Review: Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class New York to London

Introduction
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York JFK Airport
Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class New York to London
Sheraton Edinburgh Grand Hotel & Spa
Exploring Edinburgh
British Airways Galleries Club Lounge Edinburgh Airport
Sheraton Prague Charles Square Hotel
Exploring Prague
ERSTE Premier Lounge Prague Airport
Czech Airlines Business Class Prague to Rome
Alitalia Business Class Lounge Rome Airport
Le Anfore Lounge Rome Airport
Alitalia A330 Magnifica Class (Business Class) Rome to Boston


Virgin Atlantic 10
New York (JFK) – London (LHR)
Sunday, December 29
Depart: 10:35PM
Arrive: 10:50AM (+1 day)
Duration: 7hr15min
Aircraft: Airbus A330
Seat: 8K (Upper Class)

I boarded through door 2L in a rather frazzled state after a layover at the Clubhouse that was perhaps a bit too much fun.

I was excited to finally try Virgin Atlantic’s A330, as it’s their only aircraft type featuring the New Upper Class Suite. Now to be clear I wasn’t actually convinced the new product would be better than the old product, though I did want the chance to compare them. I’ve tried the old product in the past, flying Upper Class from San Francisco to London and from London to New York.

Per SeatGuru, here’s Virgin Atlantic’s A330 Upper Class seatmap:

Virgin-Atlantic-A330-Seatmap

There are a total of 33 Upper Class Suites spread across nine rows. The seats are all in a herringbone configuration. It’s interesting that while they market this as “the New Upper Class Suite,” it’s actually a much tighter cabin than on the A340, for example. The A340 has just three seats per row. In a cabin that’s roughly the same size it has only 25 Upper Class Suites as opposed to the 34 found on the A330.

Virgin-Atlantic-A340-Seatmap

Anyway, on to the actual flight. We were among the last passengers aboard, and I took seat 8K, a window-side seat towards the back of the Upper Class cabin.

My first impression of the cabin was that it was damn sleek. Between the mood lighting and finishes of the seats I thought the cabin was gorgeous.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 New Upper Class cabin

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Virgin Atlantic A330 New Upper Class cabin

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class seat 8K

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class seat 8K

It’s interesting to note that the dividers between seats are see through, while they aren’t on the old product. I guess on one hand it makes the cabin feel a bit more spacious, but at the same time it also translates into less privacy.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class seat 8K divider

Most of the seat’s functions could be controlled from the right side of the seat. That’s where the headphone jacks, recline controls, and entertainment remote were located.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class entertainment controls

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class entertainment controls

That’s also where the power plug and USB adapter are.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class power plug and USB adapter

Each seat has an ottoman, and the cushion can be raised so that you can store some things in it. It’s not very deep, but you can fit books or magazines in there.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class ottoman

Waiting on the ottoman were the menu and amenity kit.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class menu and amenity kit

The amenity kit was fairly basic, not that you exactly need a fancy one for a sub-six hour flight to London.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class amenity kit contents

Within a few minutes of settling in the crew also distributed sleeper suits. It’s impressive that Virgin Atlantic distributes sleeper suits on such a short flight in business class, though for what it’s worth they’re not very high quality, so I ended up wearing the ones I had brought with me. It’s also worth noting that they run really small.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class sleeper suit

I was also offered a pair of headphones.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class headphones

Next the crew came around with pre-departure beverages. I just ordered a glass of water, while my friend had a glass of champagne. One minor design flaw of the seat is how small the drink tray is, especially since it doesn’t have any “edges,” so it’s very easy for drinks to fall off.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class pre-departure water

I do love the glass they serve champagne in.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class pre-departure champagne

Lastly the crew distributed landing forms and Fast Track cards for the UK.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class landing forms and Fast Track cards

So I have to say the crew on this flight was a bit disappointing. They were by no means rude, but just very indifferent. I tend to think the thing that sets Virgin Atlantic apart most of the time are their employees. The previous times I flew Upper Class a crew member came by, introduced themselves, and asked if I was familiar with the features of the seat. In this case there was none of that, and the crew just seemed to be going through “the motions” of doing the minimum necessary.

