Points Miles & Martinis contributor Nicky shares his thoughts on his flight from London-Heathrow to New York (JFK) in Upper Class. See his outbound flight review of Flight Review: Virgin Atlantic Premium JFK-LHR. This trip took place the end of 2019, as we’ve suspended our recent travel due to COVID-19.
In early 2019, Virgin Atlantic debuted the newest version of the Upper Class Suite for the A350-1000, which was delivered in August 2019. The brand new designed Upper Class Suite included more privacy, larger IFE screens, and most importantly, seats that face the window.
Check-in for Upper Class passengers is unlike any other business class check-in experience. Of course there are regular dedicated check-in desks but for those who travel to the airport via car service, you are invited to use the Upper Class Wing (Delta One customers are welcome to use this as well).
Once at the barrier, you will need to confirm your name, destination, and flight number. Your driver will head up the ramp where an agent is waiting for you. The agent assisted in opening the door where a porter takes your bags. The Upper Class Wing is more of a 5 star hotel lobby than an airport.
For other airlines, this service is usually reserved for first class passengers. With a quick swipe of the passport and confirming details, check-in is effortless and quick. After I was given my boarding pass, I was led to the dedicated security line (with no wait) and was in the main terminal in less than five minutes.
Once past security, I headed to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which is unlike any other business class lounge I’ve been to. It is the type of lounge you arrive at the airport extra early for. The design is very retro chic with ample seating and tables. Regardless of where you sit, passengers can order meals and drinks. I sat down in the restaurant area and had a full English breakfast, which tasted fresh and hot.
Guests have access to a full range of meals, cocktail and bar items, pool table, TV lounge, spa services (some treatments were complementary), and more.
There is a sky deck but due to winds, the deck was closed. The one annoying thing about the lounge is that attendants announce which flights are boarding, including Delta flights. After an hour in the lounge, it was time to head to the gate for Virgin Atlantic flight 137.
For boarding, there was a jet bridge for Upper Class passengers in the forward door. I was greeted by the head purser for the flight and she welcomed me on this brand new plane (this plane was the very first A350-1000 Virgin took delivery of). All the crew had a smile on their face and were eager to assist passengers.
The modern and spacious cabin did smell new and I was able to find my seat, 3K, easily. You will also notice the mood lighting effects, which is used throughout the flight. I was able to have an overhead locker to myself, where I found the blanket and mattress pad. Unlike Delta’s A350, Virgin kept the overhead lockers in the middle section.
Waiting at my seat was today’s menu, amenity kit, headphones, and a large pillow. Virgin has emphasized minimal single use plastics with the A350 so the kit, pillow, blanket and duvet were not packed in plastic. In fact, the amenity kit is made with sustainable materials and products like a bamboo toothbrush, eco-friendly lotions, and quality made socks.
The upgraded Upper Class Suite is a major step up compared to the previous generation. In one single cabin of 44 suites (between the first and second doors), these seats have more privacy with higher walls. There is no door unlike the Delta One Suite or the new British Airways Club World Suite rather a sliding screen to increase privacy.
Secondly, set up in a herringbone configuration, all seats face the windows, including the middle seats. In the previous generation, the seat did not allow for passengers to look out the window easily.
Lastly, converting the seat into a bed is more accessible as slides towards the windows rather than passengers having to get out and flip the seat into bed mode. Other improvements include a large 18in. HD touch screen IFE, mood lighting, additional power ports, shelves and large dining table. However, there still is limited storage space. Wi-Fi was available but did not seem to work, along with pairing a smartphone to control the IFE.
One flight attendant came by to take my coat to put in the closet and another one came to offer a welcome beverage (either water, orange juice, or champagne). Prior to leaving the gate, the flight attendant assigned to my aisle welcomed me and thanked me for flying Virgin.
Since this was a new plane, she described the functions of the Suite including a new seatbelt design, similar to a car seat belt sash, which had to be used for taxi, takeoff, and landing.
Once in the air, flight attendants prepared the cabin for meal service. Bottles of water were distributed along with first drink orders. I had one of the specialty cocktails, a passion fruit mojito, which came with some popcorn.
For today’s lunch, I started with a cumin roasted cauliflower served hot with asparagus, tomato, cucumber, and minted yogurt dressing along with ciabatta bread. A few days prior, I received an email to reserve my main meal, which would guarantee my choice. I selected a grilled salmon, which was confirmed by the flight attendant when she took my order. The salmon was very tasty and was seasoned well.
The last course, dessert, was a choice between a chocolate tart or a raspberry sponge pudding. I went with the pudding which was served warm with a cream sauce and just hit the sweet spot. One thing to mention is that there is no express option and service can be a bit slow, even though it’s three or four courses.
Once the meal service was completed, I watched a few movies on the huge IFE screen. I also turned the seat into the bed position with the provided duvet and blanket. After a nap, I decided to venture to The Loft area.
On the A350, Virgin decided not to put their famous bar rather a social seating area where passengers can sit and chat with fellow passengers and enjoy drinks and light snacks.
There is also a large flat screen TV screen that displays flight information in the loft. Passengers can watch a movie or TV show on the Loft screen and connect via Bluetooth but this was not used on this flight.
Another cool feature of this plane was drinks and food items could be ordered via the IFE system and either be sent to the seat or to The Loft. I tested this out and my drink was delivered by the time I was in The Loft. Also located in The Loft was a few bottles of water, fruit, and snacks to grab.
Around 90 minutes prior to landing, flight attendants came around for afternoon tea service. Virgin’s afternoon tea is created by Eric Lanlard for all cabin classes. In Upper Class, the tea service consisted of sandwiches with warm scones with jam and clotted cream, eclair, and a macaron.
There was an extensive tea offering but I went with a traditional earl grey tea. The afternoon tea was fantastic and quintessentially British with a Virgin twist. Soon after, the crew prepared the cabin for arrival. We landed in JFK earlier than expected and was at the gate in 15 minutes.
Overall, Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class is the best option for business class on the competitive NYC/London route. It is a major upgrade compared to the previous generation seat however there is room for improvement.
There could have been more storage space and the dining table is a bit large and does not allow for adjustment should passengers want to get up during meal service.
I also wished Virgin had the option to have an express meal service for those who want to get work done or rest. Service was remarkable and flight attendants were proud, fun, attentive, and professional.
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Have you flown Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to/from London before? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.