Dear Virgin Atlantic: Please Get Rid Of Your Onboard Bar

I sort of feel like the angry old man on his porch who is yelling at the kids playing outside his house. Actually, that’s exactly how I feel.

I just flew Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from London to San Francisco. I’ll have a full trip report soon, but overall I love Virgin Atlantic, and I think they blow British Airways away.

Their Clubhouses are probably the best business class lounges in the world, and even put British Airways’ Concorde Room to shame (which is their first class lounge).

Virgin-Atlantic-Clubhouse
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow

Virgin’s onboard service is fun and friendly, unlike British Airways, where I consistently feel like I’m inconveniencing the crew.

Anyway, I never thought I’d write this post, since I’m a huge fan of onboard bars. I love the bars on Emirates, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, etc.

Emirates-business-bar
Emirates onboard bar

Korean-Air-Bar
Korean Air onboard bar

Qatar-Airways-A380-First-Class-077
Qatar Airways onboard bar

The bar on Virgin Atlantic? Not so much. Not one bit. Why the hate for Virgin Atlantic’s onboard bar? There’s no curtain between the cabin and the bar, and when you’re seated three seats away from the bar, you almost feel like you’re seated in a pub.

Virgin-Upper

Even with eyeshades and earplugs, I wasn’t able to sleep.

Virgin-Bed

And I don’t think the people at the bar were being unreasonable. It’s a daytime flight, so realistically you can’t expect them to whisper. And you also can’t realistically expect them to be sober (which they sure as heck weren’t).

But still, the fact that Virgin Atlantic has no separation between the bar and the cabin — not even a curtain — blows my mind. Given that Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have wifi on the 747, getting some shut eye so I can work upon landing is a priority when flying them, but that’s not really possible.

Virgin-Atlantic-Bar

On the plus side, the conversation sure is every bit as interesting as you’d expect when you put five Brits and five Silicon Valley techies at a bar. One guy was bragging about how he has a Tesla and gives people rides through Lyft for a few hours every weekend to “delight” them, and makes $3,000 per month doing so. Hmmm…

Virgin-Atlantic-Bar-1

Anyway, I never thought I’d be the anti-bar person on a plane, but goodness. Virgin Atlantic, you may have done the onboard bar first, but at this point you also do it worst of any airline, in my opinion.

To those of you who are more frequent Virgin Atlantic flyers, have you ever experienced this problem? Of course I should have tried to book a seat further away from the bar, but I booked last minute, and that was all that was left.

Comments

  1. Stop being a party pooper Ben and join the fun. I love Virgin’s on-board bar. And the little mini-hamburgers they have as snacks.

  2. I don’t hate the bar, but then I never, ever, ever book a seat near it. The design/layout is awful on ALL their aircraft, I’ll grant you that, though.

  3. Was that the only seat available when you booked? Quick check of any of the seat websites would have made you aware of the issue.

  4. @ Ben — The whole problem with Virgin Atlantic is a complete lack of privacy in business class. I hate their cabin layouts, and generally avoid them.

  5. The bar is fine. It was a daytime flight. Don’t expect to get a lot of sleep, especially REM sleep. Man up, bro.

  6. Was that the only seat available? There are plenty of Airline seat websites that would have alerted you of this issue.

  7. Your hatred towards British Airways is pathetic. Have you ever wondered why they are a much more successful airline? Maybe it’s because they actually provide business travelers with what they want and don’t try to promote themselves towards the “airline bloggers”

  8. @Lucky – you need to take the good with the bad.

    To the point of your post, booking last minute has its share of perks (last minute award inventory opening up, greater flexibility in personal travel plans, etc.), but there are drawbacks too; chief among them, being stuck with whichever seat/s is/are left. Additionally, I think Virgin is deliberate in not having a curtain separate it from the rest of the cabin. This encourages a fun and lively atmosphere to permeate beyond the confines of the small bar area.

    To the larger point though, nothing is perfect. Even if something were perfect to you, there’d no doubt be others who’d disagree.

    So, as I said, you’ve got to take the good with the bad (or, more precisely, your perception of the good with the bad). And if something truly bothers you that much, then either don’t fly them or at least book sufficiently far enough in advance to secure a seat that’s further from the bar.

  9. Well, you’re the one who said it: You sound like the angry old man on the porch yelling at the kids. I love your blog, but you are sounding that way a bit more often. I understand that writing about a frustrating event can be a helpful way of venting, especially if you are alone and have nobody around to share your thoughts. But, just a thought here, you might think about sleeping on things before you hit “publish.” You can easily mention in your trip report that people who want to sleep on the flight should be aware of the noise that will be coming from the bar, and that they should take that into consideration when they decide whether to fly Virgin Atlantic. And IMHO, not the best idea to include pictures of people when you are making comments about their drinking etc.

