Upper class now feels distinctively posh…
There are some flying experiences that aim to impress you from the word “go”. Not once you’re through security, or when you’ve arrived at your seat, but the very moment you arrive at the airport. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class has long aimed to offer this level of excitement, but for around 10 years, it’s been let down by one thing, and pretty much one thing only – old seats.
Travellers would always say that they love the feeling of flying Virgin, but the damned Upper Class seat just wasn’t quite up to its new, more modern peers, especially as airlines added doors and large entertainment screens.
I flew the new Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1000 in Upper Class, and it’s now one of the top tier business class experiences to be reckoned with, especially departing from London Heathrow. Perhaps the coolest feature? You can order anything off the menu digitally, to your seat or to the loft bar.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing London Heathrow
If you’re departing Heathrow, as tempting as mass transit may be, it’s hard to pass on taking a taxi, Uber or car service, just so you can enjoy the Upper Class Wing. Like a hotel lobby, hidden away from the main terminal this is the first “well, this is different” moment, where you’re greeted by name and presented with a boarding pass, while a porter grabs the luggage.
The Upper Class Wing an experience which would be fantastic in first class, and for an airline to deliver this level of personalisation in business class is superb. You don’t even need to book a slot in advance, so even if you take the train to Heathrow, you could always hail an Uber, just to experience this little bit of wow factor.
The Virgin Atlantic Heathrow T3 Clubhouse
Someone once said that if you’ve tired of New York, you’re tired of living. In my opinion, fi you’re tired of the Virgin Clubhouse, there’s something wrong with you. Perhaps it’s less quotable, but I’d say it’s equally true. If you really want more knowledge on all things spa, boozing and eating in the Clubhouse, here’s a separate review, but basically – it’s great.
I still adore the deli counter, the a-la carte waiter service from any seat in the lounge and of course, a seat at the bar. The fact that treatments are still free, including haircuts, and that they’re relatively easy and accessible to book is a lovely thing. I could spend hours here, and if its your first time, I suggest you do. They’ll let you know when it’s time to board, but just make sure you can still walk.
On Board Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 Upper Class
By design, Virgin Atlantic aims to razzle and dazzle from the moment of boarding, and in this case, it has largely succeeded. All passengers board through the second door of the aircraft, which gives a glimpse into the new Upper Class seats, the new “loft bar” and of course premium and economy.
What instantly impressed me on this plane, a la Qatar Airways, was the stunning cabin lights, which make everything look far more exciting than the dim off-white walls you find on most planes.
Enough talk, talk about the new Upper Class Suite
As to the new A350 Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite, where do you start? If you’re starting from the benchmark of the previous seat, it’s night and day, and probably day and night all over again.
If you are comparing the cabin to the current top 10 business class products, it’s firmly somewhere in the latter end of the top 5 when you include the entire ground and on board bar experience. Is the colour scheme funky? Totally, but I like something with a little spirit. It’s the Virgin way, right?
And yes, you can expect the new “goodie bags” on these flights, in addition to a nice new rose gold “ish” set of salt and peppers shakers, which aptly have pinched from Virgin Atlantic inscribed on the bottom. They are reusable, after all, so go for it – but do note that it’s best to empty the salt and pepper, otherwise your bag may forever be salty…
And where do you sit in the new A350 Upper Class? I’d say the best seats are without a doubt in row 1, which feature extra bed width and cubby space for your feet. If you’re tall, or wide – no judgement on that front- these seats will be extra forgiving and really are up there in the business class echelon.
If you are planning to hit the loft bar to catch up with friends or perhaps have your James Bond Casino Royale moment and order a “Vesper”, then Row 11 is nearest the bar, but surprisingly quiet and provides a quick escape upon landing through Door L2.
Every seat in between is great, and if you’re with someone and aren’t #avgeek enough to insist they sit in front or behind you in a window seat, middle seats G and D are definitely the choice for A350 Upper Class.
With the privacy screen, or door – whatever you want to call it – closed, noise nor neighbours are really much of a factor. The seats face just out from each other, but angle in a way that if you’d like to speak to your middle seat neighbour, it’s very easy.
Tech, Tech And More Tech Please
Don’t get me wrong, I love this seat on many merits, but it’s the tech initiatives which are pulling it ahead of similar products, which to non airline geeks are what we call “seats”. For starters, the new 18.5’’ HD screens, with HD tail and belly cameras are superb.
You can watch your IFE from gate to gate in every cabin, so I was able to watch a forward facing take off view from two angles. I heard a rumour Virgin paid extra for higher def cams, and i’d say it was probably worth it. Scratch that, it was definitely worth it.
