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I flew Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class on the A340 several years ago, and then a couple of years ago flew Virgin Atlantic Upper Class on the A330, which features Virgin Atlantic’s new (but not necessarily better) product. So I was excited to finally try Upper Class on the 747-400.
Virgin Atlantic 19
London (LHR) – San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, September 29
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 23K (Upper Class/Business Class)
We boarded through the forward door, where we were greeted by two of the crew and pointed right towards our seats. The 44 Upper Class seats on the Virgin Atlantic 747 are located in three cabins — the nose, the cabin immediately behind it, and the forward half of the upper deck.
Ideally we would have snagged seats on the upper deck or in the nose, but we booked last minute, so only the cabin behind the nose was available.
I was able to snag a picture of Upper Class in the nose on the way in, though, which is in a 1-1 configuration. There are a total of 14 seats spread across four rows. It looked quite spacious towards the back of the cabin, and there is something special about sitting in the nose.
Behind that was the cabin we were seated in, which consisted of 20 seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration.
Virgin Atlantic has herringbone seats in business class throughout their fleet, which aren’t exactly cutting edge anymore. These seats have the advantage of being private, since you don’t have a “traditional” seatmate, but at the same time it also means you’re sort of awkwardly facing other passengers. Shoulder room is also somewhat limited.
Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class seats are definitely a bit past their prime in terms of the finishes — the TV screens are quite small, and the seats themselves are really starting to show their age.
Each seat has an ottoman, which can also double as a buddy seat, given that it has a seatbelt (that being said, foot space would be very limited if you had two people at one seat).
Underneath the ottoman was a storage compartment perfect for shoes or a small bag.
To the left of the seat were the basic seat controls, which allow you to recline your seat, put it in the upright position, or pull out the tray table (seat controls at this seat are very basic, as you can only push the seat forward or back — there are no other settings).
Then to the right of the seat are the buttons for placing the seat into the upright or bed position. Placing the bed in the seat position requires standing up, as the seat basically “folds over” to turn into a bed.
Underneath the entertainment screen was the controller for the entertainment, which I found sort of clunky and annoying to use. This is also where the headphone jack was located, as well as magazine rack.
Above that and to the right was a reading light as well as a small fold our drink tray. Given that it’s at shoulder level, I can’t even begin to imagine how often drinks have been accidentally spilled from it.
Below that was a small bottle of water.
One cool thing worth noting is that seats have individual air vents, which I find many US airlines don’t have. That’s pretty awesome, given how warm cabins on many European airlines tend to get during the flight.
My one concern was that I was seated just a few rows away from the Upper Class bar, which was located at the back of the second business class cabin.
Anyway, once settled in the flight attendant working my aisle came by to offer pre-departure beverages. I selected a glass of champagne. I’d say she was nice enough, though at the same time not as sassy, proactive, or fun-seeming as some of the Virgin Atlantic crews I’ve had over the years.
The crew was clearly quite busy during boarding, as passengers continued to trickle aboard.
I took the opportunity to look at the amenity kit, which had been on my ottoman since I boarded. It was a fairly nice kit, though nothing special.
There were also headphones waiting at my seat.
Virgin Atlantic offers pajamas on request on daytime flights, so I asked for a pair. It’s impressive that Virgin Atlantic offers them at all in business class (not many airlines do), though I find they’re made of a rather cheap material.
Anyway, at around 11:55AM the captain came on the PA to add his welcome aboard and inform us of our anticipated flight time of 10hr20min, which he thought would put us into San Francisco on time.
Shortly thereafter the cabin service supervisor, Tonya, came on the PA to add her welcome aboard. She seemed super sassy and fun, and I especially loved how she referred to the overhead bins as “hat racks.” Hah!
At 12:05PM we began our pushback with a completely full Upper Class cabin (best I could tell, at least), at which point the crew prepared for a manual safety demonstration, as I guess the video wasn’t working properly at the time.
We began our taxi to our departure runway at around 12:10PM. The taxi took quite a while, though fortunately there was plenty of fun traffic enroute, as we taxied past Terminal 3, and then eventually past British Airways’ Terminal 5.
By around 12:20PM we were in the takeoff queue for Runway 9R, and about 10 minutes later we were cleared for takeoff.
The 747 takeoff roll is always quite fun, and this flight was no exception. Soon enough we rotated, and had some great views of Terminal 4 on the climb out.
It was a gorgeous day in London (and had been an abnormally beautiful few days, for that matter), so the views were great. The downside to herringbone seats is that you really have to twist your neck to look at the window, since you otherwise face the aisle.
I was surprised by how quickly the seatbelt sign was turned off. Non-US airlines consistently turn the sign off faster than US airlines, but in this case it was off just six minutes after takeoff.
I started by browsing the airshow on the entertainment screen. Not only was the screen small, but I found that it had terrible glare.
I then browsed the entertainment selection, which was fine. It wasn’t as good as what you’d find on Emirates or Etihad, but was still solid.
I decided to watch an episode of “2 Broke Girls,” which I hadn’t yet seen.
After that I decided to watch a few episodes of “The Middle,” which I had on my iPad. The entertainment screen acted as a great “base” on which to rest the iPad.
About 30 minutes after takeoff hot towels were distributed.
Shortly thereafter Tonya came through the cabin to distribute menus and welcome each Upper Class passenger abroad. She was friendly, and clearly took pride in what she did.
