Review: Virgin Atlantic – London (LHR) to New York City (JFK)


Upper Class, A350 – March 2020

Review: Virgin Atlantic – London (LHR) to New York City (JFK)

There was a tiny uproar when Thai Airways announced that “plus size” passengers could no longer be seated in Business on their Dreamliner services. Anyone with more than 56 inches of waistline about their person has to go to the back. Something to do with the seatbelt design, apparently. And yes, if you’re chunky, they are going measure you. Offensive? Perhaps. But – safety first. The regulations also mean infants can’t be seated in the Business cabin either. Which makes Thai Airways very attractive to me right now.

I’ve got into SUCH trouble at the bar on Virgin planes. Wonderful mischief. Maybe best it’s gone

Also attractive is the new Upper Class cabin on Virgin Atlantic on their A350s. First impressions are very… Barry’s Boot Camp. It’s a kind of magenta-soaked Tampa gay disco funhouse, but the fancy bottle service bit of the club. There’s no bar as part of the cabin anymore, instead there is The Loft (pictured above), a lounge-like area with big screens, situated between Upper and Premium Economy (for passengers in the former cabin only). If you’re travelling with friends, this may be a nice area to take a stroll to and hang out, but I miss the bar. I’ve got into SUCH trouble at the bar on Virgin planes. Wonderful mischief. Maybe best it’s gone.

The reason I mentioned Thai Airways earlier is that I found something a wee bit problematic with the new Virgin Upper seat. It may look beautiful and angular – reminiscent of a design from the mid-90s PlayStation futuristic racing game Wipeout – but when it comes to meal times, and the tray table being extended, you’ll almost definitely have to do what I did, and sit bolt upright to let it fit. I like to eat in a slight recline when I’m seated in Business – it feels appropriate, sybaritic. Only the truly emaciated would be able to fit this table flat with any kind of recline actioned. “We know,” offered a member of cabin crew. “They’re going to tweak the design at some point soon.” I wondered though ­– this design has cost fortunes. How many people signed off on it before it went into production? That aside, the comfort factor is high, and the linens used for the sleep service are superb.

Upper Class, A350

The new seat also comes with a seatbelt that runs both diagonally across the torso, and around the waist. There’s a lot going on there. On my outbound flight to JFK both elements were already connected, and snapped into place easily. On the way back, they hadn’t been connected and I mistakenly assumed this aircraft was fitted only with belts with a single strap, and was scolded by a member of staff for not having it all buckled in. Hey, I just didn’t see it!

F&B on the flight was good. Moves have been made in the direction of sustainability on the menu, so beef and pork were off (although had been offered as pre-order options while I was checking in online). The fish and chicken dishes were good. Go with it. It’s the future. We can’t feed the world on protein that comes at a cost of 15 thousand litres of water a kilo.

I couldn’t make out what was Pennywise and what was balloon. It was 80s Betamax quality

The new Upper cabin packs a punch on entry. The new herringbone arrangement – with middle seats angled to the aisle – gives a dramatic, graphic first impression. Couples travelling together won’t feel particularly connected (even with a retractable screen between seats), but as I say, there’s always The Loft for a drink mid-flight. I was most impressed by the AVOD on the new seat. The USB port isn’t as conveniently positioned as it might be, but the screen is dazzling. Big, and HD sharp. And the numerous cameras on the exterior of the plane give you dynamic real time streaming from some great angles. I was on a flight back from Taipei the week after my second Virgin flight, and was so shocked at the quality of the vintage AVOD in British Airways Club World that I switched to my laptop, binged on Watchmen for the rest of the journey, and then made an Avios-harvesting complaint a day later. “I’m so sorry, this is such an old plane,” explained a member of cabin crew. Trying to watch the aged Club World screen, I couldn’t make out what was Pennywise and what was balloon. It was 80s Betamax quality. The new Virgin Upper seat is the gold standard in AVOD right now.

Upper Class, A350

Some of the best entertainment on my recent Virgin flight was provided by another passenger, two seats behind me. It’s often the way. (I do miss that bar!). Her screen was faulty. It happens. The purser couldn’t have been more civil or accommodating. She was offered a seat change, an iPad, or the option to move to The Loft to watch whatever she wanted. Nothing was good enough for this passenger. There’s not been a Mitford to match her attitude. “How can I move? What will I do!!? My bag is already up there in the overhead locker. And I have my headphones ready. Who will help me!!? I just want to relax with a movie!” I haven’t seen anyone in such aviation-related anguish since Brad Davis tried to get on a plane in Istanbul with 2kg of has strapped to his chest in Midnight Express. And he was facing prison rape. She eventually moved, but then engaged the purser in another 20 minutes of complaining. And then took it up with him again when disembarking. Jeez. We get it babe, you’re on the grift for some airmiles. Save it for the email. C