In this post: Hide
- How I booked my Upper Class ticket
- Upper Class Wing check-in
- Boarding & takeoff
- Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class cabin & seats
- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class amenities
- Virgin Atlantic entertainment & Wi-Fi
- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lunch service
- Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class Bed
- Virgin Atlantic Loft
- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bathrooms
- Virgin Atlantic Upper Class service
On my way back from London, I took the opportunity to fly on Virgin’s much-hyped A330-900neo in Upper Class. The plane is nearly brand new and looks gorgeous in pictures, so I was excited to get on board and experience it for myself.
Sadly, I’m really disappointed. The suite is cramped and the cabin lacks thoughtful design. Though the food was good, there was little of it. And while the cabin crew was kind, the service was slow and disorganized, and the bathrooms were dirty throughout the flight.
Overall, I’ve had far more pleasant Atlantic crossings in older aircraft on less celebrated airlines–and, surprisingly (at least to me), I’d recommend the likes of British Airways, Swiss, Lufthansa, Condor, and others over this product, depending on the plane.
How I booked my Upper Class ticket
I took advantage of two separate promotions to book this ticket for an absolute steal: just 40,200 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles and, admittedly less of a steal, £626.51 (or about $800 at the time) in taxes and fees.
The first promotion I took advantage of was a 30% transfer bonus promotion from American Express to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club that ended in June. I then took advantage of the Flying Club award sale that ended on July 24th which allowed me to snag Upper Class tickets from London to Tampa for 40% off–40,200 miles instead of the usual 57,500. Because of the 30% transfer bonus, I used just 31,000 Membership Rewards points (which I converted to 40,200 Flying Club miles) on this redemption. Considering this flight retails for just over $6,200, that means I got more than 20 cents of value per Membership Reward point. That’s pretty incredible.
My flight details were as follows:
- Virgin Atlantic 129
- London Heathrow (LHR) – Tampa (TPA)
- Departure: 4:05 PM, July 24
- Arrival: 8:55 PM, July 24
- Scheduled Flight Time: 9h 50m
- Upper Class, Seat 2K
Upper Class Wing check-in
The Upper Class Wing is Virgin Atlantic’s dedicated check-in area for Upper Class passengers and was the most impressive (though brief) part of my Upper Class experience.
If you’re arriving at Heathrow by car, navigate to Terminal 3 and you’ll see a sign indicating a turn-off for the Upper Class Wing on your left where you’ll pull up to a barrier gate and ring a bell. An Upper Class Wing employee will then ask the driver for the passenger’s name before opening the gate.
Arriving at the Upper Class Wing is a bit lit arriving at a fancy hotel: the first thing you’ll see is a large traffic circle with an imposing lattice sphere hanging in the center.
As soon as my Uber pulled up at the curb, an employee came outside to greet me by name and wheel my bags inside to a silent, comfortably furnished check-in space.
Once inside, I was asked for my passport and then promptly given my ticket. The whole experience took less than five minutes and felt completely seamless and personal.
Unfortunately, the Upper Class Wing doesn’t have its own security, nor does it spit you out into the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which meant joining a security line and walking 10 minutes through a busy Heathrow to the lounge.
Boarding & takeoff
After a wonderful two hours in the Clubhouse, which I’ll write about in a separate post, I made my way to gate 21 and snapped a picture of the A330-900neo that would be making the 4,400-mile journey to Tampa.
I boarded and made my way to 2K. Shortly after taking my seat, the cabin crew came around with a tray of pre-departure drinks.
I opted for a glass of Chanoine Frères, which was pretty delicious.
As we taxied for takeoff, I enjoyed closeup views of British Airways’ mammoth (and dirty) A380.
Unsurprisingly given Heathrow has just two runways, we taxied for 40 minutes before beginning our takeoff roll, ascending into a characteristically cloudy London sky.
Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class cabin & seats
Virgin’s Upper Class cabin on the A330neo contains 32 seats laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration across eight rows.
Upon first entering, the cabin looks impressive. That’s partially because Virgin’s designers have done a great job choosing materials and decor but also because, more than any airline I’ve flown, they absolutely nail mood lighting. When I boarded, they were using what I can best describe as a sunset theme, with a soft golden glow lighting up the ceiling and purple illuminating the walls and windows. In tandem with brown leather seats and chrome accents, it looks pretty slick.
The window seats are staggered to economize space, which means that even-numbered seats are closer to the window while odd-numbered seats are closer to the aisle. I reserved an even-numbered seat, 2K, as soon as I booked, and I’d recommend anyone traveling alone do the same since it offers much better privacy.
