Edited by: Juan Ruiz
& Keri Stooksbury
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Airline: Virgin Atlantic
Aircraft: Airbus A350-1000
Route: London Heathrow (LHR) to New York (JFK)
Date: October 28, 2022
Duration: 7hr 7min
Cabin and Layout: Upper Suite, 1-2-1
Cost: 95,000 Virgin Points or from $2,869 cash
I was recently invited to New York by Hyatt for the launch event of its new FIND platform.
Not only was I lucky enough to be flown out for the event, but I was able to choose my preferred airline.
Without even thinking about it, I knew I wanted to fly Virgin.
Before I knew it, my Upper Class return ticket was booked and I was counting down the days to try Virgin’s Upper Suite seat for the first time.
Here’s how it went.
Virgin Atlantic is a great option when traveling between the U.S. and the U.K.
If you want a slice of the Virgin Upper Class action, you can pay for your flights by cash — or you could save a ton of money and use points instead.
The cheapest cash prices for a return from New York to London start around $2,869.
If you’d rather spend points, a return from the East Coast to London in Upper Class will set you back just 95,000 points.
Hot Tip: There are also many other ways you can redeem Virgin Points for flights with Virgin and its partners. Check out our guide for suggestions!
If you’d rather not use your points, there are several travel credit cards you could choose from to make sure you get rewarded for your spending.
If an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, I always prefer heading to an airport via public transport rather than a private car — be it a taxi, Uber, or personal car.
Heathrow is a great example of where you’re almost always better off using public transport. I got most of the way there by Tube and Elizabeth Line, then an Uber from Hayes and Harlington station so I could enjoy the full Virgin business class experience.
By full Virgin business class experience, I mean being driven up the driveway to the Upper Class Wing — Virgin’s exclusive check-in area.
I arrived at a barrier where I was asked for details through an intercom, such as my name and flight number. Once the agent found my booking, the barrier was raised and I was whisked up to the drive.
An Upper Class Wing staffer unloaded my suitcase and invited me to follow him inside where I was greeted and asked which flight I’d be taking.
The atmosphere inside was calm and inviting — a far cry from the frenzy you often find inside main departures terminals.
Almost hidden away at the back of the space was a small fridge filled with soft drinks and some trays of snacks.
I loved the addition of the huge Airbus A350 model aircraft. I took a selfie, naturally.
Due to an error in the system regarding my booking, it took a little longer than I expected to receive my boarding pass.
Once I had it in hand and I’d said goodbye to my suitcase, it was time to head through the Upper Class Wing’s private security lane where there were about half a dozen passengers ahead of me.
The Upper Class Wing is a little different from other airlines’ premium check-in zones, as you still have to enter the main departure area of the airport rather than arriving straight into the lounge after clearing security.
Once in the main departures hall, directions to the Virgin Clubhouse and the several other lounges in the terminal are clearly marked.
After visiting the Clubhouse in New York back in 2019, this would only be my second visit to a Clubhouse and my very first time in Virgin’s flagship Clubhouse in Heathrow’s Terminal 3. Needless to say, I was very excited to experience it.
I was impressed by how big and spacious the lounge felt.
As with most lounges, it had a variety of seating zones.
My favorite were these hanging pod seats.
On my tour of the lounge, I found lots of cozy areas fit for grabbing a nap, too.
The dining area had lots of seating, including reservable booths for more privacy.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I spent the majority of my time on the terrace until my hands were too cold to type.
The apron was a hive of activity with the busy morning rush of mainly Virgin jets.
The terrace is a decent vantage spot for 27L take-offs.
After I’d filed my 300th article for Upgraded Points with the first-ever A330neo that I was writing about in plain sight (quite a memorable moment), I headed back into the warmth for a light lunch.
For main menu items, the Clubhouse uses a QR code ordering method.
As per U.K. law, all restaurants and food establishments with over 250 employees must now show calories on menus. I know this isn’t to everyone’s delight, but I like being able to pick lower-calorie options when on the go.
I could also have picked from a cold buffet that was served by a member of staff from behind a counter.
The couscous salad looked particularly tasty.
Drinks could be ordered at the bar rather than through the app if preferred.
