To wrap up my May 2022 revenge travel tour, I had the exciting opportunity to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class en route back from London to New York.
I had set high expectations of this flight going in, as Upper Class is one of the world’s most sought-after business class products.
Furthermore, since this would be my first-ever flight on Virgin Atlantic, I was very curious to see how the experience would compare to the other business class products I’ve had the pleasure of trying.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Booking
This Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flight was the return journey of a round-trip fare that I had booked for a very friendly price point of $900 (USD).
This unusually low rate was only available for around one day back in April, with travel dates only valid until the end of May. When a fare like this appears, it’s always best to book it while it’s still available, as they tend to disappear quickly.
Planning my flights around my previously-booked stay at the The Bodrum EDITION, I arranged my outbound Delta One business class flight from New York to London to start the journey to Europe, and this Virgin Atlantic Upper Class segment for the return.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Ground Experience
Prior to the flight, I spent some time in Virgin Atlantic’s flagship lounge, the Clubhouse.
My flight was set to depart at 8pm, so I made sure to arrive at 5pm in order to make the most of the impressive Clubhouse.
While I had thought I had given myself enough time to fully enjoy the lounge, I really could’ve spent many more hours at the Clubhouse savouring its tasty à la carte dining options and sipping on Champagne at the full-service bar.
What really set this lounge apart were the pool table recreation room, exercise room, and my personal favourite, the rooftop garden with sweeping views of Heathrow’s runways and tarmac.
Once I finished up in the lounge, after squeezing as much extra time as I could watching planes come and go from the rooftop terrace, it was time for the main event.
With no direct access from the lounge to the boarding area, the walk to my gate was a bit of a trek, but I made it with a bit of time to spare.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Cabin
Here on the Airbus A350-1000, there are 44 Upper Class seats in a 1-2-1 layout, spread out across 11 rows.
The sating configuration is a rather interesting mix of herringbone and reverse herringbone seats: the window seats face away from the aisle, while the middle seats face towards the aisle.
Solo travellers will be best off choosing a window seat, so as to enjoy the view and the direct aisle access.
Couples or those travelling together may want to choose two middle seats for ease of conversation. Alternatively, pairs of travellers can also go in the window seats, with one in front of the other, if you’d rather have more privacy and face away from the aisle rather than towards it.
The two middle seats have an optional partition that can slide up and down for additional privacy, in case you find yourself seated next to a stranger.
As I boarded the plane, I was immediately struck by the intense neon purple mood lighting that would be in place for most of the seven-hour journey to New York.
The vibrant purple playfully infiltrated and bounced off of every surface on this aircraft. The striking neon colour turned an otherwise classic-looking white, brown, and red cabin into a much more lively shade.
It did take some getting used to at first, as I haven’t encountered such bold mood lighting on many other airlines before. By the time I settled into my seat, though, I had accepted that it’s all part of the unique experience of flying Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Seat
I took up residence in Seat 11A in the back of this business class cabin, and took note of my decidedly purple surroundings.
Looking around, there are a few unique functions of this seat type, most notably in how the entertainment screen and the tray table are deployed.
The entertainment system is positioned flush against the seat shell by default and tucked out of the way, until you slide it into place with a push of a button.
Similarly, the tray table pops down with a push of a button. Then, you’re supposed to slide and rotate it into place in front of you, which took quite a bit of elbow grease.
Furthermore, the tray table got stuck very easily. The strength needed to adjust and free the tray table from a locked position would cause the seat in front of me to move and shake quite a bit, affecting and bothering the passenger in the seat ahead.
I thought this was quite a poor design that I hope changes in the future, whether it was limited to my particular seat or a problem across the cabin.
The footwell is located underneath the entertainment screen, with only enough room for your feet.
On the opposite side of the seat, the armrest can be raised to run flush with a partition that slides out for additional privacy.
The seat console consisted of a small, inconspicuous reading light, located above my left shoulder and beside a small storage cabinet.
