Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class JFK-LHR

This article is a first in a series detailing my experiences on a recent jaunt to London with the purpose of watching the Yankees play the Red Sox in the first ever MLB game hosted in Europe. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if I was going to do it, I was going to get there and back in style.

I will first detail the outbound portion of the journey which started with a short positioning flight on Delta from BUF to JFK. Details of this flight and the booking process are chronicled separately.

Subsequent articles will showcase the experience at the game, the hotel and seeing the sights in London for a few days and the return flight on British Airways Club World business class. All of this was made possible with the power of points.

Booking

The flight in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from JFK to London Heathrow LHR was booked for 86,000 Delta Sky Miles +$5.60 in taxes. These miles were transferred 1:1 from my American Express Membership Rewards account. As many are aware, the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program does offer considerable value when used to book Delta flights. However when used to book flights on their own metal to London they tack on the egregious carrier imposed surcharges. While my same flight could have cost 57,500 Virgin Atlantic miles which can also transfer from Amex MR, it would have also cost $570 more in taxes. When my goal is to travel for as little cash outlay as possible I’m happy to trade an additional 28,500 miles to keep over $500 in my pocket.

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Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse JFK Terminal 4

Club House Sign

I had scheduled a long layover at JFK due to my positioning flight being booked on a separate itinerary. If there was any significant delays which caused me to miss my Virgin Atlantic flight there was no guarantee they had to accommodate me on another flight. For that reason, whenever I employ the strategy of positioning flights, I schedule generous layovers to reduce the risk of a missed connection. This also allows ample time to enjoy the amenities of the lounges I have access to.

Upon arrival to JFK, my first stop was the Delta Sky Club in Terminal 4. I had access to this lounge separately due to flying inbound on Delta while holding an American Express Platinum card.

Since I was flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class I also had complimentary access to the airline’s Clubhouse in Terminal 4. This along with the Revivals Lounge at LHR is an important part of the overall Upper Class experience so I will review them as part of this article. I was looking forward to the Clubhouse experience as they are known to be some of the best airline lounges in the world.

After walking across Terminal 4, I found signs next to gate A5 pointing me upstairs to the Airline Lounges where Virgin shared the floor with Air India and Emirates.

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I was greeted by a friendly desk agent to who I showed my mobile boarding pass while I also requested a paper copy. I always like to have a backup in case of mobile device failure and also to add to my #avgeek collection.

Immediately after the check in desk is a convenient luggage storage area. Since the lounge was not very crowded and I only had my carry on with me, I declined the use of this feature. Once I proceeded into the lounge proper I felt like I was transported back to the set of an Austin Powers movie. The retro decor and furniture was quite unique and unlike any other lounges I have been to.

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It was also the first lounge I’ve been to that had a pool table. I must admit though those red ball wrap around couch definitely sacrificed comfort for style. It showcased Virgin Atlantic’s desire to differentiate itself as an airline with more personality than the rest.

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A friend of mine was joining me on this transatlantic trip and was arriving at JFK separately. Since he had not arrived yet, after a quick self tour of the lounge, I grabbed a seat at the well stocked bar.

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I ordered my standard vodka martini and sipped on it while I took in the chic atmosphere.

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Shortly after, I made my way to a secluded area with a large semi-circular couch sunken into the floor. There is a formal dining area on the opposite end of the lounge but the attentive wait staff deliver food and drink to any seat in the lounge. I was planning on having dinner on the plane so this private space proved to be a great location to pass the next few hours before the flight while having snacks and drinks delivered right to us.

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Sure enough, not long after I sat down, a server make his way to me and asked if I would like anything additional to eat or drink.  I ordered another martini and after perusing the menu I chose salmon gravlax. It was delicious and well presented but I expected the portion size to be more than just a bite of salmon on a single piece of toast. I’ll know in the future to order multiple pieces.

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My traveling companion arrived and we ordered some fish tacos. They were a bit dry but ok for a light bite.

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Next we decided to peruse some heavier options on the menu and chose to split the Clubhouse Cheeseburger with chips. I’ve heard good things about this burger and it did not disappoint. After sufficiently sampling the clubhouse our departure time neared and we headed downstairs to our gate.

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Onboard Experience

Conveniently our departure gate was A5, directly downstairs from the Clubhouse. Our flight started boarding on time and as Upper Class passengers we were in the Priority Boarding group. We made our way down a winding series of ramps to our awaiting aircraft, G-VSXY “Beauty Queen.”

This particular A330-300 was 8.5 years old and contained 31 Upper Class seats in a 1-1-1 configuration. Immediately after entering the aircraft we were greeted by the onboard bar available to Upper Class passengers. We turned left and headed to our seats while being soothed by the warm purple lighting throughout the cabin.

The seats were in a herringbone configuration with each one facing the aisle. This was nice for aisle access but meant looking out the window required significant neck contortion. As expected, the port side provided more privacy as the middle seats faced the opposite direction so there was a wall directly in front of you. There was no awkward staring at your neighbor across the aisle like on the starboard side.

The seats were a bit narrow and made conversing with my friend sitting behind me difficult but were overall fairly comfortable in the upright position. The storage space was also nice and the tray table was quite large and sturdy. There was also a built in ottoman across from the seat which had space underneath for shoe storage. It also served as a stool in case you wanted to entertain visitors and even had it’s own seatbelt in case of turbulence.