As far as airport lounge bars go, the Clubhouse’s was very well-stocked indeed.
This was the first time since the start of the pandemic that I recall seeing reading materials back in a lounge.
Speaking of first times, the Clubhouse is the first lounge I’ve ever been in with Peloton bikes readily available for passengers to get their sweat on before their flight.
As always on review flights, I like to try and get on the aircraft first to get the best photos. That requires getting to the gate early and turning on my Geordie charm with the gate staff.
The departure board was displaying “gate info in 20 minutes” for my flight, so I opened up my FlightRadar24 app to where I could see that the Virgin A350 registered G-VTEA would be operating my flight.
That was all I needed to be able to find G-VTEA parked at gate 19 before it was even published on the departure boards.
I couldn’t wait to get on board!
You get priority boarding when you’re flying Upper Class, Premium, or Economy Delight. Elite status holders with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Air France-KLM Flying Blue, and Delta SkyMiles also receive priority boarding.
Complimentary reading materials have also made a return to Virgin’s gates.
My luck was in: I was permitted to board before the rest of the passengers around 1:50 p.m. I had around 5 minutes to get the snaps I needed before regular boarding started.
At my seat, there was a goodie bag (the name Virgin gives its amenity kit), a can of water (very good not to see plastic bottles), and, the most important item — the menu.
The lovely Anna did the welcome drink rounds as passengers were boarding. The choices were water, orange juice, or Champagne.
Captain Simon Ross (great surname) came on the PA a few minutes before our scheduled departure to let us know that First Officer Mike would be flying us into Kennedy and we were on track to arrive at our scheduled arrival time of 5:25 p.m.
Then at 2:45 p.m. — 5 minutes after our scheduled departure time — “Boarding complete” was announced over the PA.
Just 2 minutes later, Captain Ross made a second PA apologizing for a delay at 2:47 p.m. that was linked with the cargo door having to be reopened for a reason he did not reveal.
He did a great job of keeping us updated, and his estimate of pushing back at 2:55 p.m. was spot on.
We finally started rolling down Heathrow’s runway 27R at 3:09 p.m. — almost half an hour behind schedule.
The design of the Upper Suite seat is sleek, sophisticated, and sexy — much like the airline it belongs to.
A drawback is that the seat lacks a proper storage area.
Granted, there are a few nooks and crannies, a couple of small shelves, and a generous surface area for temporary storage, but I’d much prefer a dedicated drawer or cabinet to store my belongings securely for takeoff and landing.
Increased privacy is one of the major improvements that the Upper Suite seats have over Virgin’s regular older Upper Class seats.
Passengers don’t have to stare directly at each other in these seats like they do in the airline’s older reverse herringbone seats. These seats have a higher hard shell around the seat and face towards the window rather than inwards towards the cabin.
The seat also comes with a sliding partition that closes just over halfway across the opening of the seat. A fully-closing door is one of the most common updates we’re seeing to business class seats these days, so it’s a shame that Virgin missed the boat on this one.
The huge tray table folded down from the console directly in front of me. Once lowered, I could slide the large surface directly across in front of me, revealing a smaller side table.
Then it rotated 45 degrees into a prime position for eating or working. There was enough space to set my laptop on the side table while I ate.
The design also left enough room to slip sideways out of the seat while the tray table was fully extended. There’s nothing more annoying than having to do gymnastics to leave your seat while your tray table is in use.
The seat reclined into a 6 foot 7 inch long fully-flat bed.
As soon as Anna realized what I was doing, she hurried over and offered to make up my bed for my afternoon nap.
Controls for the seat, call button, and volume and pause/play buttons for the IFE were easily accessible in the panel of the console between me and the window.
Hidden in the corner, you can also see a single USB port and the headphone dock.
The Upper Class cabin looks nothing short of gorgeous. Everything from the color scheme to the design and the fabrics just oozes the very essence of Virgin’s style.
On 7 of Virgin’s A350s, including G-VTEA that I was flying, there are 44 Upper Suite seats in a 1-2-1 layout.
The other 2 of Virgin’s 9 A350s — G-VEVE and G-VLIB — have just 16 Upper Suite seats in favor of having a significantly higher number of seats in economy.