For what it’s worth I suspect this was a really senior crew by Virgin Atlantic standards. I guess that would make sense since they were working after Christmas and before New Years, so probably had those days off. For example, all the Upper Class flight attendants were males between 40 and 55 (I’d guess), which I realize doesn’t sound old by other airlines’ standards, but for Virgin Atlantic…

At around 11:40PM the captain came on the PA to add his welcome aboard and inform us of the flight time of 5hr50min. Despite departing over an hour late he anticipated we’d still arrive in London close to on schedule, given that the flight was blocked at 7hr15min.

We eventually began our pushback as the inflight manager made his welcome aboard announcement, informing us there were 12 crew and 225 passengers on the plane. Surprisingly the Upper Class cabin was full, even though a week out the cabin looked mostly empty. After the welcome aboard announcement the quirky safety video began to play.

Our taxi to runway 31L was short, and once there we were number three for takeoff. We were airborne at exactly midnight after one of the shortest takeoff rolls I’ve ever had on a “heavy” jet.

While the four across seating is ultimately fine, I have to say that it did feel a bit cramped compared to the A340, which features the old product.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class cabin

It’s awesome to be able to sit on the side of the A340 that faces a wall, since you’re not facing other passengers.

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Virgin Atlantic A340 Upper Class cabin

Our climb out of New York was smooth, and I took the opportunity to browse the entertainment selection.

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Views climbing out of New York

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class airshow

The selection was extensive, though I didn’t have much of an attention span and wanted to go to sleep fairly soon, so simply watched a couple of episodes of “2 Broke Girls.” I also discovered that this particular A330 featured wifi, which I decided to try out on my iPhone. The cost was £14.99 for 30mb of data, which is fairly expensive compared to what other airlines charge. The wifi was slow, though the 30mb lasted me throughout the flight since I was just using my phone.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class entertainment selection

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class entertainment selection

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class entertainment selection

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class entertainment selection

About 15 minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was switched off and the crew began their service, starting with distributing water bottles.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bottled water

I don’t envy the crews that work this sector. It’s not very hard work for the middle four hours of the flight, but the first and last hour of the flight are hectic as could be. Most passengers want to go straight to sleep, so the crew began by providing turndown service to passengers, which delayed the meal service a bit. About 40 minutes after takeoff the meal service began. The menu read as follows:

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class-27

The drink, wine, and tea lists read as follows:

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Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class-29

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Service eventually began with drinks. I ordered a Diet Coke, which was served with chips.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class drink with chips

As you can see based on the menu, the meal service on this flight is extremely abbreviated (which I think is perfectly reasonable). There’s simply a main course and dessert, and it seemed like very few people were eating even that.

I wasn’t actually hungry so only sampled the food, as I figured me passing out for 5hr50min wouldn’t make for much of a flight review.

For the main course I ordered the Thai vegetable curry. It was okay, certainly a bit on the bland side.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Thai vegetable curry main course

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Thai vegetable curry main course

Meanwhile my friend ordered the prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast, which he seemed to enjoy.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast main course

Then for dessert I ordered the honey cheese cake, which was fairly good.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class honey cheese cake dessert

After dinner I requested turndown service, at which point we were a bit over an hour into the flight.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class airshow

While the flight attendant was making my bed I quickly checked out the bar, which is located right behind the Upper Class cabin. Given what a late night flight it was there wasn’t anyone at it, though it was set up with snacks and drinks.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bar

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bar

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bar

It’s worth noting that the downside to the bed is that you have to “flip it over,” meaning you can’t recline into the fully flat position but rather have to stand up and hold the button till the back of the seat flips over. The issue with this is that it means there’s not really a setting between the “lounge” position and fully flat position.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class bed controls

On the plus side, the bedding was quite good, and I slept for a little more than two hours, before waking up just over two hours out of London.

