Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

30 May 2012 by Tom Otley

Background This is the new Upper Class “Suite” on Virgin’s new A330 aircraft. For a review of the outbound day leg, click here. This review focuses on the night flight back and the seat’s suitability for sleeping.

Check-in I arrived at New York JFK Terminal 4 at 1630 for the 1815 departure on flight VS4. The Upper Class check-in area is at Row 7. We had boarding passes so went down one level, walked past the shops, went through security, and headed to Gate A4, where the new lounge is located.

The lounge This is the new US$7 million Clubhouse, a stunning place with great food and design that is up there with Virgin’s Clubhouse at Heathrow T3. Click here for a full review.

Boarding The A330 was a two-minute walk from the gate, so when the flight was called I was on board in minutes. My jacket was taken and I was offered juice, champagne or water. I asked for pyjamas since I wanted to get as much sleep as I could and was going to work on arrival.

The seat The cabin has 33 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration rather than the 1-1-1 on the older Upper Class incarnation. I was in window seat 2A. There are no overhead lockers over the centre seats, but while this creates a real sense of space, it means those passengers will also use the lockers over the window seats. The layout has allowed Virgin to add an extra three seats to the A330 (which is the same internal width as its A340s) but there is a price to pay. The aisles are narrow – my wheel-on bag only just fitted through, and my laptop case, though admittedly bulky, was brushing against the ends of the ottoman seats.

Not all the seats are the same length when fully reclined (or in Virgin’s case, flipped over). The centre seats are shorter by about five inches, so the bed-length figure given as 87 inches/221cm applies only to the window seats, and those are the ones you should choose if you are over, say, 5 foot 11 (that’s my height, and having flown both in the centre and by the window, I could sleep equally well in both, but if I was taller I might have wanted the extra room). Whichever seat you have, the chances are people will knock into your feet once you are lying down. It happened to me several times, though not enough to wake me completely.

The new seat is an evolution rather than a revolution – if you want to convert it into a bed you still have to get up and have it flipped over. There is only one armrest, which folds out from the same wall as that containing the new 12.1-inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) touchscreen, and there is a small fold-down tray for drinks. There are USB and other inputs, and a power socket for UK, US and European plugs.

On take-off there was an announcement that phones could be used. The Aeromobile system means you can use your mobile as normal and roaming charges appear on your bill as if you were abroad. I didn’t hear anyone make a call but cabin crew told me they would have been asked to move to the bar area while they did so. The IFE system has an impressive amount of programming, along with live Sky news and the ability to plug in devices and view them on-screen. I tried this on the way out but had no luck with either my iPad or camera. In addition, the hand control for the screen was over-sensitive and difficult to use.

The flight The menus were waiting for us when we boarded (high tea comprising sandwiches, scones and cakes was on offer) but I didn’t want anything. After take-off I had my bed made and was given a bottle of water. I used the eye mask, socks and earplugs in the amenity kit and went to sleep. I thought the bed was very comfortable and good for sleeping on your side, which isn’t easy in many business class seats.

Arrival I woke 50 minutes before arrival and was offered breakfast. I had cereal, tea and juice but said no to the bacon roll and cream cheese bagel. We landed on time and went quickly through immigration. I made my way by underground into London (Upper Class passengers also have the option of limo transfers, free with particular flexible tickets).

Verdict A good seat, though if you are expecting something very different, you’ll be disappointed. New aircraft will have it but existing ones won’t. I think it’s at its best when you want to sleep, although much of the excellence is down to the service – the staff are experienced, know when to keep the cabin quiet, and fit their service around your sleep.

Fact file

  • PLANE TYPE A330-300
  • SEAT WIDTH 23in/58.4cm
  • SEAT LENGTH 82-87in/208.3-221cm
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return Upper Class flight from London to New York in July ranged between £2,443 and £6,519 depending on flexibility.

Tom Otley

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