Below the small storage cabinet, there was additional surface space above a row of seat controls. These can be used to change the seat position, including into lie-flat mode, and also control the reading light and some of the entertainment screen functions.
Nestled just above the surface space and underneath the storage units were a USB port and a headphone jack.
Lastly, there is a literature pocket located next to power and USB outlets, which are found down and to the left of the seat console around my knees.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Amenities
As soon as I sat down, the crew came by to offer me my choice of a welcome drink. In a upbeat mood thanks to the striking cabin lighting, I opted for a glass of Champagne Ayala.
There was also a can of water awaiting me at my seat, located in the storage cabinet.
As I sipped my Champagne, I opened my amenity kit that had been waiting for me on the small side table. The environmentally conscious amenity kit items were housed in a similarly environmentally focused recyclable bag.
The offerings were on the lighter side, but included a bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, a pen, socks, and earplugs, as well as creams and lotions from a UK brand called REN Clean Skincare.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – The Loft
As we reached cruising altitude, heading west across the Atlantic just as the sun was setting, I wasted no time in making my way towards the star attraction of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class: the onboard lounge known as The Loft.
Cast in a deep shade of purple that felt even stronger than back in the cabin, The Loft is a lounge area located between the business class cabin and the galley that separates it from economy class, featuring a handful of seats, a small table, and a snack counter.
It’s one of most distinctive features of flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, and I wanted to spend as much time as I could here enjoying the ambiance.
The crew had set up a fun arrangement of snacks to choose from, which was next to a healthier basket containing bananas and oranges.
I spent around 30 minutes taking in the surroundings while sipping on a fairly strong English Garden cocktail from the drinks menu and eating some lightly salted pretzels.
The crew were more than happy to serve me my drink here in The Loft, whereas all the other business class passengers seemed uninterested in socializing and were content to stay in their seats.
Eventually, I returned to my seat just in time for the meal service – though with absolutely every intention to return for some more time at The Loft later on during the flight.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Meal Service
Having thoroughly enjoyed the food at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse on the ground, I was looking forward to the meal service and curious to see how the in-flight catering would compare.
The menu, which listed both the food and drink selections, read as follows:
To begin, I had the only available appetizer. On offer today was grilled asparagus and quail’s egg accompanied by chive mayonnaise, rocket, a parmesan salad, and a warm artisan bun.
(I would’ve probably preferred the hot smoked salmon option instead; however, by the time the crew took my meal order all the way in the back in Row 11, the salmon was no longer available.)
Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the dish. It was exactly what you might expect from an asparagus dish, and nothing particularly stood out to me.
While I wasn’t a fan of the appetizer, I did appreciate Virgin Atlantic’s unique salt and pepper shakers, shaped like airplane engines. It was another reflection of the playful qualities of the Virgin brand, and reminded me of the Sydney Opera House-themed shakers when I had flown Virgin Australia back in the day.
The choices for the main course included a chicken, vegetarian, or seafood option.
I decided to go for my “default” choice of the seafood, which was garlic & ginger prawns with Thai green curry sauce, sticky rice, and bok choi. I paired this dish with a glass of white wine, the French 2020 Touraine Sauvignon.
With my expectations a little lower after a lacklustre starter, I was very happy with my selection of main course.
The garlic and ginger prawn dish was absolutely delicious, with the Thai green curry holding a perfect balance between spicy and savoury, and the ratio of rice to sauce clocking in just right.
The accompanying Sauvignon also made for a wonderful pairing, allowing me to round out each bite of curry with a fruity aftertaste.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with how well Virgin Atlantic pulls off Asian-inspired dishes. This stems from both my experience onboard with the garlic and ginger prawns, as well as the laksa and poke that I had eaten in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge just before.
With my expectations restored, I wrapped things up with the apple and blackberry crumble for dessert. While this may not be my favourite in-flight dessert to date, the warmth, texture, and sweetness of the dish certainly made for a satisfying end to the meal.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Entertainment
After wrapping up my dinner, I spent some time browsing through Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight entertainment system, which features a sizeable film and TV selection.