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class bed

About 90 minutes before landing the crew offered me breakfast. Again I wasn’t hungry, but I ordered some food since I wanted to be able to review something on this flight.

The breakfast menu read as follows:

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I ordered the french toast, which was served with bacon. I had some orange juice and tea to accompany it.

The french toast wasn’t very good, not that I had very high expectations.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class french toast breakfast

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class airshow

About an hour prior to landing most passengers started to wake up, and the cabin quickly turned into a symphony of synchronized seat motors, as everyone put their seat back in the upright position.

It was a nice morning over the Atlantic, and I enjoyed the views despite how difficult it is to look out of the window due to the position of the seats.

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Views over the Atlantic

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Views over the Atlantic

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Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class cabin in the morning

About 30 minutes before landing the captain came on the PA to inform us that we’d be touching down at around 11:10AM, only about 20 minutes behind schedule.

Our approach was extremely turbulent, especially at lower altitudes. We were swaying back and forth, and the angled seats meant that you feel it even more. Despite the really rough approach we had a smooth-as-silk touchdown on runway 27L.

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Views on approach

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Views on approach

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Views on approach

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Views at Heathrow

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Views from the gate

At around 11:30AM we pulled into gate 22 at Terminal 3. We proceeded to immigration and then to the BA Galleries First Lounge for our connecting flight on British Airways to Edinburgh. For what it’s worth we could have — and probably should have — used the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge, which is nice and offers complementary spa treatments. But we decided to simplify our day and go straight to the British Airways departures lounge.

Bottom line

I do love Virgin Atlantic on the whole. However, I don’t love their new A330 Upper Class Suite, as I’d much rather fly one of their 747s in the nose or one of their A340s on the side of the aisle that faces a wall.

I also don’t think New York to London redeyes are very enjoyable regardless of which airline or cabin you’re flying. At under six hours there’s simply no time to enjoy the service and also get any rest. In general I do what I can to fly to Europe from the west coast, since you can get at least a semi-decent night of sleep.

This particular crew wasn’t one of Virgin Atlantic’s best. They weren’t actively rude, but they also didn’t really seem like they were interested in being there.

The Clubhouse at JFK was definitely the highlight of the Virgin Atlantic experience, given the great ambiance and most importantly the top notch staff.

Comments

  1. FlyingDoctorWu says

    Thanks for the review… I’m not eager to try the 4 across herringbone layout… Is there enough overhead space for the cabin given the lack of middle compartments?

    FDW

  2. Sean says

    It still seems like too much of a coffin to me. Also they don’t face the windows which is annoying. Supposing one wants a view of something other than feet?

  3. Jamie says

    Did the rough approach bother you? I mean, since the Royal Jordanian experience?
    Just asking because we hit the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced on our Christmas flight to England. (though it was quite short and I know rationally that it was nowhere near “severe”). That has has revived my fear of flying a little bit. Luckily I’ve been on a few more uneventful flights after that, so it’s still at the level where one drink is really all I need to relax enough. Just wondering what your experience was.

  4. says

    @ Jamie — Surprisingly enough it really didn’t. I have full confidence in Virgin Atlantic pilots. Sorry to hear about your rough experience!

  5. Patrick says

    That lack of window access really would be annoying. I love having a window seat but if you can’t look out the window, what’s the point of having them?

  6. THEsocalledfan says

    Wow, much nice lounge at JFK than the Alitalia Michelangelo Lounge…….Might have to redeem some skypesos for this.

  7. wwk5d says

    Dang, that is quite a bit of privacy sacrificed.

    Lucky, I think in the case of VS, if you’re flying out of New York, you may as well just eat an extremely full meal in the lounge and sleep right after take off. With an abbreviated dinner service, you’re really not missing much, and it seems the food in the lounge is much better anyway. This way you can gain an hour or 2 of sleep.

