Tried & Tested

Flight review: Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 Upper Class Suite

7 Oct 2019 by Tom Otley
Virgin A350-1000 nose

Background

Virgin Atlantic is receiving four new A350-1000 aircraft this year, followed by a further eight by 2021. These new deliveries are replacing the airline’s B747-400 aircraft, and initially will be on the New York JFK route, with other routes gradually being introduced including Los Angeles. We have an updated list of destinations here:

Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 routes

As with other aircraft, the livery of this aircraft – G-VLUX (Red Velvet) – is distinctive, with Zadie being the “flying icon”, soon to be joined by G-VPOP (Mamma Mia) and G-VJAM (Queen of Hearts), followed by Oscar on G-VPRD (Rain Bow). This new aircraft features the carrier’s new Upper Class suites.

You can watch a video review below, and then read on for more detail.

First impressions

I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 0945 for the 1205 departure on VS605, a flight of six hours and 35 minutes. Check-in at the dedicated Upper Class desks was quick. Normally you then take an elevator up to the Virgin Wing but the lift was broken, so I took the escalator instead. There was a ten-minute wait to complete security and then I was airside. I did a bit of shopping and went to the Clubhouse.

Virgin Atlantic A350

The lounge

The Clubhouse is still considered one of the best lounges worldwide, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s an attractively designed place, with lots of different areas where you can eat, work or just socialise, and even in the morning it gives you a heightened sense of having arrived, even if it’s only at the first part of your journey.

The lounge was very busy this morning, mainly because this “celebration” flight of the A350 meant that there were many more people in the lounge than normal at this time, and at one end there was a cordoned-off area for press. I managed to secure a ten-minute head and shoulder massage. These are available (along with other treatments) for extra cost (many of them are free if you are gold in Flying Club), but they are a good way of using your miles if you have a few spare.

Virgin Atlantic the-journey

Boarding

We boarded at Gate 17 where there was a reception, with gifts being given out to passengers (a large washbag). Once on board I was offered a choice of orange juice, champagne or water. At the seat was the new recyclable washbag.

The new Upper Class suite on Virgin Atlantic's A350-1000

The seat

The A350-1000 is configured in three classes with a total of 335 seats: 235 in economy, 56 in premium economy and 44 in business class in a 1-2-1 configuration. Business has 11 rows (numbered 1-11) in an A-DG-K format.

The seat is a bespoke version of the Safran Cirrus NG, with the addition of a sliding privacy screen. This is definitely not a door, you can exit the seat and get into the aisle with it “shut”, but it does provide extra privacy and is very welcome if you’re in one of the centre seats and don’t know (or want to know) your neighbour (I took a picture of it ‘closed’ which you can look at further down this review, or watch me closing it on the YouTube video – exciting!)

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class

There’s plenty of room and the seat feels spacious, although this is at the expense of storage. Put bluntly, there isn’t any, at least for take-off and landing. To one side of the seat is an open area with two shelves, and there’s a table area above the seat controls which obviously is useful during the flight but not before then, and there’s a very thin magazine holder where you’ll find the headphones when you first board, and that’s it. So if you want anything with you during take-off and landing you have to hold it in your hands, and that includes taxiing, which, for instance, on this lunchtime flight from Heathrow to New York involved a near 30-minute taxi before take-off.

All seats face the window, both window seats and centre seats, meaning for the centre seats if you are with a friend or loved one it can be difficult to chat, but it at least gives you privacy if you want it.

Virgin Atlantic A3501-000 old Tray-table

This was the first delivery of the A350, and there were quite a few teething problems with the onboard experience. The first is that the tray table is being completely replaced on this aircraft and on the next one which has just been delivered, and will be redesigned on all deliveries after that. Since by the time you fly this seat it will have been replaced, I can’t really say what it will be like, but the present one is large, very firm for working on, but doesn’t give you enough space, especially if you have a large stomach.

Virgin was open about the need for this change because of customer feedback and I interviewed Daniel Kerzner, Virgin’s VP for Customer Experience, about it.

