FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I arrived at Pudong Airport at 1000 for my 1145 flight to London. Check in was swift and there were three Upper Class desks open. As I approached, one became free so I was quickly checked in and given details of the lounge. Immigration and security were surprisingly light and I quickly arrived at the lounge near gate 18.
THE LOUNGE: Compared with Virgin’s hip London Clubhouse, this was very basic. There was a selection of drinks and food including rice, sandwiches and snacks, although English papers and magazines were scarce. I decided to pass as I knew the food on the plane would be better. The lounge is operated by the airport, which perhaps explains the difference between the London and Shanghai service.
BOARDING: A boarding announcement was made at 1100 and it was a very short walk to the gate.
The flight was on an Airbus A340 with the Upper Class Suites fitted in herringbone pattern. I found my seat and was offered a drink. I went to the bar to get a newspaper but there were no English papers, which was rather disappointing having been in China for several days. The in-flight masseur asked if I would like a beauty treatment but I declined so I could sleep and work.
There was a warm welcome from the cabin director and there was an offer of help explaining how the seat worked as well as information on the flight and duration. The plane pulled away a couple of minutes late from the gate and was airborne at 1210.
To save waste and money, we were no longer given an amenity kit but a snooze pack including socks, earplugs and eyeshades. About 15 minutes after take off, a stewardess came through offering a toothbrush and pen, although I believe other items such as collar stiffeners and creams are available on request.
The in-flight entertainment system was switched on. It is on demand and includes 54 movie channels, TV channels as well audio and the ability to text. Virgin’s latest is to offer a service of text a question and get a reply at a cost of US$4.50. On this flight, neither the moving map or text service was working.
Drinks with nuts or crisps were served although in seat 7A, I seemed to fall between two staff members and neither thought they were looking after me so I had to ask for a drink. The Freedom Menu means you can eat when you want and there was a selection of main meals and light bites. I chose the dim sum selection which was good, followed by Szechuan chicken and cashew nuts, although I could not find any nuts! For dessert I had ice cream. Afternoon tea is served two hours before landing but I opted for a pastrami and mustard roll from the smaller bites menu.
THE SEAT: The Upper Class suite comes with an individual screen, laptop power (adaptors can be borrowed on the plane), personal light. If you travel with a guest, you can dine with them or have a meeting with if they sit on your footstool.
The seat is 33 inches wide and 79.5 inches long. Sleep is aided by a pillow, sleep suit and duvet, and I slept well for a couple of hours after the main meal. There is no need for an adjustable privacy screen as the herringbone formation ensures you can’t see the person either side of you!
ARRIVAL: As we came in to land, music was turned on that sounded like a radio station with bad interference. It was a great relief when it was eventually switched off. The flight landed at 1628, a few minutes late. Immigration was quiet and as my bag arrived shortly after me at the carousel setting what felt like an all-time record for Heathrow. I was out of the airport within 30 minutes of landing.
VERDICT: A great seat, although not everything lived up to Virgin’s usual high standard.
PRICE: Round trip starts from US$7,384.60.