  8. says

    I really like the A340 as well, but I actually prefer the two-seater aisle. I felt that facing the wall made the flight feel extremely claustrophobic. The caveat to that statement was that the flight was nearly empty. The two seater aisle might feel cramped if you had to look at someone.

  9. Jeremy says

    @eminere haha good catch re the Titanic!

    Ben, after seeing this report I agree its a sexy cabin but I just can’t get onboard with the heringbone layout. Looks claustrophobic too close to others and makes traveling with a companion tough. Your point about the bed reminded me one reason why I always stuck with BA. Having no ability to recline 50% is a bummer, though I hear the comfort of the bed is good.

    Oh and I’m guessing the water picture was a callout to the brand, but I can’t understand why a business class cabin is serving waterbottles that probably go for $0.25 at Costco. BA does the same in even First! Evian should be the minimum standard. Even if its all marketing, still looks tacky for a $3000+ flight.

  10. Ivan Y says

    Perhaps seats work better in practice but they appear to be pretty tight. Seats facing away from windows work on this overnight flight but still… :(

  11. Dima says

    The seat configuration really doesn’t look nice. In some way it offers even less privacy than a coach seat :)

  12. Joeheg says

    The Virgin in-flight map displays a plethora of locations of Sunken Ships. I took a picture my last trip because after listing 3 or 4 of them, you’re starting to seem a bit preoccupied with the subject.

    We flew in upper class MCO-LGW on the 747 and MAN-MCO in the A330. I also preferred the 747 given we both had row 1 and it felt as if we were on a private jet.

    Given you don’t get the Virgin Clubhouse out of MCO (they contract the Sky Club), it was a nice flight and I think you’re the only Americans on the plane so immigration is a breeze.

  13. Anthony says

    I know the conventional wisdom is that you should try to fly first or business from NYC (or BOS or DCA) to London overnight so you can get some sleep. However to me it seems like it makes sense to fly these routes in coach after eating a big dinner on the ground. Get on the plane, put on headphones and sleep in a window seat. Hopefully then you get four or so hours of uninterrupted sleep. It seems better to fly the longer, daytime routes back from Europe in coach or business when you are more likely to be awake and taking advantage of the service

  14. Ed says

    I concur the A330 Virgin Upper Class looks great but can be a bit of a disapointment. Seats seems more cramped than the A340 (or maybe I am fatter!) but it’s the facing away from the window that really spoils it for me. The best thing about being in a plane is looking our the window and if your travelling with a friend or partner your out of luck. Don’t get the sense the cabin was designed by someone that loves flying.

  15. Claire says

    Is dinner served in semi-darkness if most of the cabin skips dinner and goes right to sleep? I’d find it eerie as the only one eating and in a quiet/dark cabin at that.

  16. nycflyer75 says

    @lucky – I booked a Skyteam flight returning back to JFK from CDG on AF to LHR to transfer onto VS (with a 5 hour layover) on the A330. Which Seat do you recommend? I was considering 8A. Do you think the noise from the Bar is a disturbance? Since reading your review I have decided to check out VS for the first time. I visited the Virgin Clubhouse at JFK, (flew on delta metal and Diamond Medallion free usage when flying to LHR) which is spectacular!!!

  17. Tom says

    Hi Lucky –

    For companion travelers, would you recommend being across the aisle from each other, or two in the center?

    Thanks,
    Tom

  18. says

    @ Tom — I’d definitely recommend window seats behind one another. That’s the closest you’ll be to sitting next to one another.