Virgin Atlantic tray-table-extended

The in-flight entertainment system, the Zodiac Rave System from Zodiac Inflight Innovations (Zii), is very innovative, not least because there is no remote control for the system, so you either have to use the 18.5-inch touchscreen, or pair the system to your device.

I think this is a very interesting idea, but it didn’t work on this flight and it didn’t work on the return a day later. When (or if) it does work, it means you can control the IFE screen from your device, you can connect to the IFE using Bluetooth and watch the content on your device, and of course you could also stay in touch (if you pay extra) by buying a package to use a set amount of MB.

There is also wifi on board courtesy of Inmarsat and T-Mobile, with is GX KA Band wifi connectivity. On the way out, this was provided for free, and so was massively over-subscribed and didn’t really work. On the way back, it didn’t work at all for the whole flight, even with an engineer on board. The theory was Inmarsat had done a software update. Who knows. I’ve asked for details of the pricing and will include them when I find out. One thing the IFE did very well was offer a view of take-off using the tail cam (there’s also a front view option).

Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 IFE-screen

The IFE screen is a touchscreen. One problem with this can be that you end up being disturbed by some heavy handed person bashing the screen behind you, with the vibrations coming through the seat. To test this,  I asked the person in front to judge while I scrolled through the entertainment in a far more heavy-handed way than I normally would employ and was told she could feel nothing, so that’s a plus.

In terms of entertainment, there’s a choice of over 100 movies, 300 hours of TV shows, over 350 albums and podcasts and over 45 hours of kids’ content. I didn’t watch it because I was working, but the quality of the HD screen looked good when I walked past other passengers’ seats.

For power, there are two USB ports, one just above an AC plug which is at knee level in the body of the seat, and a second under the open shelves. The controls for the seat take a little getting used to, and I found I had to shift my weight around in the seat before it would recline down to a bed, and also to get the seat back into a sitting position. For take-off and landing, there is an over-the-shoulder strap as well as a waist strap.

I’d noticed on the BA A350-1000 that the overhead lockers for the centre seats are difficult to reach, but that’s not a problem on the Virgin version because there’s a foot recess in the side of the seat so people can raise themselves up to access the lockers. There’s a good reason for this from the airline’s point of view since it stops people standing on the seats and dirtying them.

Best seats

The best seats for legroom (or more accurately, foot room), are the bulkhead seats in row 1 because they have the most leg room (foot room, really). There’s a possibility of being disturbed by noise from the galley there, though, and also 1D and 1G face the window – in fact, they face the toilets – so I’d avoid those. You can see the standard foot room below.

Virgin Atlantic footwell A350-1000 Upper Class

The flight

This was not a normal flight. In fact, in many ways it was like a charter flight with the aircraft filled with journalists, bloggers, invited frequent flyers, top customers, service partners, and the rest of the aircraft being occupied by various guests, from Virgin Atlantic employees to travel agents. So to be fair, I don’t think the service was typical, and I mean that as an excuse for the hard-working flight attendants who struggled with aisles full of people chatting and the various issues there were with the IFE, wifi and a very busy Loft area. (On the way back it was the same crew, and they were superb).

As with the BA configuration, these aisles are tight and if you meet someone coming the other way, it’s difficult to get past one another if the doors are shut because you can’t just step into a passenger’s space.

Virgin Atlantic Curry-2

The meal started with warm breads, then a choice of tomato soup with crème fraiche; citrus seared prawns, watermelon salsa, coriander, mint, sweet chilli and lime dressing; or cumin roasted cauliflower, asparagus, tomato, cucumber, minted yoghurt dressing. I had the cauliflower which was very small, but tasty (cold).

