Virgin Atlantic: Upper Class A330
Flight: VS 46
Flight Route: LHR to SFO
Flight Time: 6 hrs 12 mins
Virgin Atlantic is the best trans-atlantic service...on a miles budget.
My Goal: Figure out a way to fly from US to LHR 22 times in 22 months on a budget.
Why such a complicated goal? My significant other was living in London for a period of time and I wanted to actually be the guy that invests in a long-distance relationship (note, she would need a Visa to come visit the US and as I love to fly and she does not, the equation was simple as to who was going to be traveling to see who more). Moving on, I was mainly flying out of SFO or JFK. Therefore, Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights out of both. So does BA, but fact is that miles redemption for Upper Class on VS was stronger than BA, not to mention that I enjoy VS’s service more than BA’s service. It is important to note that I do believe VS’s Upper Class is most similar to that of BA’s Club World rather than their first. Additionally, BA did not start operating the A380 service out of SFO until recently, VS has had the 787 service out of SFO since late 2014.
The above are from more marketing material from the airlines. Below are the pictures I took from my flight. What you can see is that the Virgin 'experience', which I talk about in almost all of my Virgin-based posts, is sexy. Straight. Up. Sexy.
Flight Review & Ratings
Everything below is on a 1-10 scale, to see my official ratings guidelines you can go here.
1. Quality of Seat: 6
The only gripe I have I have with Virgin is their seat layout choice. This has been a theme for a long-time with Virgin where they choose the herringbone based set-up (note, the only other carrier I have flown on that does this is Air New Zealand). The Virgin product is extremely sexy, everything from the lighting inside the plane to the seats, etc. It all works in their favor. It’s just the one glaring issue that when I am about to board a 12 hour flight that either I paid a hefty sum for or I used a good chunk of miles for, I don’t want to be in a seat that faces directly into another person’s seat. I may be harsh here but the product would be a 10 if they were reverse herringbone.
The one exception to this is if you snag a seat on the left hand-side of a 787 or A330 cabin. In the upper class layout those rows are actually facing the back of the middle section seat, meaning it is much more private.
Aside from the layout of the cabin, the seat is decent. On the newer flights they do have wifi and power ports. On the older flights they do not have power ports or a USB port, essentially leaving you powerless. Not awesome. That being said, Virgin is upgrading their fleet from the 747-400s & A340s to upgraded A330 configurations and fresh installs on their 787s and their newly ordered A350s.
2. Quality of Entertainment: 4
If I’m such a big Virgin fan, the first two ratings in this review may surprise you. Fact is, the entertainment selection is wide the issue however is with the size of the screen and how they charge for Wifi. The screen is significantly smaller than that of your competing AA’s 77W business class or even that of BA’s Club World. Additionally on the 747 or in this case the A340, the screen is old and the remote is pretty jenky from so much over-use. However, on the A330, the screens have been updated with Virgin's latest IFE, which features a touch screen and remote pad (in case you don't want to get those greasy fingers all over the screen, which can happen as Virgin does not serve mixed-nuts but chips as their amuse bouche after take-off.
3. Quality of In-Flight Food: 7
Virgin’s in-flight menu is actually quite good. In addition, they have a bar that you can sit at throughout the flight and have a selection of snacks or your choice of an adult beverage. Their wine menu happens to be fairly decent and they are quick to ‘top you up’ so despite the fact that most people would consider this ‘service’, which it is, the selection is very good.
4. Quality of Customer Service: 9
This is where Virgin Atlantic really shines. In their history they have typically not only been the first to market with several of their top ‘luxury services’, they are consistent in their ability to deliver excellent service. How do they do that? It’s part of their culture, you can thank Sir Richard Branson for that.
It all starts with the fact that you can be chauffeured to the airport in a private car from Virgin, which at LHR will take you to a private check-in area where you are totally secluded from the craziness of dealing with checking-in with the general public. Their lounges are also exquisite and I enjoy every single part of Virgin’s lounges, their food selection, drink selection, and lounge services are impeccable.
In-flight, there seems to usually be about an average ratio of 8:1 in Upper Class of flight attendants to actual passengers. Which I have found to be one of the best ratios in the business, but what really counts is how often they are walking the aisles. Whenever I fly Virgin they seem to be very attentive and always top-notch on the service front. Like I said, who doesn’t enjoy the frequent ‘top up’?
5. Quality of Fleet: 7
Virgin is really putting their best foot forward here. They predominantly flew 747-400s, A340s, and A330s during the 2000s, then they began upgrading their fleet starting with the A330s. Then when the 787 was introduced Virgin acquired several. Additionally, they have ordered 12 A350s so I’ll be anxiously awaiting their debut to see if they reconfigure the seats as referenced above in my post.
6. Flight Access and On-Time Reliability: 9
Virgin never seems to have an issue here, I’ve flown them countless times and cannot recall a single time there was a delay.
7. Lounge Access: 10
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in LHR is out of this world. It is not only extremely large but seems to have everything you may need to relax pre-flight.
8. Availability & Cost: 8
Virgin has notoriously been cheaper than other competing airlines like American or BA but as of recent their prices have gone up and are now around the same range as those carriers. As I cannot afford Upper Class out-of-pocket, this is where I really find value in Virgin Atlantic’s mileage program, flying club. Also, they allow you to upgrade with miles from multiple class of service, which I love. I’ve been in Economy several times and have used my miles to upgrade. That’s a fantastic use of miles in my opinion! They also seem to have fairly generous award space availability although in the recent months I have seen their more popular aircraft (787s) decline in award space, I am guessing because there is more of a demand from their standard customers on that specific equipment and therefore less award space. Either way, I’ve always been a huge fan of Virgin Atlantic’s mileage program and their award system.