  19. Kyle McKenna says

    Alas, even aside from configuration issues these seats are just too cramped laterally. Definitely not on par with BA Business Class (Club World).. more like somewhere between premium economy and business. Not doing VA any favors imo

  20. simon says

    I am about to book and am toying with booking upper class. My quandaries is should I book premium economy instead and save the cash. Anyone had both experiences to compare

  21. says

    @ simon — Without knowing your financial situation, what the prices are, and which products you’ve flown, I think it’s really tough to provide an “educated” answer. Upper Class will of course be MUCH nicer than Premium Economy, though whether it’s worth the premium for a short flight is the question…

  22. JoeC says

    I flew Upper Class on VS11 from LHR to BOS having not flown Virgin for a few year. The cabin was very cramped and they boarded through the front and many people could not pull their luggage through since the isle is so narrow.

    It was a disappointment that the seats face away from the windows. The main problem with the seat is the foot rest which is not very big and being rather tall my foot stuck out and was knocked into several times when I was trying to sleep. There is less space than the old upper class and the seat is more narrow. Not sure by how much but it makes a difference.

    I prefer the BA bed but the Virgin food and service is much better and the Clubhouse amazing.

  23. Kyle McKenna says

    And yeah, an overnight to LHR from the East Coast is a pain. Too long to be easy, not long enough for a good night’s sleep (or anything close). Lucky people live on the Left Coast. I fly to midway points of origin like ORD or DFW just so I can get some sleep!

  24. Amy says

    Thank you SO much for posting your photos and comments, even when some parts of the report were not easy or convenient. We have traveled on the older VA Upper Class and found it to be wonderful. It was probably the 340 with the three seats across. It was Very roomy. Back in those days (maybe 2005), they offered a massage during the flight. (We flew during the day) We left out of NY and the breakfast in the club was fabulous. I never knew you could make eggs taste so good. The chef personally came out to take our order. The food on the flight was average or below, so I agree with one traveler that if you can eat in the club house and forgo the flight meals, you might be better off. We are traveling on one of these new planes and I am very concerned. My husband is over 6 foot and both of us are over 200 pounds. I don’t think VA likes overweight Americans. These new spaces certainly look claustrophobic. Based on what I have read, there is no ventilation, the bed is hard, there is definitely less room and little room for storage. The design does look very cool, but comfort was apparently not the goal. We plan to bring self inflating camping mattresses to compensate for the hard bed. Even an airline stewardess told me that might be a good idea. We have an 8 hour flight from Chicago to London, so hope to go to sleep fairly soon. We will take the advice of others and eat earlier and just get to bed. Hopefully, something safe will be available for breakfast. Too bad you can’t sit like a recliner. Some say once you have gone to bed, it’s really difficult to eat or drink anything. Even sitting up, the tray is not very well placed. Walking through the aisles is tight and you do tend to hit other people’s feet. Now, that’s annoying. I am also not crazy about having to look at the glare of televisions through the opaque glass. Guess you either tolerate it or wear you eye cover. Looks like it won’t be a completely comfortable trip. One other blogger said these designers much not have spent 9 hours sitting in them before the final design was made. Now, Virgin is stuck with them for awhile. Sorry they felt they had to add even more seats. Anyway you look at it, there are too many people in Upper Class in the amount of space given.

  25. Kyle McKenna says

    Ugh…just flew this configuration again, and for the last time I’m afraid. As JoeC says above, if you are tall your feet will stick out into the incredibly narrow aisle. Then, every single person who passes by, whether pax or cc, will bang into your feet and wake you up (if you’re lucky enough to be sleeping that is). This happened to me even though I tried to sleep with my legs bent at the knee. Hard to do in such cramped quarters. No way is this worth a premium price.

  26. Ryan Parsons says

    Have flown with VA UC a few times now. The center seats are shorter by 5 inches so if you’re tall, i suggest a window seat. I’m 6ft 3 in and the window seats are fine and long enough for me to stretch out in. One of the pro’s of the dream suite is that the bed is a lot softer and much more comfy to sleep in. The con’s are that they have squeezed more seats into a similar space. upstairs on the 747 is the best UC seat in my opinion. Good for the red eye flights where you just want to get straight to sleep.

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