Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic B747-400 Upper Class

31 Mar 2014 by Jenny Southan

CHECK-IN

I checked in online the day before for flight VS001, inputting my advanced passenger details, selecting a seat near the front of the main deck of the B747 (far away from the bar), and choosing to have my boarding pass sent to my phone.

Upper Class passengers can travel with three checked cases up to 32kg each and, if you pre-book at least 12 hours before departure, you can avail of a chauffeur transfer both to and from the airport (for fare booking classes J, D, C or I only).

The following afternoon, I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 3 via the Underground station, taking a lift up to departures and turning left to the dedicated Virgin check-in zone. There were numerous self-service kiosks, as well as staffed check-in and bag-drop desks – three for Upper Class (business class), 31, 32 and 33.

There was only one person ahead of me at each of these desks so it didn’t take long to be seen – my mobile boarding pass wasn’t needed as I was issued with a regular paper one, along with a blue customs card.

I then took the lift up to the next floor, following the signs to the Clubhouse, where, en route, I passed through fast-track security. There was only one channel but just one other passenger ahead of me so it didn’t take long to get through (laptops and liquids out as usual). From here it was into the main departure terminal and through the duty-free area to the Clubhouse lounge (designated H).

THE LOUNGE

The spacious, open-plan Clubhouse is a pleasure to experience, especially given the à la carte food offering and very impressive staffed Deli, with all manner of salads, cheese, cold meats and slabs of smoked salmon.

After booking an express manicure at the spa for 1445, I took a table for lunch in the waitress-operated dining section (the Brasserie), ordering a glass of Lanson Black Label champagne, the green pea velouté to start, and the truffle, pea and Parmesan tagliatelle as a main (portions are quite small).

The soup was superb – restaurant quality in terms of flavour and presentation, being served in a jug and poured into a shallow bowl with a crouton topped with crème fraîche placed in the centre. The pasta was a little tasteless and slightly chewy so not quite as successful. I finished with a couple of slices of cheese from the deli, served with a very tasty chutney and moreish seeded crispbread.

At 1445 I went for my manicure at the spa – the therapist was professional and friendly and completed the task in the assigned 15 minutes (if you want polish you have to pay an extra £15). A back and shoulder massage or an express pedicure is also available, and there is also a salon if you need a trim, along with a spa bath (though I was told this wasn't working), steam rooms and showers at the back.

Unique facilities are abundant in the Clubhouse – from an old-fashioned shoe polishing station and a red baize pool table, to a music mixing lounge and a Grey Goose Loft bar, your every need and whim is catered for. I only wished I'd had time for a Sipsmith gin and tonic at the long sit-up bar.

I also liked the quirky Perspex bubble chairs that hung from the ceiling, the good selection of complimentary magazines and newspapers (Wired, FT, The Daily Telegraph, Independent etc), and the views on to the tarmac where you can see planes taxiing to and from their gates.

Other amenities include free wifi, plenty of charging points for your laptop or phone, a screening area, a kid’s playground, pic ‘n’ mix sweets, an office/library, and “Gallery” seating sections overlooking the gates. The interior design is highly contemporary and cool, and the ambiance inviting, warm and relaxing.

BOARDING

There are both screens and announcements in the lounge, and my flight to New York Newark, scheduled for 1600, began boarding at 1445, although business class passengers weren't invited to make their way to Gate 13 until 1510. I left shortly after, by which point it was on its final call.

It was roughly an eight-minute walk to the gate, where passports and boarding passes were checked, before passengers entered the plane (I noticed it was called Cosmic Girl) via an airbridge.

I was welcomed on board by a very amenable member of cabin crew and directed to my seat (14K) towards the front of the main deck, on the right. Another member of crew was on-hand to promptly hang my coat, taking the smaller portion of my boarding pass to attach to it as identification. Once settled, I was offered a champagne, Buck's Fizz, Mimosa, juice or water, followed by a choice of newspapers.

THE SEAT

According to Virgin Atlantic’s website, its new Upper Class Suite “is available on selected A330 flights to New York JFK, Washington, Boston, Delhi and Mumbai, with other destinations coming soon”. So this meant that on my B747 flight to Newark, it was the older business class product. (Click here for details of the new seat.)

The seat, which folds down to create a fully flat bed, was very comfortable nevertheless. For those looking to sleep, there was a large, soft pillow in a white cotton pillowcase stowed behind the seat, along with a white cotton mattress topper and duvet.

There was a ten-inch entertainment screen which popped out of the side of the seat and was attached to an arm for easy adjustment, along with a handheld remote, in-seat power, a large, sturdy table that slid up and out of the wall, and slots for magazines/headphones (which are provided) and other smaller items.