  10. While I understand your preference for Virgin over BA, there are reasons that the former is a financial disaster and the latter is not. On board bars, massages, fancy lounges are all great perks, but none of them really matter to the frequent paying passenger. Frequency and price is pretty much it. Which is why BA packs so many more Business class seats onto its airplanes – because it can fill them.

  11. Ben,

    I flew VS 747 last year in upper class on the 747 from LHR-MIA. Their was a last minute plane swap from an a330 to a 747 so as you can imagine the flight was quiet empty. Being on the upper deck their are only 10 seats and the load was 7/10 so it basically felt like first class. Although the overhead bins are small they have a closet behind upper class they let you store your bags in and they have 2 bathrooms for only upper class on the upper deck. The service is also much better because you have 2 FAs serving a cabin of 10 people and because it is so sperared it is incredibly quiet and you still get access to the bar. As you said the bumer to the 747 is the wifi and that the power ports are so old and need a special converter. Did you ask for a converter on your flight or did you have one? The ones they gave me did not work.

  12. I understand the frustration! To have a flat bed and not be able to sleepi on a long flight sounds miserable to me. I have been considering VA next summer for the evening flight from DC in upper class precisely so that I would be able to get a bit of sleep. Does anyone have thoughts about whether that is reasonable? I am looking at VA because their availability is good.

  13. Lucky’s problem was the fact that he flew to LHR in the first place.
    I avoid anything British nowdays.
    Nothing good comes out it.
    And don’t even mention their stupid retarded APD.

  14. Somebody has a stick up their…or they need one. 🙂

    A curtain is a good suggestion, but removing a bar entirely is a little excessive.

    The lack of Wi-Fi excuse is weak. You knew that going into the flight.

    Call it like it is: you wanted sleep but the voices kept you awake.

  15. Wow, this is a new experience for me: I disagree qwith most of you and agree completely with Ben. If you’re not drinking along with them, there is nothing more unpleasant than a bunch of happy drinkers happily drinking.

    I want quiet more than anything in a premium cabin. Glad to have this warning about VS. To enjoy it, I have to:
    1. get a seat many rows away from the bar
    2. not book last minute (see #1)
    3. “man up”
    4. put on special pants or something
    5. do as the romans do
    etc. etc….

    No thanks.

  16. To be fair, VS does have a reputation in the UK as a “chav” airline (Americans might need to look this up), and it doesn’t surprise me that the seat/bar layout is so tacky.

  17. Not to be an apologist for BA and my sample size is small, but i have flown BA long haul in F on 2 round trips and found them to be wonderful on all 4 segments, great crews and good food in my view. Yes, the Concorde Room is overrated, but I have always had a good experience in their other lounges. On the other hand, i found Virgin Upper Class to be very disappointing.

  18. I’m a frequent VS flyer and don’t mind it at all. It’s part of VS’s culture and that was a dayflight! For most if not all the night/redeye flights I’ve flown on VS from JFK to LHR, the bar is almost always unused. Just thinking about it, all your flights on Emirates, Korean Air, and Qatar were in First Class, which meant the business class bar was either on another deck or simply far away from First class. 😉
    As for me, if I’m really tired, I can sleep despite any noise so I’m fine. I do wonder how you manage to sleep in a cabin if there’s at least one or two other passengers snoring? It wouldn’t bother me but I guess that’s why there are ear plugs in the amenity kits. Hopefully there were ear plugs in your VS amenity kit!

  19. Never flown Virgin Atlantic, but I LOVE British Airways! They always treat me like royalty when I fly First Class and they’re always on top of me! The minute I open my menu, they’re asking if they can get me something.

    I just flew BA on Sept. 22nd from LHR to ORD. Wonderful experience! OK, the cappuccino machine wasn’t working, but they made me a latte instead 😎 No big deal.

  20. You’re such a hypocrite. Had you been at the bar too, you would be raving about how good the atmosphere is with a complete disregard to your fellow passengers. Even the bar onboard other flights can get pretty noisy if you’re near the back.
    With regard to the content of conversation – I’ve found that whenever people try to make themselves look important, they’re usually just lying to themselves – in surprised you didn’t go up and say you’re in media *cough* blogger

  21. I’ve always found BA to be very professional and much better than VA. On VA I always find that the flight attendants were always trying to be over friendly whereas on BA they treat you like a professional. I guess you like the over friendliness because you’re so inclined, but in reality, most people like to have someone professional in the cabin, not someone they can bum later – though your last post did show that there is a market for that

  22. Like many posters above, man up dude. Or at least have better hearing protection/sleep with noise-cancelling headphones on. Curtains generally do more for physical separation than audio dampening.