The seat itself is on the narrower side–about 22 inches wide–but is well-padded and soft. They have a pitch (the distance from a point on one seat to the same point on the seat in front or behind it) of 46 inches, which is just about the least I’ve ever experienced in business class–and you can really feel it.
The first thing you’ll notice is a bright, crisp 17.3-inch touchscreen. It’s not particularly large, but the short distance between it and the passenger means it does the job.
To the left of the screen is a small coat hook.
Below the screen and coat hook is a footwell that I found very tight, which made sleeping comfortably difficult.
There are two things I like about this seat. The first, is that each window seat gets two individual airvents, which made sleeping a bit easier.
The second is that the designers included plenty of ways to charge devices, including a conveniently-placed universal power outlet, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C port, and a headphone jack, which you can find on the left side of the seat.
Just above those ports is a wireless charging mat. Unfortunately, whichever unit Virgin installed on their A330neos wouldn’t work with my iPhone or other passengers’ iPhones. The issue seems to be that the wireless charging unit Virgin has installed is underpowered, such that the iPhone’s camera bump, which prevents the phone from getting flush with the charging surface, means it can’t charge. I’ve owned multiple wireless charging mats and have never had this issue, so the problem here seems specific to the chargers onboard Virgin’s A330neos.
Above the ports and wireless charging mat is a small mirrored compartment, about eight inches tall and 6 inches wide, big enough for headphonea and little else.
Just next to this tiny compartment is a pop-out, brass-colored reading light.
Further to the left of the seat is a set of seat controls, as well as a Do Not Disturb button and seat lighting buttons.
Right below this set of controls is another set of buttons that, confusingly, seem entirely redundant as they essentially let you do the same things with lighting and your seats that the other controls do. My guess is that this is meant to be easier to access while the seat is fully flat, but I didn’t notice much difference in ease of access.
The tray table slides out from underneath the countertop to the side of the seat. It’s somewhat small by business class standards but does the job fine, though my biggest complaint is that it slants down depending on how much weight you put on it. That was annoying while working; typing on a slanted laptop is not optimal.
The final aspect of the seat worth mentioning is its door–a feature you’ll increasingly find on other airlines’ newest business class products. Unfortunately, unlike those products, specifically QSuites, the door here is too low to grant any sense of privacy–even the shortest folks walking by can easily see over the door. I found the only thing it really did was make an already cramped space feel more claustrophobic.
It’s probably obvious by now that I found this seat disappointing. Its only noteworthy achievement is its appearance–and until you actually sit in it for any significant time, it seems like a meaningful upgrade from Virgin’s other products. In reality, though, this seat isn’t particularly comfortable or well-designed for anything other than looking good in photos.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class amenities
Virgin Atlantic’s amenity kit, labeled “goodie bag,” is not very good at all. I appreciate the effort to create a sustainable case to hold amenities, but this black misnomer made from crinkly recycled paper felt designed for single use, and its zipper detached from the bag the third time I used it.
The contents of the amenity kit were better, comprising lip balm, hand cream, and face cream, as well as socks, a sleep mask, a pen, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and earplugs.
Virgin Atlantic entertainment & Wi-Fi
I found these IFE touch screens crisp and responsive. Though they’re just 17 inches large, they feel pretty immersive because they’re so close to the seat.
The entertainment selection was pretty expansive, with well over 100 movies and another 100 or so TV shows.
I also really like that this new system lets passengers connect their headphones via Bluetooth. It means I can finally use my AirPods on flights, and don’t have to worry about bringing clunky wired headphones with me.
Virgin does provide a pair of headphones, but they sounded tinny and were pretty uncomfortable.
Virgin’s A330-900neos are equipped with Viasat Wi-Fi, which is purportedly the fastest inflight Wi-Fi on the market (more on that later). The costs were as follows:
- One-hour pass: £5.99
- Full-flight pass: £18.99
With high hopes, I opted for the full-flight pass and for 90 minutes was pleasantly surprised by great download speeds. Annoyingly though, for the remaining seven or so hours, the connection was spotty at best. Around 70% of the time, I had no connection at all, and the other 30% of the time speeds were slow. I don’t think this was an issue with my laptop because the passenger behind me commented that she was having trouble connecting as well.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lunch service
About an hour after takeoff, flight attendants came around taking orders from menus we were provided during boarding and delivering drinks and potato chips.
You can check out pictures of the menu below.
Shortly before food arrived, my table was set with Virgin’s oblong placemat and trademark gold salt and pepper shakers. A tray with a warm roll and butter dish came a minute later.
