Click the video above to see Virgin Atlantic Upper Class reviewed on a flight from Johannesburg to London.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Cabin
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is a bit strange in the airline world – it’s pitched by Virgin as sitting between traditional first class and business class. The good news for us is that they charge business class prices, and try to provide a service that’s close to their arch-rival British Airways’ First Class.
The seats are fantastic for solo travellers – everyone has direct aisle access, and they’re plenty long enough to stretch out when it’s turned in to a fully flat bed. You’re able to recline your seat before take-off, and although you face at an angle away from the window you can still easily see what’s going on.
It’s less good for couples and families – the fantastic privacy for solo travellers works against you, as you just can’t see your partner! Even if you go for seats facing each other, you can only see their feet. Virgin Atlantic have tried to mitigate this by setting up ‘couple dining’ where you can invite your partner to dine with you (and they sit on your footstool) but it’s nowhere near as good as British Airways’s business class double beds, let alone first class.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Check-In Experience
Virgin Atlantic offer complimentary limousines to their Upper Class passengers, and take advantage of this to streamline the check-in experience. The cars are tracked, so that when you arrive at the airport your car door is opened by a Virgin check-in agent who already knows who you are and has your boarding pass & baggage tags printed off.
The experience at London Heathrow is surprising stylish – and far better than any first class check-in area elsewhere at the airport, whereas in Johannesburg it’s far more perfunctory; it still works, but you’re in an underground car park! It’s still very impressive considering they have just a single daily flight.
We were soon in the shared lounge, called the SLOW lounge. This was great, with a large range of food, drink and magazines available – there was even a complimentary vending machine serving some great South African wines.
Onboard Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Cabin
There’s a great feeling onboard – everything seems fresh and clean, topped off with some purple mood lighting – which could best be described as funky! Champagne was brought round in some fun 60s style glasses, along with a pair of pyjamas. The crew also took orders for drinks to be served after take-off, which was a smart move – it meant they could get the drinks out quickly for this overnight flight, and it’s so simple it’s a shame more airlines don’t do this.
The seat was comfortable enough, but very similar to other airlines’ business class seats rather than first class. It worked quite differently to BA’s seats – you couldn’t recline it all the way to a flat bed whilst you sat in it. Instead, the seat flipped forward and the crew installed a mattress and comforter on it. The disadvantage of this is that you need to get up out of your seat, but the payoff seems to be worth it – it was a true flat bed, rather than the lumpy disjointed bed that BA have in their business class.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Food & Drink
Things were far more first-class like when it came to the food and drink. Virgin Atlantic take great care with the food and service, and should be applauded for clearly showing online what meal options you get with each flight. Like British Airways First Class, everyone’s table was set with silverware and a tablecloth before each course and drink was served by hand – no sign of a trolley here!
The menu wasn’t particularly ambitious, but that’s more than OK with us – better to deliver simple things fantastically well then complicated things poorly. The food was decent quality, and again there was intelligence around the service – you could pre-order your breakfast using a hotel-style room service menu, so the crew could let you sleep for as long as possible.
If you’re bored and having trouble sleeping, there’s an onboard bar where staff will happily serve you food and nibbles.
Virgin Atlantic Heathrow Clubhouse
The Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow used by Virgin Atlantic Upper Class passengers was absolutely amazing. It can only be used by passengers leaving London (so we used it on our return flight) but it would be remiss not to mention it here. It is one of the very best lounges in the world, with a fantastic set of customer-orientated staff.
It is ridiculous when you compare the professionalism and attitude of the staff, let alone the quality of the lounge furniture, spa services and food menu to the flagship British Airways Concorde Room lounge at Heathrow (which can only be used by first class passengers) – the gap is inexcusably huge. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse has a formal dining area, informal dining area, bar, and separate cocktail lounge – plus outdoor space as well. The only area in which the BA lounge is superior is the quality of the alcohol.
Best Seats in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
Pick your seats very carefully, as there’s a lot of variation. Avoid sitting near the bar (as it can be noisy) and pick the seats that face the back of the centre seats for maximum privacy and peace.
If you’re on a 747, go for the seats in the nose of the plane.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Conclusions
Virgin Atlantic might want Upper Class to rival the best first class cabins in the sky, but it falls short – the seat holds it back. When we look at the fares and see they’re they priced at a business class level, we can be more generous with our assessment.
The Upper Class seat is superior to British Airways’ Club World seat if you’re travelling solo – though if you have others with you, the BA is better as it is less private and doesn’t cut you off from everyone else. However, the ground experience on Virgin Atlantic is second to none with a limo service and some brilliant lounges; add in the fact that the Upper Class food is miles ahead of BA Club World and it makes a lot of sense for the solo business class traveller to pick Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.
Based on the quality of Upper Class, if a true Virgin Atlantic First Class cabin was introduced as a choice it’s safe to say we would be their first paying customers!
Want to see a BA First Class Review?
For a review of British Airways First Class on the A380, click here.
Want to see a BA A380 business class review?
For a review of British Airways A380 business class cabin, click here.