I asked her where the power adapter was, and was informed that this plane was ancient, and didn’t even have a standard outlet. Instead they just had special outlets which required a further converter. The problem is that they don’t load enough of them for all passengers, and there were none left, despite asking at the beginning of the flight. About halfway through the flight a flight attendant finally brought me one. It’s ridiculous that in 2015 an airline like Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have standard power outlets on their planes.
Anyway, I browsed the menu after being presented it. The menu read as follows:
And the drink list read as follows:
I found service after takeoff to be really slow, as it was an hour into the flight before drink orders were taken. I ordered the raspberry and acai daiquiri, and a glass of water to go along with it. I was also offered some crisps.
After being served the drink, my meal order was taken. I requested a soup, appetizer, and main course. I didn’t think that was excessive, though was informed that they might not have enough, so I may have to choose between a soup and an appetizer. Alrighy then!
Again, service was exceptionally slow, and it was another 50 minutes — at this point almost two hours into the flight — before tables were set.
Virgin Atlantic does have very nice table settings, and I love the airplane-themed salt & pepper shakers.
A little over two hours into the flight I was served the soup and appetizer, as well as a roll from the bread basket. I had a glass of water and the Sicilian white wine (which was really sweet) to go along with it.
The soup was quite good for what it was (there’s not all that huge of a variance in the quality of leek & potato soup, in my experience).
The appetizer was excellent, especially the salmon and avocado.
For the main course I had the salmon fishcakes, which were tasty, though a bit dry. Fortunately they came with some dressing, which added a bit of flavor.
Tiffany’s niece had the chicken.
For dessert I had the bread pudding. I mean, what’s not to love?
After that the crew came around with a cheese cart, though I was full at that point.
While the meal service was slow to start, it was actually pretty quick once underway, as the meal was done in about 45 minutes. Service throughout the meal was fine. Ultimately the crew was friendly, though they weren’t especially charming or attentive.
At this point we were over Iceland, with a bit over seven hours to go to San Francisco.
There were a selection of snacks available, as well as quite a selection of liquor on display.
I decided to watch an episode of “Impractical Jokers,” which I used to watch quite frequently back in the day.
At that point I was a bit tired and wanted to sleep, so I made my own bed. In my experience Virgin crews will typically proactively offer turndown service, though it wasn’t explicitly offered in this case. I know I could have asked, though I’m perfectly capable of making my own bed, so it wasn’t a big deal.
The bed was quite comfortable, though it’s not the widest bed out there. As mentioned above, you literally have to flip the seat over in order to turn it into a bed, which also means there’s no way to slightly angle the seatback up, for those of us who prefer to sleep with our head a few degrees above our feet.
While I was hoping to sleep most of the way to San Francisco, that wasn’t meant to be, it would seem. After the meal the Upper Class bar was packed, and people were so loud. There’s no separation between the cabin and the bar, so even with earplugs I wasn’t able to sleep, they were so loud. But I won’t beat that topic to death, as I wrote about that experience shortly after the flight.
Since I couldn’t sleep I decided to browse the entertainment system. I decided to watch “Get Hard,” starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. It was hilarious, at least for an airplane movie.
About four hours out of San Francisco the crew came around the cabin to see if anyone wanted anything from the “Extra Bites” menu, which read as follows:
I figured I’d have the warm spinach and ricotta quiche. Within a minute of ordering it I was brought a cute table setting.
Literally a minute later I was served the quiche. I’m guessing they pre-heated all the options shortly before asking people if they wanted any. The quiche was quite good.
I also had a cappuccino, which was excellent.
I got some work done on my laptop for the next couple of hours, and then about 90 minutes before landing the crew performed the pre-arrival service, which consisted of afternoon tea.
The afternoon tea menu read as follows:
This service consisted of them rolling a cart through the aisle, and then each passenger would have a little layered tray filled at their seat.
On the top level was a scone (with jam and clotted cream) as well as sweets.
Then on the lower level were finger sandwiches.
Everything was tasty, though as far as afternoon tea services go, it was fairly simple.
About 30 minutes before landing the captain came on the PA to advise us of our landing time and thank us for flying Virgin Atlantic.
Shortly thereafter one of the crew came by and asked if I could take a survey about my experience on the flight. Best I could tell I was the only person in my cabin who was asked to complete the survey. I agreed to, though my rankings weren’t especially good (I ranked most things, including the service, as average).
The views as we flew down the Oregon and then California coast were beautiful.
Eventually we began our approach into San Francisco, whereby we flew past the airport, which made for some beautiful views.
We then circled back around and began our final approach for Runway 28R.
We had an extremely smooth touchdown there, and stopped with minimal reverse thrust.
We had to wait a moment to cross Runway 28L, and from there had a quick taxi to our arrival gate, past some Delta and Southwest planes.
We then pulled into our arrival gate next to an Emirates A380. Ahhhh!
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bottom line
All things considered I’m a huge fan of Virgin Atlantic, and far prefer the overall experience to flying British Airways.
That being said, this wasn’t my favorite flight on Virgin Atlantic:
- The crew on this flight was fine — they weren’t actively unfriendly, though also weren’t as engaged and “fun” as some of the better crews I’ve had on Virgin
- I think it’s ridiculous that Virgin’s 747s don’t have power ports… in 2015 that’s pretty unacceptable
- With so many airlines getting reverse herringbone seats nowadays, I think Virgin’s herringbone seats are a bit antiquated, though they’re fine for transatlantic flying
- The food in Upper Class was edible, though not especially memorable
Anyway, when you take into account the whole experience, including the ground experience, I think Virgin Atlantic is still one of the best ways to cross the Atlantic in business class.
If you’ve flown Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, what was your experience like?