You’ll typically find G-VEVE and G-VLIB on routes between Lagos (LOS), New York (JFK), and Orlando (MCO).
Upper Class passengers also have The Loft available for hanging with friends or simply changing up the scenery from their seat surroundings.
If you’re flying 1 of the 2 A350s with fewer Upper Class seats, your dedicated hangout space is a scaled-down version of The Loft called The Booth which is found at the front of the cabin on the port side rather than at the back.
A cool feature of The Loft is that up to 8 passengers can connect their own headphones via Bluetooth so they watch something all together on the big screen.
And back down in the cabin itself, space was abundant in the overhead bins even though this is also where passengers’ bedding was stored.
Behind The Loft, you’ll pass a small galley before arriving in Virgin’s premium economy cabin.
The cabin’s 56 seats are set out in a 2-3-2 configuration.
I was lucky enough to have the amazing Anna as the crew member who looked after me the most during my flight.
Around 20 minutes after takeoff, she whizzed up the cabin taking orders from those sitting in G seats in the middle. Before long, she had made it across to the K seats, and my order was taken around 10 minutes after she started.
I was asked if I’d like a starter, what I’d like for my main, if I’d like any duty-free items, whether I wanted to already order my dessert, and what I’d like to drink.
A minute or 2 later my sparkling water, Coke Zero, and snack of chips were served.
Shortly after, my tray table was laid ready for the food’s arrival. The presentation is far more akin to what you’d see in a restaurant rather than on a plane, which I loved.
The chicken parfait starter (or pâté if you prefer) was delicious, though the stale croutons were a letdown. The alternative option was “textures of beetroot” served with a goat cheese mousse.
I got excited that the sourdough bread might save the day, but this, too, was rather stale and hard as a rock on the underside.
I mentioned this to Anna who offered me a replacement bread bun. I politely declined in eager anticipation of the main course.
I couldn’t have been any more pleased that I’d ordered the chicken pie when it was served at 5:25 p.m. (almost 2 hours after takeoff).
I’m not exaggerating here when I say that the pie had me lost for words. My mam brought me and my brother up on hearty northern cooking and pie and mash was always one of my favorite evening meals.
It was the tastiest, most perfectly-cooked, gravy-filled bundle of doughy goodness that I’ve had in a long time. You’d struggle to be served anything better in a U.K. pub back on the ground. Accompanied by a portion of veggies, it was an incredibly satisfying inflight meal.
Other main course options included a miso and sesame-crusted salmon served with sweet potato purée, bok choi, and a honey and ginger sauce, or a vegetable korma with Gujurati green beans, jeera pilau rice, and paratha.
Under no circumstances did I want to be tempted by dessert, but as a lover of all things chocolate, I just couldn’t resist. The warm sweet brioche bread and butter pudding with cream didn’t even get a second thought.
It. Was. Phenomenal. Better than any restaurant chocolate gateau I’ve ever had — and there have been many!
With a satiated appetite and very happy tastebuds, I settled down with an espresso and some film time.
I drink a lot of water. Even more so when I fly. So, I asked if there were any bottles of water rather than annoying the crew over and over again for more to be served tiny glasses with about 2 gulps worth of water in them.
Anna came up trumps once again and provided me with this very large bottle of water that saw me through to the end of the flight.
I only wanted to shut my eyes for 40 winks, so I set my screen to “wake me up for food” mode so that the crew knew I’d like to be woken for the final small meal service before landing.
Before the food service began, I woke up naturally to a surprise pot of ice cream waiting for me.
Around 90 minutes before landing, the final extra bite was served. My gourmet fish finger goujons hot sandwich certainly fell into the “bite” category, given its snack size.
If we’re splitting hairs, it probably should have been called a “salad-topped sourdough with a side of single goujon.”
When hunger struck outside of mealtimes, passengers could take their pick from the snack baskets in The Loft.
I’d never heard of the Ayala Champagne that Virgin serves in Upper Class. I’m not yet at the connoisseur levels of many other flight reviewers, but what I do know is that it was very, very good. None of the glasses I was served seemed very chilled, though.