    Lastly, international flight isn’t always perfection and rainbows, and yeah, you probably should have booked BA (!) instead.

  23. Sorry but yes you are whining. It was a day flight. Get real, no-one is going to tip-toe around you so you can get some shut eye. And yes you have posted before about being you loud through drink on flights and being asked to be quieter. Think about it.

  24. VS doesn’t have any A380s to put the bar somewhere else like EK, and neither do they bling everything in diamonds from nose to tail but the clubhouses should be a pretty strong hint they lean towards the social atmosphere over “professionalism” (stiff upper lip doesn’t mean professionalism to me, for the record).

    If you wanted to sleep you should have sat in premium towards the back or in economy towards the front. The engine noise would have drowned out the bar.

  25. I fly VS upper class frequently and most of the time the bar is empty. Last week I was also on the 747 in route to JFK and it was a bit more active and I probably spent the vast majority of my day time flight at the bar – most of the time just by myself. I definitely appreciate having a destination (besides my seat) on a flight. It also provides a great venue to chat with the crew. I think I’d have a less enjoyable time on VS without the bar… ps. I always just make sure to snag a seat in the nose of the 747.. that’s plenty of insulation! 🙂

  26. Would you feel the same way about Emirates and Qatar if you weren’t seated in first and were instead in business near the bar? What a whinge about absolutely nothing. Choose a seat further away next time.

  27. Interesting enough, since you didn’t want to use the onboard Bar it’s a bad idea to have one. You’re such a hypocrite! I can remember a dozen of your flight reports where you stayed drinking and getting drunk on the bar! Man up!!!!!

  28. Without question, worst seats in cabin are adjacent to the bar, which in reality is a glorified serving area. Flew VS once and doubt ever again. Very good in some areas, but appalling in others. I am fine with having a bar, but to the posts point, do it properly if you think it is a meaningful amenity.

  29. Jesus people, chill the hell out. It seems like people can’t let one post go by without bashing the guy. Are your lives that empty? Ben posts about a bad flight or something that bugs him…and he’s always complaining, he posts about his personal life….and he shouldn’t be since it’s not related to the blog, he posts about his travels and other daily musings….and he’s wasting time by not posting tricks on travel, he posts tricks on travel….and they are too tricky….he posts trip reports….and he only flys first or business!

    Ben piece of advice from someone that really has been reading you since the beginning. Now that you have people working the blog with you, have someone monitor and screen comments and delete all this negative garage. Shit I’ll do it for you for free just so I won’t have to see it on here!

  30. Ben

    Pls share yours thoughts on VAs fuel surcharge compared to BA. Is one substantially more than the other for premium cabins.

  31. Redeye = bar should be kept quiet. Daytime flight = Party away.

    Virgin Australia has a pretty similar bar setup and I can see how it would annoy nearby passengers. On my flight BNE-LAX last year, I had a seat in row 3 pretty close to the bar. There was a pretty good group at the bar having fun and I just joined them for the first 6 hours of the flight. Eventually the flight attendants cut us off and everyone went to sleep. I never would have thought that I’d be wishing a 13 hour flight was longer!

  32. @danny is right. Some very grumpy commentators here. I’ll share the comment monitoring workload with you.
    On the bar question – when you are in the mood, they are great. When not, the noise can be annoying. Only experienced Virgin Australia’s bar, and enjoyed it immensely. They do have a curtain, and I and party have been politely ‘shooshed’ by an FA on occasion.
    BA – never really had a good experience with them. Hard product in business is awfull, and service sometimes nonexistent. Once asked for another amenity kit for the 2nd leg of a long haul, and was told that I should have held on to my previous one. My partner swears that he will never travel with them again. I have a slightly softer view, but mainly because of their competitive pricing on SYD – LON flights.

  33. Thanks for the tip. I’m flying them next week ATL-LHR and wouldn’t have thought of this. Luckily, my seat assignment is near the front.

  34. I agree there needs to be a curtain but removing the bar, which is quintessential to the VS Upper experience, is an overreaction. If you’re sensitive to noise as I am, on a day-time flight or nighttime party flight, either book a seat away from the bar or book another flight.