The seats on the B747-400 are arranged in a herringbone layout allowing for plenty of privacy (each comes in its own shell) and direct aisle access for all passengers. There is also an ottoman at the end of each seat, which can be used as a footrest or a buddy seat, if you have a friend or colleague who wants to join you for a meal or drink.

In the front section of the main deck there are seven rows (12-19) arranged 1-1, while further back is an additional six rows (20-25) configured 1-2-1. Upstairs there are another five rows (1-1), along with six rows of economy class. The plane also has economy and premium economy seats on the main deck. (Click here for more information and pictures.)

Click here to see a seat plan.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Avoid sitting to close to the bar (A/K seats in rows 24 and 25) as you could suffer some disturbance if there are socialites on board. Likewise, being too close to the washrooms and galley can mean there is more noise/light/odours so avoid rows 19 and 20.

I liked sitting near the front of the main deck, although sitting slightly further back in rows 16 or 17 would probably have given me the maximum feeling of space. Seats at the very front, in row 12, feel a bit close to the person across from you. They are all good seats, though, so you can’t go too wrong. Upstairs has a nice exclusive feel.

THE FLIGHT

Modest amenity kits were placed on the ottoman and contained a few essentials (socks, earplugs, an eyemask, pen, toothbrush, paste, Mentos mint, tissues and pen). Bottles of water were also provided, and menus were handed out shortly before take-off.

At 1555, passengers were instructed to turn devices off or put them into flight mode for take-off, and for crew to prepare the doors for cross check. The pilot then announced that the flight time was expected to be seven hours 20 minutes, and that there were 240 passengers, 14 cabin crew and two flight crew on board.

Take off was at 1610 and, once airborne, drinks orders were taken and delivered, with beverages served with bowls of salt and vinegar crisps. (Hot towels were also given out.) Dinner and duty-free orders were taken at 1745, with tables laid with cloths, salt and pepper shakers (aeroplane shaped), cloth napkins and metal cutlery at 1805. Fresh bread rolls were also offered.

I requested the soup, which was supposed to be minestrone but I am pretty sure was carrot and coriander. This was followed by a tasty korma curry with paneer cheese balls and rice, served in a white china bowl. Wine was served in glass tumblers – there was a choice of Lanson Black Label champagne, and three red and three white wines, which were brought around in holsters by crew.

I watched a film on the IFE – there was a good choice of recent releases the picture quality was good. Later, I went to the bar for a Bloody Mary and chatted with two of the crew. Most people on the flight were sleeping. For those who were peckish, there were “Plane” Tyrell’s crisps and Green and Black’s chocolate. Before landing, light bites (such as tempura vegetables with Asian noodles) were also offered around.

ARRIVAL

Landing was estimated to be at 1935 local time, with the captain advising at 1855 (2255 UK time) when there were just 30 minutes left to go. He also said just five minutes of taxiing should mean we would be ahead of schedule. Bowls of Love Heart sweets were proffered before the crew took their seats for landing.

There were also warnings announced of US agricultural regulations against carrying meat, fruit and dairy produce into the country with cash fines imposed. I filled in my customs declaration form as the plane made its gradual descent. The aircraft landed at Newark’s Terminal B at 1940, making a short taxi to the gate where passengers we swiftly disembarked via an airbridge.

I paused to help an older woman get her bags down from an overhead bin, which meant I was further back in the queue of people that rapidly formed at immigration. There was a 30-minute wait to be processed, but once in baggage reclaim, my priority tagged case was waiting for me, and then it was simply a case of handing back my customs form at another checkpoint before exiting to the landside arrivals area.

Outside there was a further 20-minute wait for a taxi – there are a series of flat rate fees into Manhattan (expect to pay about US$55, plus US$18 for the tolls.

VERDICT

A superb, punctual business class flight – from the top-class Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow, to the very good onboard dining, entertainment and service.

Although this isn’t Virgin’s newest fully flat bed product, it is still a very comfortable proposition, and the mile-high bar a nice touch (although hardly anyone seemed to be using it). I arrived feeling stress-free and rested.


FACT FILE

  • CONFIGURATION
    Main deck: 1-2-1 (A, D-G, K) / 1-1 (A-K)
    Upper deck: 1-1 (A-K)
  • SEAT LENGTH 79.5-82 inches
  • SEAT WIDTH 22 inches
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London Heathrow to New York Newark started from £5,014 in May.
  • CONTACT virgin-atlantic.com


Jenny Southan


Loading comments...
Business Traveller September 2019 edition
Business Traveller September 2019 edition
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below
Polls