Alternative bubble options included a Hambledon English Sparkling and an Italian Prosecco.
And there was a very good selection of beers, spirits, liquors, and soft drinks, as well as non-alcoholic spirits and cocktails.
I absolutely loved the quality and size of the IFE screen — at 18.5 inches, you can’t really ask for more.
A slight letdown is that you still have to pop the screen out of its dock to be able to watch it properly.
After finishing up some work, and writing a few hundred words of this review, I thought I’d treat myself to one of the many films on Virgin’s Vera IFE system. After all, it was 5 p.m. on a Friday.
I highly recommend “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.”
The feel and quality of the headset are a bit of a letdown. Many airlines’ premium headsets are by well-known brands and have noise-canceling abilities, whereas Virgin’s felt flimsy and cheap in comparison.
My first set didn’t work and neither did the second. Shane, a member of the crew, said he’d go and reset my screen as this would be likely to resolve the issue.
Lo and behold, the reset worked and I have to say the sound quality was surprisingly good given how cheap the headset felt.
Virgin has done away with providing a handheld remote, so they give you the option of connecting your phone to act as a remote instead. It worked fine when I tried it, but I preferred to use the touch screen.
As for the amenity kit, I love that Virgin went sustainable with its goodie bag, but in terms of quality and luxuriousness, it scores pretty low. I still have my old-school Herschel pouch that I even had with me on my flight. For me, it seems much more sturdy and reusable than the current version.
The goodie bag was filled with everything you’d expect from an amenity kit: flight socks, an eye mask, and earplugs. The main difference is that the toothbrush is bamboo.
As this was a day flight, Pajamas weren’t handed out. Anna had no issue in handing me a set when I was ready to take a nap.
Signing up for the Wi-Fi was easy and cost me £16 (~$19) for the duration of the flight. I didn’t run a speed test, but I had no connection issues whatsoever for the duration of the flight.
No marks were lost on this flight for cleanliness. I’m pretty brutal when it comes to my cleanliness spot checks and there was nothing untoward on this flight.
The Upper Class cabin has 2 dedicated bathrooms at the front of the aircraft — both of which have windows to look out over the world.
Each time I visited, they were perfectly clean and tidy.
Few things in life are certain: taxes, death, and that Virgin Atlantic cabin crew will knock it out of the park every single time.
In fact, the crew is one of my favorite things about flying Virgin. From my experience, I’ve only ever had good interactions with the crew.
This type of consistency is crucial when building a brand and keeping customers coming back for more and Virgin Atlantic is a prime example of getting this right.
Anna was my go-to girl from start to finish and I’d love to see her on my next Virgin flight whenever that might be.
I also want to give a huge shout-out to the gate staff who arranged for me to get onto the plane first to get some cabin shots, as well as to Shane who snapped some cracking pictures of me around the cabin before the other passengers boarded.
And finally, I had the privilege of meeting Nadia — a fellow Geordie (the demonym we use for people from Newcastle in the Northeast of England), and an all-around Virgin legend! I’m looking forward to catching up with her again next time we’re both in Newcastle.
Just 7 hours and 7 minutes later, we landed at JFK around 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
I could have spent several more hours in the sky!
As I don’t have Global Entry, my wait was around 45 minutes before I spoke to an immigration officer. My bag was already on the belt in the luggage hall.
The Virgin Atlantic experience is like no other for all the right reasons — luxury without being over the top, fun, cheeky, and sexy without sacrificing professionalism. But, most of all, the Virgin Atlantic crew are a special, passionate bunch who clearly love to do what they do and be part of such an amazing brand.
This was only my third ever flight with Virgin, and I’m sad to say I’m unsure when my next will be. If Virgin operated flights within Europe and to more destinations globally, then it would 100% be my go-to airline as someone who is based in the U.K.
Yes, Upper Class is the name Virgin Atlantic gives to its business class product.
Yes, on day flights you can request pajamas and on night flights you should be given pajamas by the crew.
Yes, Virgin Atlantic has flat beds in business class on all of its long-haul aircraft.
Almost all Virgin flights arrive and depart from Heathrow’s Terminal 3.
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