A handful of airlines operate morning departures from the northeastern US to London Heathrow Airport. On one of these morning departures, your author had the opportunity to fly a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for the first time.
As this was an early morning departure, I arrived at T4 at New York JFK shortly before boarding. Security, especially with Clear and TSA PreCheck, was pretty seamless.
This morning’s flight was operated by an Airbus A350-1000, the extended variant of the aircraft. This airframe, registered as G-VDOT, actually served as a test run for Airbus from 2017 until delivery to Virgin in September 2020, which is a great trivia fact for any #AvGeek.
Virgin operates the A350-1000 in two variants. This version has 335 seats, including 44 in the upper class and 56 in the premium economy class, making it a very luxurious widebody.
Dedicated to the 8D seat in the center section, I was pleased to see the overhead bins and air vents above the seats. Neither is guaranteed in the midsection of the new planes, so I was happy to see Virgin pick them both.
The overall interior design is unique and out of the ordinary cute designs Many airlines choose these days. The glossy white has held up well on many surfaces thus far, but only time will tell if this holds true in the long run.
While Virgin calls this seat a “suite” because it has a door, the seat is a lot private without the door, so I didn’t bother extending it.
With five different buttons that control the movement of the seat—three of which perform different movements depending on whether it’s pressed up or down—I’ve never learned the mechanics of a seat to get into a completely comfortable position.
I liked the fact that the seat features IFE media controls for common functions like play and pause, as well as volume control.
The IFE monitor, mounted in the side of the front seat and deployed at the push of a button, was large and high-resolution. The custom interface and movie descriptions fit the Virgin brand well, and I had no trouble finding something to watch.
Unfortunately, the system only unlocked after boot up, so I couldn’t enjoy the rear camera until we were almost above the clouds. The system control option with my phone resulted in a 404 error message.
In-flight Wi-Fi, powered by the Inmarsat Global Xpress satellite network, was also available shortly after takeoff, with a $3.95 messaging plan, $8.95 hourly plan and $26.95 full flight plan on offer. Unfortunately, video streaming services are explicitly banned in subscription streaming, which is disappointing given the price points.
Connectivity was able to support email, messaging, and browsing, but it never felt so fast. Many Tweets with images failed to send after long pauses when uploading.
Breakfast is a tough meal for airlines to do well, but the full English breakfast was hearty and delicious, served with a cinnamon roll which was a bit tough on the outside and a side of fresh fruit.
The plane had an espresso machine but it was not working. However, the regular coffee was probably the best I’ve had on a flight. I loved that the coffee was served in a proper mug with custom artwork.
A pre-arrival meal was served 90 minutes before landing.
The Virgin A350-1000 features a social space called The Loft behind the upper class cabin. It’s a nice space to get up and stretch out, and it actually saw some use towards the end of the ride.
The space has a few sofa-like seating and tables with snacks and drinks available to enjoy.
The central part is a large TV set to the rear camera, but it can be changed to display other limited content such as artwork or quiet videos.
Virgin added Bluetooth capability to the screen so groups could listen to the same content, but none of the available content contained much audio.
This would be a great convenience if Virgin were to show live TV on screen (especially during big sporting events), but as today I can’t see anyone using this feature.
Overall, I was very impressed with the way Virgin managed to strike a balance between design and branding. A unique touch was always present, including the bottom of the salt and pepper shaker where “Taken from Virgin Atlantic” was stamped, but it never felt like it went too far.
While many airlines use the same base seat in often pleasant colors and design options, Virgin Atlantic It remains a breath of fresh air – figuratively and literally, since the ventilation holes are provided.
All photos credited to author Jason Rabinovich