlantic and the service was as attentive as ever on this flight.
A bottle of water and the menu for the flight were handed to me as soon as I got to my seat.
A drink and some mini-pretzels were served soon after we leveled out.
My meal order was taken approximately 40 minutes after take-off and the main meal service began not too long thereafter.
The mozzarella salad was ok but the tomatoes were a bit hard. The roast salmon was very nice (well cooked) and although the couscous was a little dry, the sauce sorted that out. The lemon and coconut tart was good but nothing special.
Approximately halfway into the flight, the crew served a lattice pastry snack which doesn’t appear on the menu…
…and closer to the end of the flight, we were given a choice of “Mile High Tea”, a deli plate, or an Asian-style glass noodle salad.
I chose the Mile High Tea which continued along the same theme as all the food served onboard this flight by being perfectly ok but nothing that surpassed expectations.
- The lack of storage around the seat is disappointing and considering how new this seat is, it’s a little surprising.
- The limited room offered by the footwell at most of the Upper Class seats will probably mean that most people who don’t have small feet will find it challenging to get completely comfortable when the seat is in lie-flat mode. On a nighttime flight, this will be an issue.
- The crew was excellent – friendly, smiley, and efficient.
- The seat is well-padded and is very comfortable whether upright or reclined.
- The seat’s table is a very good size and is supported sufficiently well so it doesn’t keep flexing too much when pressure is applied (e.g. when a passenger is working).
- Having two USB ports is very nice and having the main power outlet situated in an easy-to-reach place and close to a table where devices can be left to charge is a good piece of design.
- The Wi-Fi worked well (the speeds were good), the tariffs were cheaper than a lot of the transatlantic competition, and the option to only pay for a text service is a very nice one to have.
- The inflight entertainment was no better or worse than the entertainment found on most major transatlantic carriers but the screen on which the entertainment is delivered is nothing short of fantastic – great picture quality and great sensitivity to touch.
The new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class suite on ther airline’s A350-1000 is a huge step up from the Upper Class seat offered on Virgin’s other aircraft and in many ways is a very good seat indeed. It isn’t, however, completely flawless and the narrow footwells and the lack of storage space around the seat are going to irritate quite a few people.
Overall, Virgin now has a product that can compete much more closely with all the other carriers that traverse the Atlantic but while it’s a product that beats the likes of the old BA Club World seat, Lufthansa’s Business Class seats, and even United’s Polaris seat, it’s still not as good as the Business Class seat found on the American Airlines and Air France 777s.
If flying directly between the US and the UK, I’d choose Virgin Atlantic over American Airlines in a heartbeat if I was flying a daytime flight but because the American Airlines 777 seat offers more storage space and more personal space, that’s the product that I’d choose if I was flying overnight and if getting a good night’s sleep was my primary concern.