Best feature of the @VirginAtlantic A350? Gate to gate tail and belly cams in every cabin, in super HD 🤤🤤🤤. pic.twitter.com/d45ZGGEO9I
— Gilbert Ott | GSTP ✈️🌴🌏 (@godsavethepoint) September 18, 2019
As to fabrics, colour schemes and material, the soft touches are design forward and the comfort and privacy are excellent, and amongst the top tiers in business class, with few exceptions. If the seat had a peer currently flying, it would be most similar to the lauded Cathay Pacific A350 seat, but with the addition of a semi closable privacy door, personal air vents, phone pairing and in app menu ordering, I’d say it’s more sophisticated.
Plus, with the Virgin lighting schemes, it looks far more distinctive than your average cabin. It’s like an old friend who got a Hollywood makeover and saw a good trainer. One of my favourite features? The water bottles you are given fit snugly under the gold and glass tray, creating a locker without a lock.
Another favourite? You can order anything from the menu using your in flight entertainment, and have it delivered to you at your seat – or at the “loft bar”. It’s super easy. You go into “food & drink”, select anything from the menu and choose where you want it delivered.
You’ll see the progress of the order, and with any luck – it’ll be with you very shortly. I tested it once, and it was tap to cheers in about 3 minutes. Much easier than using the dreaded -and crew hated – call button. Those days are over now, thankfully.
As to the essentials, there’s two USB ports, an AC power port, a personal reading light, two individual air vents and connectivity to pair your phone with the IFE on Virgin A350 Upper Class. On the right side, you can find the power port close to the window, about knee level out of sight, and the USB ports are where your armrest is. Just look for the gold accent colour and you’re getting closer.
You can’t yet use bluetooth headphones to listen to the audio outside of the loft bar, but you can use your phone to control the in-flight entertainment at your seat and flick between outside A350 HD tail cameras, TV dramas and knee slapping comedies, or just something boring and dry – depending on your taste.
With clear glass and gold lining, the water bottle and person storage space at eye level feels more like a boutique hotel bedside inspiration than an aircraft, which means a lot to me. When you add in the social space, which really was comfortable for numerous guests, I felt like this was not only a refined, but legitimately fun way to fly. I’m smiling, and not just because I stole the A350 napkin holder.
If there’s an initial gripe to be had with the new upper class suite, it would simply be the proximity of the large tray table to the body, and the lack of storage space during taxi, take-off and landing.
The tray swivels nicely allowing you space to eat on the side, but if you’re on a laptop and working away, you may need to do a few crunches or crash diet to ensure enough space if you’re reclined in the slightest. As I write this, I feel a need to hit a gym, fast. Fortunately, it sounds like these tray table cartridges are being swapped out, quickly on new deliveries as soon as the coming weeks.
Amongst business class seats, padding varies immensely, and this is one of the three best padded business class seats I’ve ever been in, full stop. That number goes even higher, when you add the new mattress topper. It’s firm, but thick enough to create real comfort and the leather brings some luxury. No jokes or puns here, please.
But all jokes aside, I had probably the best sleep I’ve had on a plane in years sitting in 1K, with the mattress topper and duvet set deployed. It’s like proper bedding.
In bed mode, the airline hit things out of the park by keeping the fitted topper concept it still uses on the older seats. It didn’t need to, but it developed a topper which I’d instantly compare to set used by American Airlines in first class from Casper, which fits over the headrest to ensure it stays put while you move around. It’s at least 3’’ thick and creates a fantastic sleeping surface.
The rest of the bedding is good too. No puns here either. I was pleasantly surprised at how wide and long the bed is fully reclined, which is extra welcomed news for anyone who used to stress about the previous shape of Upper Class seats.
Virgin Upper Class Food & Drinks
Virgin Atlantic offers Canard Duchene champagne in Upper Class, as well as three whites and three reds, plus the usual booze menu, cocktails, teas and all that good stuff.
I was particularly impressed with the Etna Rosso, which not only has excellent critical reviews from people who theoretically know about wine, but it also held an impressive price point for business class while winning lots of praise on the app Vivino, which I’d say is a more reliable indicator of wine drinking joy.
For food reviews, you’ve come to the wrong place. I aim to minimise my airplane food intake, but I found the yoghurt and cauliflower starter genuinely outstanding in the air. I then skipped ahead to the chocolate and hazelnut tart, which is a 100% recommendation. Rich chocolate, light texture and yummy hazelnuts.
I’m no Jay Rayner, but it’s great. The chances that you’ll get the same menu are slim, which is why this section is borderline pointless, but you’re here – so hey – why not. The afternoon tea from Eric Lanlard was the star of the show though. The passionfruit and yuzu macaron was ridiculously punchy and refreshing in air, and the salted caramel and chocolate eclair was all kids of wrong that felt so very right.
