Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic B787-9 Upper Class

14 May 2015 by Tom Otley

BACKGROUND

Virgin received its first Boeing 787-9 in October and now has four of the aircraft out of a total 17 Dreamliners.

The B787-9’s first route was a six-times weekly service from London Heathrow to Boston. The B787-9 currently flies to Los Angeles, Delhi, JFK, Newark and Boston.

Read reviews of flights flight from London Gatwick to Atlanta here and the return service from Atlanta to Heathrow here (Virgin no longer flies the stretched Dreamliner to Atlanta, but did so shortly after receiving the aircraft).

Virgin LHR Clubhouse

Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3

Boeing has now delivered around 130 B787s — both the B787-8 and larger B787-9 aircraft. To see where they are flying at any moment, check out this Boeing website here.

CHECK-IN

I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 3 for the VS007 flight to Los Angeles, which has a flight time of ten hours, at 0915 and walked straight to check-in 33 in Zone A.

Virgin offers a chauffeur drive check-in for passengers buying flexible tickets, but I was on a restricted one, and so took a taxi to the airport from home.

After dropping off my bag, I took the lift straight to the dedicated security one floor above, and was quickly through airside where it was a short walk through duty free to the Clubhouse Lounge.

THE LOUNGE

Virgin’s Clubhouse still regularly wins awards, and you can see why.

It hasn’t grown tired in the years it has been open, and there have been various subtle changes (In fact I’m pretty sure these photos aren’t quite right). But anyway, it’s still possible to have a spa treatment, get your hair cut, enjoy a proper á la carte sit-down meal and drink much more than is good for you, all before a morning flight.

I’ve been there before, however, so I settled down with my laptop, had several coffees and a bowl of berries with some yoghurt.

Virgin LHR Clubhouse

The flight was called promptly from the lounge and I made my way back down the stairs to the gate, which was accessed at the end of a long corridor, with a couple of moving walkways to speed your progress.

THE SEAT

The Dreamliner is configured for 264 passengers, with 198 in economy (a Recaro 3620 seat with 31 inches of legroom), 35 passengers in premium economy (Zodiac Reverb with a 38-inch pitch) and 31 in business (a Zodiac UCS3).

To see a seatplan, click here.

The Upper Class seats are the same style as on existing Virgin aircraft, but there are small design touches including smooth contours, unmarked moulded shells “with geisha white paint with a mica finish” and a sort-of mesh fabric covering the interior panels. The leather is a dark, aubergine “espresso” leather. It’s a clever updating of what now qualifies as a classic design. I know a lot of Virgin passengers must be very design-orientated, and enjoy the small touches the airline makes.

For flyers such as myself (more interested in whether I need an adaptor for the plug in the seat), it’s more a matter of being aware that despite having been around in this basic form for many years, the seat and the cabin still looks good.

The ottoman seat is firm enough to allow for double dining, although I didn’t see anyone try it, and I can’t imagine it would be comfortable for very long. There is a seatbelt provide for anyone attempting it during turbulence.

The herringbone configuration gets its name from the look of the configuration when viewed from above (like on a seatplan – have a look here).

I remember that Cathay Pacific used to have a similar design and was criticised because people could not talk to their neighbours and felt constricted inside the high walls of the herringbone seat.

That certainly isn’t a problem with the Virgin seat. It is very social, and working on my laptop I was able to make eye contact with the majority of the passengers in the cabin (had I wished), so some might find that the lack of privacy bothers them.

Upper Class occupies rows 1 to 11 (up to nine in the central set of seats) and is arranged in Virgin Atlantic’s traditional herringbone 1-1-1 formation, with every seat having direct aisle access. Click here for the seat plan. 

Virgin said the focal point of the cabin is the redesigned bar, a design collaboration between the Virgin Atlantic in-house team and VW&BS and manufactured by Altitude.

It has a white Corian worktop, and both coloured and white LED lighting, while the bar has textured back-lit panelling, four stools and an interactive TV screen in the bar which can show events or, in our case, the flight’s progress.

It was strangely hypnotic, but then I’ve never needed hypnotising to sit at a bar all day.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

I had originally been assigned 11K, a window seat right by the bar. If you want to sleep, it is probably not the best choice.

Since I did want to get some sleep on this day flight to Los Angeles, as I knew we were going out in the evening, I asked a fellow passenger if I could swop and so got 3K, which was preferable.

We were full in Upper Class because Virgin was flying a few journalists and also some Flying Club members and their partners to look at its new lounge in LAX Terminal 2 (to read a review, click here).

The flight attendant told us, over the tannoy, that there were 185 passengers on board, which surprised me both with the relatively light load and also that he announced it.

Note, that there are no washrooms at the front of the cabin — another advantage if you want things to be quiet during the flight and have a seat at the front.

Instead, four are located between Upper Class and premium economy, although a curtain drawn diagonally across the corridor divides the two for Upper Class and the two for premium economy.

Virgin Atlantic B787-9 Amenity Bag

Amenity bag

Also between Upper Class and the washrooms and galley, is a bar.

