Tried & Tested

Virgin Atlantic B787-9 Upper Class

19 Jun 2015 by Jenny Southan
BACKGROUND Virgin Atlantic launched a daily nonstop service to Detroit from London Heathrow on June 1. It is normally operated by a three-class A330-300 but as this was a special celebratory service, Virgin laid on a Dreamliner. (The first B787-9 was delivered to the carrier in October.) Outbound service VS107 departs LHR at 1010, landing in Detroit at 1315, while return service VS108 leaves Detroit at 1750 and arrives in London at 0625 the next day. Virgin is the only British airline flying direct to Motor City. CHECK-IN I arrived at Detroit International at 1615, ready for my 1750 flight back to London Heathrow. Virgin check-in desks were 69-75 but I already had my boarding pass and was travelling with hand-luggage only so went straight to security (there was Sky Priority fast-track channel but officers were unsure if Virgin passengers could use it so I had to use the regular lane). It took about 15 minutes to have my documents checked before joining the line at screening, where laptops and liquids had to come out, shoes and jackets off. Everyone was given a full body scan before they could then collect their belongings on the other side of the X-ray machine. All passengers then took an escalator down to airside departures. THE LOUNGE A short walk to the left, at the bottom of the escalators, is the Delta Sky Club lounge, which is available for passengers flying with codeshare airline Virgin Atlantic. I didn't have time to enjoy the facilities but popped in anyway to have a quick look around at 1700. There was free wifi and a number of rooms with lots of seating, charging points, and self-service bars with food and drink. It was very busy. BOARDING Boarding began from Gate A46 at 1710, with a priority lane for Upper Class passengers. Access to the plane was via an airbridge. A very cheerful bunch of crew welcomed people and directed them to their seats. I was in 5G. Once settled, I was offered a choice of water, orange juice or Meonhill NV English sparkling wine from Hambledon Vineyards in Hampshire (Dreamliners only). (Other flights serve Gardet Brut Premier Cru champagne.) There was plenty of space in overhead bins for suitcases and bags. The cabin was illuminated with purple and orange mood lighting, and Motown music played overhead. THE SEAT Virgin’s Dreamliner is configured for 264 passengers, with 31 fully flat business seats, 35 in premium economy and 198 in economy. The Upper Class product on the three-class B787-9 is Virgin's newest. Configured 1-1-1, it occupies rows one to 11 (up to nine in the central set of seats) and is arranged in a herringbone formation, with every seat having direct aisle access and flipping over to create a fully-flat bed. However, window seats face inwards at an angle, meaning you having to turn right around to look out. The cabin looks contemporary and stylish, with mood lighting and electro-chromatic windows that gradually turn dark blue at the touch of a button to block out light. (This is actually very effective.) The overhead bins above all seats were spacious. As I wrote in a previous review: “The cabin combines features from both the older and newer versions of Virgin’s existing Upper Class, with alterations to the layout, improved technology and minor aesthetic tweaks. The moulded shell surround is more like the earlier incarnation, with no see-through panelling. “The cutting-edge Panasonic Avionics in-flight entertainment (IFE) system comprises an 11-inch touchscreen monitor and a remote control that can also be used to watch films on – there is a selection of 60 movies and a seat chat function. A universal plug socket, USB port and noise-cancelling headphones are also provided. Wifi for the duration of the flight costs £14.99.” A white cotton sheet, pillow and cover are kept behind the seats and there are compartments and shelves to stow personal items and magazines. Noise-cancelling headphones are provided, along with a bottle of water and an amenity kit containing a toothbrush/paste, eyemask, pen, socks, lipbalm, tissues and earplugs. Large tables pop out from the seat unit and create a nice large, solid surface for working at eating on. The newly designed bar between business and premium economy has four fixed stools and a perch along the bulkhead beneath a 24-inch screen. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Seats in row one face the galley at the front, so may suffer some disturbance. I'd also avoid sitting in seats closest to the bar – 11A, K, 10A, K, and 9G. All other seats are good options and provide direct aisle access. Sitting in A seats feel most private as the aisle is flanked by a wall that forms the backs of G seats (sitting in G or K means you are facing the feet of other passengers as seats are positioned diagonally, not forwards). THE FLIGHT Flight time was anticipated to be six hours and 40 minutes, and take-off was at 1810. Once airborne, drinks orders were taken (with beverages presented with a bowl of crisps), along with dinner and breakfast requests. (You tick off on a card what you wanted to eat in the morning, or say you don’t want to be woken, which is what I did.) Large tables are set with cloths, with food served on chinaware with metal cutlery and glass tumblers. How towels were also provided to clean your hands. The evening menu listed three starters – parsnip and Parmesan soup with sour dough crostini, mesclun salad and antipasti platter – all served with warm “artisan” bread. I had the salad, which was crisp and light. The trio of main courses were: Asian-style braised beef short ribs with wasabi mash; herb marinated chicken with confetti rice, baby carrots, sugar snap peas and roasted tomato sauce; and wild mushroom orecchiette pasta with butternut squash and sage, steamed asparagus, cream sauce and a Parmesan tuille. This last dish was really enjoyable, but there were no signs of mushroom in it (fine by me as they are not my favourite anyway). A choice of three red and three white wines were offered, served from holsters worn around the waist. Sourced by Berry Bros, there were three whites and three reds available:
  • Sancerre Cherrier, France, 2013
  • Oldenburg Chenin Blanc, South Africa, 2014
  • Rolly Gassman Pinot Blanc, France, 2013
  • Château du Pavillon Canon-Fronsac, France, 2011
  • Mount Hillary Clare Vallery Shiraz, Australia, 2013
  • Giovanni Rosso Langhe Nebbiolo, Italy, 2013
The cheese trolley was exceptional. With chutney, firm, chilled grapes, a selection of crackers and three different types of cheese (Stinky Bishop, Manchego and Borgonzola). Desserts were chocolate caramel brownie and red velvet cake, neither of which I could manage. All in all, it was an excellent dinner, with crew regularly coming around to offer refills. I watched a film on the top-notch Vera IFE system, connected to the wifi, which worked pretty well but was a bit slow, and then settled down to sleep at 2045. A member of crew made up my bed for me with a white cotton sheet, coverlet and proper pillow. I found it to be really comfortable and spacious for sleeping, with plenty of room around the shoulders and a good amount of length. I also liked how private it was. In G seats, the lip of the surrounding wall comes over your head a little bit, which is a nice touch. It felt cosy with the gentle mood lighting turned down low, and peaceful, with not much sound coming from the engines. I also liked the mesh wool material used to line the interior panel of the seat wall, which felt soft to lean against, not cold and hard. At midnight, I woke up to the cabin lights coming on. Some people were already up eating breakfast but I had wanted to maximise my rest time, especially given the relatively short length of the flight. With just 50 minutes until landing, I decided to get up and prepare for arrival. While I was in the washroom, a member of crew came and put my seat back up for me and packed away my bedding. I helped myself to an orange juice from the bar and then sat back down. A couple of minutes later, an attendant came back, crouched down and asked if there was anything else they could get me – I asked for a cup of tea, which came hot (not tepid) and served in a china cup. ARRIVAL We started our descent into London Heathrow at 0030 (0530 local time), landing 15 minutes early at 0610. Disembarkation via an airbridge was quick, and although a long walk from the stand, immigration was empty. I didn’t have to wait for luggage at reclaim, so was landside by 0640. VERDICT A really good flight – the new fully-flat Upper Class seat is very comfortable for sleeping, the in-flight entertainment is varied and compelling, and the food is virtually restaurant quality. Virgin staff also know how to look after passengers – you feel very spoilt in the front cabin. Unfortunately the Dreamliner isn’t normally serving Detroit, so you will need to be travelling from London to Boston, Delhi, Shanghai, LA or New York Newark to experience it. Next month it will serve London-Hong Kong, and later Dubai and Jo'burg. FACT FILE:
  • SEAT WIDTH 34.5in/87.6cm
  • BED LENGTH 80in/203.2cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return Upper Class flight (with chauffeur) in July ranged between £2,832 and £8,135 depending on flexibility.
CONTACT Jenny Southan
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