To reiterate, one thing that blew my mind grapes was the ordering system. The crew were proactive, and kind in the typical Virgin fashion I expect, but being able to order menu items or drink items via the app without any awkwardness in between formal meal or service times was a treat I look forward to over and over again, even if the crew doesn’t.
The New Virgin A350 Upper Class Loft Bar
“Where’s the bar” was one of the first statements I heard quite a few times as passengers spilled into the plane. As a previous stalwart of the old Virgin Atlantic bar set up on more occasions than I’d care to admit, I personally prefer the new setup.
The old Virgin Atlantic bar created the potential for awkward third wheel encounters, with limited seats all in a row. That, or people would actually try to make small talk, and as a fan of medium and above talk, I just wasn’t a fan.
The new loft bar allows two or three separate groups to each congregate, or solo travellers to relax and kick their feet up in a much more spacious and laid back setting. With the bluetooth pairing and the massive touchscreen, you can really go solo-dolo over there, or kick it with others. Plus, there’s USB and AC power ports under the seats.
The 8 bluetooth headphone connections mean you can screen a film, or host a silent disco – which is my big idea for it all – and there is a bar around the corner, where someone was always happy to shake up a cocktail. In my eyes, it’s a tremendous improvement.
Overall Thoughts On The New Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class
To go from a seat which some travellers chose to avoid to a top 10 product, which I’d place in the top 5, given the incredible ground experience and on board bar Virgin Atlantic brings with it, this is a huge leap. I love seeing the latest connectivity, super HD screens and ample room to move around.
Is it better than the BA A350? I’d say the seat wins marginally thanks to the tech and the effort put into sleep, connectivity and relaxation comforts. It’s a tight call. But overall, the cabin really does win on ambiance, and the addition of a social space to stretch your legs out or chat is just such a welcomed feature, whereas there’s absolutely no space on the other.
I was on this flight as well and sat in 1K, which I see in your photos and so I guess you may have taken them during a media tour beforehand (or before I boarded?) hehe… I certainly didn’t get anything with my name embroidered on it so kudos to you! lmao! Anyways, overall I enjoyed the experience and am glad I flew on that plane today. Thanks for the review and hope to meet you at some point so I may say thank you in person for all the informative articles you write on here!
Hey Joey, you beat me to it! I got a few minutes before general boarding to get some photos and was envious of your seat! What were your big takeways?
Still processing the experience! I agree with you that front row is key if you need more space for your feet while sleeping! I booked this flight back in early July and at the time, seat 1A was already taken but seats 1D, 1G, and 1K were available; so I snatched 1K! 🙂
As for big takeaways, I should have read your previous posts that you’d be on this flight (normally I don’t read BoardingArea articles when I’m away so I think that’s how I missed seeing those posts) and informed you I’d be on this flight so perhaps some of your luck could have rubbed off on me and I could have gotten a personalized PJ too! hehe 😉
I also wish that I had known about ordering food/drink through the IFE. Not sure how I missed it but I did. Oh well. I still managed to eat and drink so I’m content with that.
Overall I am grateful to have flown on that flight! As a New Yorker, that was the most exciting flight I had ever flown between JFK and LHR. I had a lot of fun and it was great to share this experience with fellow avgeeks! 🙂
BTW, I’m looking forward to reading your review of VS a350 premium economy — especially the seat widths as VS decreased it from 21 inches to 18.5 inches.
Was the bag containing the PJs actually personalized for everyone?
I believe just a few VS Gold card holders (of which I am one). I think there are a few initiatives for the first few flights, ie lots of people got pins, and everyone got cake.
Awesome review Gilbert – thank you.
I am scheduled to fly this route on the A350 in 2 weeks and cannot wait!
One question, what camera do you use for your pictures? They are incredible.
My pleasure, thanks for reading! It’s a Canon 80D, with a wide lens.
Were PJs offered to all passengers in UC?
Any idea what other routes will be flown with the A350? I hope for LAX-LHR!
LAX has been confirmed as next 💪. Should be 2020.
It looks really nice, but it would have been nicer if they had introduced the new seats 5 years ago. Their old seats were uncompetitive in 2014, let alone 2019. Other airlines have had comparable seats for a decade or more.
When do you think virgin will fly this aircraft to Hong Kong?
Another one hoping for a premium economy review. I’ll be doing it in December and keep worrying that I’ve wasted my hard earned cash on poky seats when I could have saved with economy delight and earned more miles! Upper class looks fab but beyond me for now
Hey, will get you premium review by the 19th! Thanks. It looked superb to be honest. Huge screens, really nice seats.
Thanks for the great review, Gilbert!
I’m going to fly in this route in November, and I wonder about the seat selection.
I’ve always avoided a front row seat because the proximity to the restrooms. Do you think it’s not a problem in this case?