The amenity bag was waiting on the footstool. It contained an eye mask, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, lip balm, pen and tissues. Also at the seat was a bottle of water and, in the recess below the IFE monitor, a universal plug socket, a set of noise-cancelling headphones, and a touchscreen remote that could also be used to watch films on.

I used the wifi on board, £14.99 for the journey with service provided by Panasonic Avionics and T-Mobile, and kept my laptop charged using the power point.

The inflight entertainment system is nicknamed Vera Touch 2 by Virgin. There’s no reason for the Vera name and it doesn’t stand for anything, I was told, the airline just wanted something a little more human than a load of letters and also wanted a word that began with V.

It comes with an 11-inch monitor, larger than it seems since it is quite close to you with this design of seat, compared with other designs where it is attached to the back of the seat in front.

The system had a what I think you’d have to say was a small choice of films — 60 — although there were some new releases on there I had not seen, 70 hours of TV shows, 285 albums, games, a sky map, USB connection, travel health tips, and seat chat function.

The cabin looks elegant, and the mood lighting, along with Virgin’s attention to detail on the design, makes it much more of a pleasure to spend ten hours in than is the case on most airlines.

THE FLIGHT

We had boarded after most other passengers, around 1045, and by 1100 the doors had been shut and we were preparing to push away from the gate, which took place at 1120.

The captain welcomed us, as did the flight attendants, offering a choice of Champagne (in fact I think it was English sparkling wine – see below), orange juice and water, and also smiling in welcome.

Hot towels were handed out once airborne and menus and drinks orders taken shortly after take off (1132).

My table, which popped out the side to the left, was set with a cloth, metal cutlery, napkin, plane-shaped salt and pepper shakers, and glasses for wine and water.

A choice of Harlequin double wholemeal roll, ciabatta and maize topped soft white roll was presented. The menu was as follows

Starters

  • Pea and mint soup
  • Warm chicken satay
  • Buffalo mozzarella and Roma tomatoes

 Virgin Atlantic B787-9 Food

Chilled Thai beef salad sirloin

Mains

  • Lemon and thyme chicken, pan fried potato cake, sautéed spinach and girolle mushrooms
  • Seafood linguine, prawns, scallops and salmon in a white wine sauce, topped with courgette ribbons
  • Keralan curry — vegetarian choice, with coriander rice and tadka dahl
  • Chilled Thai beef salad sirloin served lightly pink and topped with roasted cashews and chilli and lime dressing (by chef Lorraine Pascale)

Dessert

  • Warm brioche and butter pudding with vanilla syrup
  • Chocolate torte with a roasted pistachio and pine kernel base
  • Cheese (French brie, Stilton and Applewood edge)

Extra bites

  • Gourmet beef burger with a choice of cheddar cheese and mushrooms, apple, carrot and red cabbage slaw and sweet smokey potato crisps
  • Mediterranean mezze selection with warm pitta — hummus, babagonoush and labneh
  • Thai fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce

Wines

  • Meonhill NV Hambledon Vineyards, Hampshire (an English Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend, “specially selected to taste perfect onboard our B787s”) (sparkling wine)
  • 2013 Sancerre Cherrier, France (white)
  • 2014 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc, South Africa (white)
  • 2012 Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris (white)
  • 2010 Chateau Haut-Bernat Puisseguin, St Emilion, France (red)
  • 2013 Mount Hilary Clare Vlley Shiraz, Australia (red)
  • 2013 Giovanni Rosso Langhe Nebbiolo, Italy (red)

There was also a choice of mojitos (Mile High, Virgin etc) as well as soft drinks and teas and coffees.

I worked for a few hours, ate the meal, and then asked if the bed could be flipped over so I could get some sleep.

This is, of course, a bit of hassle, but the advantage is the cushion on the other side of the seat is one more suited for a bed, and I’ve always found it very comfortable to sleep upon.

Virgin Atlantic B787-9

An under-blanket was placed over the seat, then the duvet stretched out, and there was a good size pillow (the bottle of water was already secured close to the head of the bed).

The armrest pushes down to make more room, and certainly it is one of the more comfortable seats/beds for sleeping in business class anywhere, although I know Virgin likes to pitch it somewhere between business and first.

Virgin Atlantic B787-9 Bar

Bar

I slept for about three hours, then woke and went to sit at the bar, have a chat and do some drinking and socialising. As most people were either watching films or sleeping for the majority of the flight, it was fairly quiet.

ARRIVAL

We arrived on time at Los Angeles International airport, and it was a great relief to see that no aircraft had landed in front of us.

The immigration queue was only averaging around ten minutes for the Upper Class passengers who had disembarked first, and perhaps 20 minutes for premium economy and economy passengers. Our bags were waiting for us by the time we had got through immigration.

VERDICT

A good flight on a lovely aircraft which is quiet — although not, perhaps, as quiet as the A380 — and comfortable.

In Upper Class, because the seats face away from the windows, you don’t notice the larger size of the windows so much as in the other cabins, but the aircraft was spotless, the seats comfortable, the staff attentive and friendly and the flight on time.


FACT FILE

  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-1-1 (A-G-K)
  • SEAT WIDTH 34.5in
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • CONTACT virgin-atlantic.com


Tom Otley

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