The mains were a choice of Louisiana crab cakes, barbecue crona salsa, spiced sour cream; Herefordshire short rib, portobello mushroom, fondant potato, red wine sauce; Thai vegetable curry, jasmine rice, charred baby aubergine, coriander; or chicken and leek pie, parmesan mashed potato, crushed peas, honey carrots, gravy. I went for the curry, which was delicious. Desserts were raspberry sponge pudding with double cream or chocolate hazelnut tart, white chocolate mendicant. Choice of cheeses were Cotswold Brie, Rutland Red, Cropwell Bishop Stilton.

The wines were Canard-Duchene Champagne; 2018 Berry Bros & Rudd Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux; 2017 Maddie Lane Chardonnay, Lodi, California; 2018 Eva Fricke Rheingau Riesling, Germany; 2018 Cantor Rojo Rioja, Spain; 2017 Graci Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy; 2014 Domaine de Valmengaux, Bordeaux; Quinta Do Noval LBV Port.

Cocktails were a Passionfruit Mojito, Tropical Mimosa, Five a Day, Sunset Martini. Beers: Camden Hells, Stella Artois, Budweiser, Beck’s Blue.

The coffee was good, from “Change Please Coffee”, including unusual ones like Highland coffee with Glen Deveron Scotch whisky, South African coffee with Amarula cream, or Brandy coffee with Otard cognac. There were also Pukka teas – 8 varieties, and cold juices – Energise – rosemary and berries; Invigorate, cucumber and mint.

This was a day flight, and I wanted to record some video and write this review, so although I reclined the seat the flight wasn’t long enough to really test it. However, on the return flight I slept well, although it is a little tight if you like sleeping on your side and are tall, since you will find your knees can’t get into a comfortable position.

The seat has a very comfortable padded bottom sheet which has been designed so it fits over the headrest and you can set yourself up for bed ready to recline once it is safe to do so and go straight to sleep, useful on the short flights back from the east coast of the United States, for instance.

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class bed

Since comparison with the BA seat is inevitable, I’d say I prefer the BA seat for sleeping, but let’s see what everyone else thinks. On the return there was also a problem with the lighting so they couldn’t turn off the vanity lighting around each seat, so you definitely needed the provided eye mask.

On this flight, there was the choice of extra food, including a Classic gourmet beef burger with a brioche bun, Swiss cheese, red cabbage slaw, crisps.

Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 Centre-seats

Virgin has been known for its bars on board, with a couple of different designs depending on the aircraft. On the A350-1000 this area by the main door (door 2) has been replaced by something called The Loft, which has eight seats, with two sofas facing one another and a couple of single seats.

There’s a large TV screen showing the tailfin view, and some atmospheric mood lighting. You can (in theory) order drinks here from your handheld device once you have connected it via Bluetooth to your IFE system. When it works, it will be great. On this flight it was busy with people doing interviews or chatting. On the way back it was quieter, and I sat there in the morning after sleeping and enjoyed having the space away from my seat.

On this outbound flight, the crew also somehow managed to serve the new signature Eric Lanlard afternoon tea – hot smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, beetroot wrap; salt beef pickle, cheese, malted roll; or brie and chilli jam malted roll; sweet potato falafel in a beetroot wrap, warm Mediterranean vegetable tart, warm scones, chocolate and salted caramel éclair, red velvet macaron.

Arrival

We arrived a little early into New York, but then there was a problem attaching the airbridge and we were delayed by 30 minutes. This was nothing, however, to the disgrace of the Terminal 4 immigration hall at JFK, where chaos reigned, and while some of us waited nearly two hours to be processed, others were directed into the “wrong” queue and somehow managed to get through in 15 minutes. A shambles that JFK ought to be ashamed of.

JFK-immigration-queues

Verdict

This seat is preferable to Virgin’s existing one, since it reclines straight into bed mode without having to flip it over, and also has a very comfortable padded bottom sheet. There are a few problems which will soon be sorted out I think, and, as always, the Virgin service was superb.

Fact Box

Configuration: 1-2-1

Seat recline: 180 degrees

Seat width: 18.5 inches

Bed length: 82 inches

Best for

The excellent, friendly service and the comfort of the new seat with its bedding.

virginatlantic.com

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