Since this was a relatively shorter transatlantic flight, I didn’t set time aside to indulge in a movie, but there were plenty of options available to watch, including new releases.
Instead, as usual, I put on the moving map to track my progress to New York while connecting to the Wi-Fi on my laptop to wrap up some work.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Wi-Fi
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class uses Boingo Wi-Fi, with a few different price points depending on the package you choose.
Anyone who has an unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi membership can connect for free for the duration of the flight. Thankfully, I hold a Boingo Wi-Fi membership from my HSBC World Elite Mastercard, and it’s also a perk of the vast majority of World Elite Mastercards issued in Canada.
I was therefore able to rely on a relatively stable internet connection for most of the flight, which was fast enough not only to send and receive emails and stay up-to-date on messages, but also post a few videos to my Instagram Stories as well.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Bed
As far as westbound transatlantic flights go, this one was a fairly late departure from Heathrow at 8pm, landing into New York at 11pm Eastern Time.
In theory, I could’ve stayed up the whole way and gone to sleep upon landing, but I was feeling a little tired with about four hours of the flight left to go, so I decided to nap.
I visited the restroom before bed, where I was reminded that the Airbus A350 is not the largest plane. The Upper Class restroom was a fairly small space, containing the usual toilet and sink, with an additional bench that could be folded down.
There were a couple of amenities by REN Clean Skincare for those wanting to freshen up before bed.
As I returned to my seat, I noticed the purple mood lighting had been reduced, allowing the setting sun to illuminate the cabin instead.
I was finally able to get a good view of the cabin without the distracting glow, and I must say the colour scheme and overall appearance looked better to my eyes without the strong purple overtone.
I decided to nap in Seat 11D opposite the aisle from me, which was vacant. I maneuvered the seat into lie-flat mode and unfurled the Virgin Atlantic “night night” blanket and mattress padding.
As I got ready to sleep, I was slightly surprised by how narrow the sleeping space was. While I could still fit, there really wasn’t that much room to move or shift around.
In spite of the narrowness, however, the sleeping arrangement was still decently comfortable, and I was able to get a few hours of rest before waking up with 40 minutes of flying time to go.
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class – Snack Service
Virgin Atlantic’s hops across the pond between from London to New York does not offer a full-service second meal. Instead, there’s an “extra bites” menu that you can order from at any time if you’re still feeling hungry after the main dinner service.
After waking up, I hurriedly sampled some items off of the extra bites menu, given that we were about to land. I went with the signature English tea service, along with a special request for the crew – who were enthusiastically receptive to my special requests throughout the flight, might I add – to not serve it at my seat.
Indeed, in order to fully enjoy this one last snack before landing, I made my way back to The Loft.
The tasty cream tea came with a couple of scones and choices of clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry jam on the side.
Sipping on my tea and absorbing my surroundings as the sole occupant here in The Loft (which the other business class passengers continued to show no interest in), I reflected on an all-round very enjoyable Atlantic crossing with Virgin Atlantic as we made our final descent into New York.
Colour me impressed after a maiden voyage onboard Virgin Atlantic Upper Class – and I’m not talking about the purple mood lighting.
Pre-flight, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge lived up to its hype, with high-quality food and drinks, a wide range of amenities, and a unique rooftop garden that elevated it far above other airlines’ ground experiences.
Onboard the Airbus A350, the business class “Loft” was a unique treat, giving business class passengers a communal space to socialize or, in my case as the only passenger using it, simply relax and soak in the ambience.
And after a shaky start, my dinner left me impressed as well, serving up one of the best seafood dishes I’ve had in business class in recent memory.
Overall, I can’t think of a better way to fly in and out of London than with Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. More broadly, I’d certainly rank Virgin Atlantic up there in terms of the best transatlantic business class experiences as a whole.
It’s just a shame that this product isn’t more accessible when booking with points, since I’m definitely excited to fly Upper Class again in the future, and I hope I’ll have the chance to do so sooner rather than later.