Waiting at the seat was a standard amenity kit, a complimentary set of pajamas and a bottle of water. A flight attendant came by to offer a pre-departure beverage. I chose the sparkling wine. He also took my order for dinner and breakfast. Since the breakfast menu is very similar to what is offered in the revivals lounge I opted to skip it for more sleep.

Meal Service

Meal service started promptly after reaching cruising altitude with a pleasant starter salad and a an assortment of rolls. The airplane themed salt and pepper shakers were a nice touch. I meant to take them with me since even though they appear metallic were actually made out of lightweight plastic. In the end I deemed it wasn’t worth spilling salt and pepper in the inside of my bag so I left them.

The main course came with another beverage offering. I opted for the steak and mashed potatoes. It was about as good as airplane beef gets and had a generous side of gravy to help with the dryness. The portion was adequate especially being filled with snacks from the Clubhouse. For that reason I also skipped dessert which was a choice of pudding or some type of apple crisp.

In Flight Entertainment

The built in Panasonic IFE screen was large, responsive and contained an ample amount of content. My biggest complaint about it though was the placement. It was mounted to the side and pivoted out so it came more perpendicular with your face. The only problem was during meal service it was too close to the tray and got in the way. It could be stowed back in the seat and viewed at an awkward angle. These two configurations made it difficult to eat and watch a movie at the same time. I got through about half of First Man while trying to balance dinner and the IFE screen. By then I was ready for bed.

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Onboard Bar

Since I’ve never drank at a bar on an airplane I was determined to give it a try. After dinner the flight attendants came through and asked if we would like a turndown service. Converting the seat from upright to bed position seemed to be complicated as the back of the seat flipped completely over to form the bed. Since it was offered I gladly accepted the help. I also took this opportunity to check out the bar.

The bar seemed to be mostly self service but a nearby flight attendant assisted me in obtaining a G&T. I concluded that the bar is a neat amenity but on an overnight flight it’s more of a gimmick. You can order drinks at your seat and most people’s goal on red eye is to use any downtime to sleep. I imagine a daytime or longer flight might have a bit more use for the onboard bar.

Bed

After my quick nightcap, I returned to my seat which had been nicely converted into bed mode. The duvet cover and bedding were soft and fluffy but the pillow was terribly uncomfortable. I understand that airplane pillows are not the same as those at home but this one was very flat and about 1/3 the side of a normal pillow. I requested a second pillow and was disappointed to hear they had no extras but they could possibly scrounge one up from Premium. The FA did return with a so called premium economy pillow but it was exceedingly worse. The pillow provided on my regional flight earlier that day was thicker.

Despite the pillow, the bed was adequate but it still took me awhile to get comfortable before I got a few hours of light sleep. I wouldn’t say it was refreshing but it got the job done. If I had a more comfortable pillow I think it would have greatly improved the experience.

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Arrival

About 45 minutes before landing, the cabin started to wake up and the FA began serving breakfast to those who requested it. Once I realized what continent I was on I stood up to convert my seat back into it’s upright position. The FA distributed passes to the Upper Class cabin which allowed us to utilize the fast track line through UK passport control. I chose to spend the remaining time on the flight watching our sunny approach into LHR through the awkwardly positioned window.

Despite the on time departure, a lengthy taxi caused us to arrive to our gate at Terminal 3 ten minutes later than scheduled. Not a big deal. We deplaned quickly through the 2A door which was also used for boarding and we made our way through a series of long hallways to UK Customs. The fast track card got us through in no more than 5 minutes then with no checked bags to claim we were off to the arrival lounge.

Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge LHR Terminal 3

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The Virgin Revivals Lounge is located landside on the upper level of Terminal 3, not far from the entrance to the Underground and Heathrow Express. Check in was easy. I just needed to provide my name and was flight I was on. The agent quickly confirmed I was an Upper Class passenger and eligible to use the lounge.

I immediately made my way to an open shower room to freshen up. Being able to take a shower after an overnight flight is by far the best benefit of an arrival lounge. The shower was clean and well stocked with products.

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After a refreshing shower I went to the dining area for breakfast. Unlike the lavish Clubhouse, the Revivals Lounge was moderately furnished. You could tell the purpose of this lounge was business. Clean up, have breakfast and get ready for your day.

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My friend and I found a seat and quickly perused the menu. I ordered coffee and the Full English Breakfast. I never had beans for breakfast but it wasn’t a bad accompaniment to the eggs, sausage and bacon.

The lounge definitely did it’s job and after finishing breakfast we were ready to catch the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station.

Overall Impression

Virgin’s Upper Class is a unique and stylish way to cross the Atlantic. Pajamas, the onboard bar and posh lounges are all amenities that set them apart from other European and North American carriers. The crew in both the lounges and in the air were genuinely friendly and proficient.

The seat did feel cramped and was orientated awkwardly. The bedding was adequate but the pillow was horribly uncomfortable.

Pros

  • Lounges
  • Friendly Service
  • Tray table
  • Cabin lighting and decor

Cons

  • Narrow seat area
  • Poor view out the window
  • Extremely uncomfortable pillow
  • IFE location
  • Onboard bar not beneficial on an overnight flight

For 86,000 Sky Miles and only $5.60 in taxes it was a solid value. The miles were higher than other programs but the biggest advantage to booking through Delta was the avoidance of sky high fees common with many flights into London.

I would fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class again but next time I would try a westbound trip during the day so the uncomfortable bedding won’t be as big of a factor and the onboard bar would be more useful. Lastly departing from LHR would allow access to the flagship Clubhouse which is reported to be even larger and nicer than the one at JFK.

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