Pretty in Pink | Review: the Virgin Dreamliner – London (LHR) to Boston (BOS)


Premium Economy, Virgin Dreamliner 787-900 – January 2015


Derek Guthrie flies the new Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner and discovers that his last refuge from connectivity has gone: Transatlantic flights now have wi-fi

Pretty in Pink | Review: the Virgin Dreamliner – London (LHR) to Boston (BOS)

I’ll happily embrace every advancement of the digital age on the ground, but in the air? No way, sir. I receive emails and texts from friends in the sky, mostly of the rhetorical “Hi – guess where I am!” variety as they fiddle with iPads high above the Middle East. But over the Atlantic, I want to watch a movie, eat, drink and sleep, thank you. That’s a cocktail bar in Upper Class, not an office desk.

But now Virgin has gone and spoiled it all by installing wi-fi in their first super new Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner, currently operating the London Heathrow to Boston Logan route. Another 15 identical aircraft are on order from Boeing, so you’ll soon be emailing and WhatsApping to and from New York and Washington DC too, just as if you’re enjoying the second latte of a normal day. The service costs £14.99 per flight, dammit, and may God have mercy on your interactive soul.

The good news for me, however, is that the new seatback video screens in Upper and Premium Economy are bigger (over 11 inches), clearer, and more reactive than ever before. Laughing my socks off at 22 Jump Street, I could have replayed every Jonah Hill zinger with the flick of a fingertip across the glass. Tears of laughter prevented that, along with neighbourly compassion for the guy to my left trying to write a spreadsheet.

Flying at 35,000 feet (check out the exact altitude on that screen, bro) alters much. Wine and food taste blander, movies are funnier, the senses play games. Which was why I thought the interior cabin lighting looked violet, even lilac, rather than the blushing pink I thought I had seen earlier on board my plane (its name, by the way: The Birthday Girl, a suitably Bransonesque moniker to celebrate 30 years of Virgin Atlantic). But my eyes were not deceiving me: the mood lighting changes throughout the flight, from the initial “Rose Champagne” – that’s pink to you – through “Purple Haze” to “Amber Warmth” and “Silver Moonlight”. Someone was paid a lot of money to design that.

The mood lighting changes throughout the flight, from the initial “Rose Champagne” – that’s pink to you – through “Purple Haze” to “Amber Warmth” and “Silver Moonlight”. Someone was paid a lot of money to design that

Stepping aboard the Dreamliner 787-900 after a Clubhouse hamburger at Heathrow (the temptation is to have a full lunch and eschew the whole trolley thing) is like entering the home of a friend who’s just redecorated: you know they’ve done a lot of work, but what’s different exactly? It looks bigger, which it is. The Dreamliner has more space, the seat pitch in Premium Economy is now a comfortable 38”, and the ceiling is higher than normal. The colour palette has been lightened, the bright Geisha White contrasted with darker Espresso Leather, but overall it’s still dominated by the lippy red of those sexy uniforms, emblematic of the effervescent boys and girls who actually like working for the airline – as opposed to the utter loathing and contempt in which certain other airlines are held by their staff. They’re happy to chat in the new Premium Economy galley too, a kind of Midtown bar halfway between cocktail exclusivity up front and the serried ranks of the back. Help yourself at any time to snacks and snappy conversation.


The Dreamliner is an aircraft borne of the new age: carbon-fibre fuselage, 20% fuel savings, and apparently much quieter than the competition. The only problems were the fires from lithium-ion batteries in 2012, which grounded Dreamliners worldwide before America’s FAA cleared them for flight in April 2013.

The overnight return to London is generally a sleeping dorm in Upper Class – on every flight I take nowadays, every passenger sleeps the whole way – but it would have been churlish not to spend just a little time chatting at the new four-seater bar, itself a kind of mini-light show of reflective luminosity. The stools are configured for face to face dining, transforming it into a contemporary communal table during mealtimes. I’m a sucker for a curry on board a plane (you can actually taste it), and a convivial wine tasting afterwards seemed a good idea too. Six in all, three whites and three reds, from the zing of apples and lemons in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Mount Franklin) to an unusual Romanian red berry infused Feteasca Neagra, I think we managed to provide creative feedback for the airline’s wine buyers. Unlike most wine tastings, however, there wasn’t much spitting out going on. Suddenly I noticed the lighting had changed to Bleary-Eyed Dawn and realised it was time to tiptoe back to my actual seat. C