  35. Sorry for PARTYING! You know the saying, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! This was on a 747? It sounds (hah) like the solution is to move the bar away from upper/business class and next to econoclass. This way, those in business who want to sleep, can sleep, and those in business who want to PARTY will only disturb the unwashed masses in econoclass! This will have the added bonus of incentivizing those econoclass passengers who can afford it to shell out for business class next time! I.e, a win for everyone!

  36. That’s probably how the people sitting at the back of EK J feel when you are carrying on in that bar and can safely retreat to the other end of the plane in your F cocoon … and plus the A380 is a much quieter plane so there is a lot less ambient noise to mask any sounds coming from the bar.

    VS has improved this somewhat on their newer planes. In the last row of Upper Class on the A330 and A340, you are similarly close to the bar, but there are cabin barriers and closets that separate you from it such that it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re “in” the bar as you seem to be here.

    There are also earplugs in the amenity kit, no?

  37. Lucky opines: “Virgin Atlantic, you may have done the onboard bar first”

    Um, not even close to being first. VS wasn’t even a Branson wet dream when I was enjoying upper deck bars on 747s on AA, CO, PA and UA to Hawaii in the late ’70s…

    Before my time (!), I am fairly certain there were bars on the PA clippers in the ’30s…

  38. I’m always happy to get an Upper Class bed, wherever it is, and Love VA

    However, as I’m prone to getting random headaches, whenever I travel I always take a moulded eye mask and silicone earplugs which have solved any light/noise issues – except for one Istanbul LHR flight with a nightmare 3 year old who screamed whenever he had to be strapped in his seat – fortunately short haul.

    Love the blog Lucky 😉

  39. I love flying VS and choose it for the fun atmosphere – I always pick a seat a couple of rows away from the bar but close enough that I can enjoy what’s going on. And on the times I’ve needed to sleep on an upper class day flight I’ve had enough champagne that this is never an issue 😉

  40. Wow, express an opinion and you’re told to man up. Why are the people saying that you should man up sound like serious drama queens?

  41. Virgin’s original bar layout (in the 90s) had it located in a separate area at the rear of the main-deck C cabin. It’s rear wall separated it from the cabin, and it was much more private, and quieter in the cabin.

    Along the way, they decided to sell seats in that space and reduced it to it’s now-ridiculous layout, where it’s more like a strip-mall than a bar.

    I used to love Virgin’s service, but mainly for the true restaurant style menu and meal service they would offer. Again, in the early 00’s, they reduced their meal service to tray-based, like all the other airlines, and offered it at one point in the flight rather than just whatever whenever you wanted it. So I stopped flying them mostly. (Plus the quality of food had suffered dramatically.) I think they were near on in bankruptcy at that time…

    But I agree, their Heathrow clubhouse is one of the best things in aviation, even to this day.

  42. Sorry, Ben, I am a big fan, but I’m with @mkcol – how could a curtain have possibly cut down on the noise?

  43. I’m surprised you were surprised…. Booking the seat next to the bar on a daytime flight? Duh…. If your primary objective was sleep, better parts of upper class to reserve a seat.

    Sorry, Virgin Atlantic should keep the bar.

  44. Wow, Ben! Since you already admitted it was a last minute booking and you were unable to book a better seat, it’s amazing to see all the bashers going off on you and throwing in some name calling into the mix for picking the seat near the bar. I do agree with the reader about not posting the picture of those at the bar unless they agreed to having their picture publicized. As this is your blog to inform readers on various flight travel issues, you have met your purpose in blogging about the onboard bar on Virgin Atlantic. However, seeing so many readers spouting their lecturing /negative remarks towards you seems a little inappropriate to me, unless this is the new standard of public discourse now.

  45. I learnt my lesson about ten years ago. Always, always choose a seat as far away as possible from the bar. You had the worst possible seat for someone who was not going to sit at the bar throughout the flight.

    It can be just a bad on a night flight as a day flight as there are always passengers who cannot sleep on-board planes.

    Mind you can be even worse for passengers in Premium Economy. The can hear the merriment from the bar area but cannot partake.

    No one now remembers the Upper Class therapist area anymore. Hearing the therapist rabbit on while chatting to constant stream of customers was not that good either.

  46. …this is why I will purposely connect through FRA or MUC or ZRH on LH or LX when traveling J from LHR. I have flown both BA and VS across the pond both ways and believe that the British airlines are not even close to the service as onboard the LH and LX’s of the world. I even buy separate tickets to FRA to connect on SQ to their JFK run. Apples to oranges.

  47. I don’t hate the bar, thought I have flown virgin Atlantic even since I was 3 and now I’m 34 and also I always sit in the quiet zone.

  48. Bill,when you said about moving the bar next to eco class those who cannot afford a different class will not have a good time

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