Arriving at Terminal 3, the Virgin check-in was busy for economy, but the dedicated premium economy check-in had only a few people in line. I had checked in online for my Sunday evening flight 24 hours earlier, selecting seat 18D at the front of the premium economy cabin and on the aisle. I joined this queue, but then saw the bag drop area and did just that. On flights to South Africa, Australia, Asia and Dubai with Virgin the total maximum check-in luggage weight for both economy and premium economy is 23kg per passenger (30kg for Upper Class).
I arrived at Gate 36 after the boarding had started, and so missed the priority boarding for premium economy passengers, but we were quickly on board, and I was offered a pre-flight drink of champagne, orange juice or water. The captain predicted a flight time of 11 hours and 47 minutes, and on time we pushed back and were airborne.
The new premium seat has a pitch of 96.5cm and a width of 53.3cm, nearly 8cm wider than many other airlines’ premium economy seats. It is already being rolled out across the London Heathrow fleet, with the Gatwick fleet due to be fitted next year. The seat configuration is 2-3-2.
We were flying on an Airbus 340-600, and throughout the journey the noise level was low. The new premium economy service claims to have its own dedicated (or as Virgin would have it, “devoted”) cabin crew. I was unconvinced by this, since the crew were definitely dealing with economy passengers on the other side of the curtain, and even by the end of the flight I didn’t recognise them in the way you would a crew for a business class section. That said, they were excellent and able to help with any requests, including a power cable for my laptop to use the in-seat power, and the cabin was small enough to feel you were getting extra attention. As with all refitted Virgin planes, the excellent V-port system offers audio and visual on-demand entertainment on a seatback TV, with films, TV shows, video games and up to 14 audio channels. As I was seated in the front row my screen was in the armrest, but it worked perfectly. One point: I flew back in a seat further back in the premium cabin and felt that being able to put my feet under the seat in front increased the legroom. The amenity pack contained the necessities (socks, ear plugs, toothpaste, toothbrush and eye shade).
Food and wine
Virgin’s wines are selected by Berry Bros & Rudd, and in premium economy these are its own-brand red and white. The food was served on china crockery with stainless steel cutlery. Dinner started with cous cous salad with Mediterranean vegetables, followed by a main course of sausage and mash, wok-fried chicken and Chinese vegetables, or Shanghai vegetable noodles. Dessert was a Gü pot au chocolat, and there was the offer of cheese and biscuits. I was impressed that there was an estimate of calories per serving for the main courses, and also by how quietly the food was served for those who wanted to sleep immediately. The whole dinner service was very smooth. Then the lights went down as an offer of an after-dinner liqueur was made. Breakfast was served a couple of hours before landing, and there was a choice of western (full English or vegetarian omelette) or Asian food (I had the seafood congee).
As any business class passenger will know, priority baggage is easily promised but more difficult to deliver. My bags weren’t last, but they certainly weren’t among the first.
Excellent. Virgin has been at the forefront of premium economy, and on flights of this length paying the extra above the economy ticket can make good sense. I flew back on the Friday evening flight, and although the plane was similarly busy, once again I was very impressed with the service and the on-board product.
From £1,756 for a midweek return at the end of February.
Premium economy options – London-Hong Kong direct
The World Traveller Plus seat offers a pitch of 96.5cm, width of 47cm, 18cm of recline, a 66cm long seat back and has adjustable leg and footrests. There are individual seatback video screens (AVOD is being introduced) and in-seat laptop power. Complimentary drinks (excluding champagne), newspaper, three-course meal and an amenity pack containing socks, eyeshade, toothpaste and toothbrush. Cabin maximum size of five rows, configuration is 2-4-2.
Air New Zealand
Although ANZ has licensed Virgin’s Upper Class seat (see review, Business Traveller December 2006/January 2007), it has designed its own Pacific Premium seat. Pitch is an impressive 96-101cm, with a recline angle of 36 degrees and seat width of 47cm. Seats also feature adjustable foot and leg rests. Complimentary drinks and cocktails are provided, while in-flight entertainment is AVOD viewed on a 21cm seatback screen.