Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York JFK Airport
Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class New York to London
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Virgin Atlantic 10
New York (JFK) – London (LHR)
Sunday, December 29
Arrive: 10:50AM (+1 day)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s also where the power plug and USB adapter are.
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.
Waiting on the ottoman were the 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.
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.
I was also offered a pair of 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.
I do love the glass they serve champagne in.
Lastly the crew distributed landing forms and Fast Track cards for the UK.
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.
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.
Our climb out of New York was smooth, and I took the opportunity to browse the entertainment selection.
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.
About 15 minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was switched off and the crew began their service, starting with distributing water bottles.
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:
The drink, wine, and tea lists read as follows:
Service eventually began with drinks. I ordered a Diet Coke, which was served 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.
Meanwhile my friend ordered the prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast, which he seemed to enjoy.
Then for dessert I ordered the honey cheese cake, which was fairly good.
After dinner I requested turndown service, at which point we were a bit over an hour into the flight.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.