I started with the hot smoked salmon. I found this a bit too salty, which I’ve found is often the case with hot smoked fish. Overall, though, it was a good dish.
For my main, I ordered cod with potatoes and peas. This was, hands down, the highlight of the flight and the best fish dish I’ve ever had on a plane.
After finishing my main, a good 45 minutes passed before my dessert, an apple and blackberry crumble, arrived. Though it didn’t look like much, it blew my socks off. Very well worth the wait.
Though the food on this flight was among the best (if not the best) I’ve had in business class, the portions were fairly small and I was hungry afterward. About two hours after finishing lunch I asked for the Indian vegetable platter off the pre-landing menu, but was told it wouldn’t be available until 40 minutes before landing. Pretty disappointing, but fortunately there were snacks at the back of the cabin to hold me over.
Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class Bed
About three hours into the flight, I decided to stop trying in vain to connect to the internet and instead to take a nap. As far as bedding, Virgin provides a thin duvet, mattress pad, and pillow, all of which are reasonably comfortable. The real obstacle to getting sound sleep is the footwell, which restricts foot movement to such an extent that I woke up every time I shifted positions.
Virgin Atlantic Loft
Between Upper Class and premium economy cabins is a social space Virgin calls “the Loft.” It contains bench seating for four passengers, as well as two large IFE screens to which passengers can sync their own headphones in order to watch content. There’s also a minifridge stocked with orange juice and sparkling water throughout the flight.
Of all the gimmicky cabin features I’ve come across over the years, the Loft stands a cut above. Virgin describes it as “a relaxing social area” that is “perfect to gather, chat, stretch out with a coffee, or even have a meeting,” but I think it’s supremely pointless, and I can’t figure out who in their right mind would want to use this space for anything other than waiting for the toilet.
For one, the benches are very high off the ground, so for anyone below six feet, sitting on them means your feet won’t touch the ground. You can get some sense of this from the promotional image that Virgin has on its website, in which models try painfully to appear relaxed despite their feet dangling awkwardly like marionette dolls.
Second, the benches are poorly padded and become uncomfortable after just a few minutes of sitting. Third, the Loft is un-strategically located between the lavatories, imbuing the area with the unmistakable scent of a recently-used toilet. Its proximity to the lavatories also means that people frequently walk through the area to get to the bathroom and, as you can see if you search for it in the first picture, occasionally track bits of toilet paper into the space.
I can’t imagine that Virgin did any serious user testing of the Loft before adding it to their A330neos. The only two rationales for its inclusion I can think of are that they a) look intriguing in promotional pictures (if you don’t look too closely) and b) function as a much-needed waiting area for the inevitable queues that form due to an inadequate number of lavatories.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bathrooms
There are just three bathrooms for a total of 78 passengers in Upper Class and premium economy. That’s one bathroom for every 26 passengers, probably the worst ratio I’ve ever seen in business class. The lack of lavatories meant that I had to wait in line every time I visited and that the bathrooms were constantly in use, and not particularly clean since flight attendants had little opportunity to tidy up. Perhaps more annoyingly–and if anyone designs planes disagrees with me here, please comment–it seems like Virgin could’ve easily fit at least one more lavatory in the cabin had they omitted the impressively useless Loft.
The only amenities provided in the lavatories are a hand wash and cream, both produced by the beauty brand Ren.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class service
Though the cabin crew were generally kind, they were mostly nonpresent throughout the flight. I frequently had to get up and go to the loft if I wanted a refill of water and my main course took around 45 minutes to be cleared after I finished.
I was also disappointed by the fact that flight attendants weren’t at all flexible with the pre-landing meal, insisting that it be served only 40 minutes before landing and not a minute earlier. To add insult to injury, despite having asked to be woken up for the email, I ended up sleeping through it and left the plane hungry.
All in all, this was one of the most disappointing new business products I’ve tried in a while. Its shortcomings ranged from a cramped seat to inadequate storage, not to mention dirty and over-trafficked restrooms, mediocre Wi-Fi connectivity, and scanty food options.
I realize that writing all this might make me come off as jaded and entitled. Just know that I feel extremely privileged to have been able to fly this product and that I’m bringing up these issues because I think people ought to know what they’re getting when they buy something–especially if they spend big on an Upper Class ticket.
The fact is, Virgin Atlantic’s A330-900neo has been given undue praise and its popularity puzzles me. It’s all style and no substance. Yes, it’s more comfortable than Virgin’s outdated 787 product, but if you’re crossing the Atlantic, I’d recommend Upper Class on the A350 (or any number of other business class products, for that matter) over the A330neo every day of the week.