I personally think that the extra space is worth it and the galley wall and everything is substantial enough to create a good buffer, especially if you have good headphones etc. It would be my pick but totally understand that others have more issue with such things. Enjoy either way.
OK, so following your recommendation I’ve changed my seat to 1K.
So in the outbound flight I’ll be at 8K, and on the inbound – 1K.
This way I can compare the two seats, and learn for next time…
Great review. Interesting that the Virgin product seems to be getting better reviews than the BA club suite, but when they were both announced in March the consensus seemed to be that the BA product would be better.
You mentioned it is one of the 3 best padded business seats – wondering what the other 2 are?
How does the bed compare in comfort to the Qatar Qsuite?
Amazing article and fantastic information! Thanks for sharing!
I’m tired of people calling the privacy screen a door. A door closes whereas this little screen is just a privacy screen therefore it’s a seat not a suite.
That being said it does look fantastic and I’m very disappointed that Virgin won’t retrofit it on the 787 or their incoming a330neo. BA, despite having a far larger fleet plans to do that over the next few years. What’s stopping Virgin from doing the same?
The 330-900s will have a special cabin to the best of my understanding…
I think the BA suites are TOO private – Virgin will be getting my business class dollar so I can actually see my travel companions
Nice review mate! I’m looking forward to flying this from JFK-LHR in December 😀
Would you rate the JFK ground/lounge experience as high as London? Planning on how much time I should give myself on the ground 😉
Hey Immanuel, it’s great. Not quite as large and varied as LHR clubhouse, but well worth a couple hours. The team in there is world class.
Nice review, but just reference, nobody said ‘if you’re tired of New York you’re tired of life’. The quote you’re referring to was from Samuel Johnson and he was talking about London.
“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.“
I prefer a seat where I with a 40 inch waist could actually have room to eat and could actually get out of the “suite” when the tray is deployed.
Strange that “reviewers” give such high marks for such an essential flaw. The solution virgin is offering is a new table that folds… How is that going to help with your meal or seat acces when using the tray.
I do not like virgins current seat that points away from the window and now they have another failure on there hands. I think it is very offence of so called reviewers ignoring a very bad show for whatever they get out of it.
Dude… I specifically say that the tray sucks, and that Virgin is switching it out with near immediate effect.
I get nothing out of it, it cost me £1500 haha. You clearly missed a few important sentences…
Do really wonder how being able to fold the table in half will solve anything! Hopefully there is more to it than the bloggers have been told, but haven’t heard anything different.
JAL also offers the ability to order food/drink from the IFE remote. I like this option because I always feel I’m disturbing crew when I ask for something, even in J class. Don’t know why more airlines don’t get on this bandwagon.
No “reader rating” available?
We’re trying to figure out how to revamp it, because people would touch and try to slide, but it just records wherever you touch, so lots of people have messaged (on all reviews) saying they left a 40 when they meant to leave a 90, and vice versa!
Great review – have changed my seat to 1A on your recommendation, – one small correction though, haircuts in the lounge have not been free for about 1 year, they now cost £20 or 4k points. This is actually a good thing as availability is much better. (only chance I get for a haircut!)
Excellent review. I’ve opted for A1 on your recommendation when flying out to Johannesburg in April. Sounds like the seats have finally been upgraded to allow me a comfortable sleep at 6’2”. Next year I’ll be trying the premium and economy seats, so need to read up on those reviews.
You’ll love it. Best seat in the house!
Hey thanks for your very informative review. About seats – on your various travels have you found turbulence is less noticeable towards the front? My husband hates turbulence and advice is to sit near the wing. I was considering last row of upper class or first row of premium for this reason. However hubby is very tall – so I’m thinking of trying to bag those front seats on your recommendation. Do you think turbulence-wise the difference between front and back of upper class cabin will be marginal?
I’d say marginal at best. it’s an awfully quiet ride, which is nice!
On your recommendation I changed my seats from the 11th row to row 1…. 1K and 1G…hoping for more privacy without people walking passed. I notice on the Virgin web site and the seat plan, Icons of wine glasses in front of the front row..?? Do you know what is in front of row 1. Thank you
Hey Dave, it’s the galley, so there’s always the chance of some noise, but you’d get that from the bar in row 11 anyway. The seat is notably better in row 1, so I’d highly suggest.
For what it’s worth, my wife and I are in 1G, 1K for our upcoming trips with Virgin.
We were suppose to be flying March the 18th… LAX to LHR…due to the Corona virus….I have had to cancel and rearrange every thing…its been a nightmare, four different airlines… one Eurostar and four different hotels…all charging a fortune to transfer the dates….Especially… Virgin, adding another three grand (US$) to transfer dates….I chose the beginning of September hoping its all passed by then…and guess what…one of the countries on our tour…is Italy….!!!!!!
I guess the advantage is…you get served first…right.?…Thanks for that…
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