Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787 'Upper Class' service – what we Aussies would simply call business class – covers the business traveller favourites with a fully-flat bed, direct aisle access and inflight Internet coverage, but kicks things up a notch with an inflight bar and groovy mood lighting: and frankly, we'd expect no less from Virgin Australia's sister airline!
As an added feature, business class passengers can also share a meal together at the same seat and using the same large table, much like you can do in first class aboard Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways: rather appropriate for a product named 'Upper Class'.
Rounding out the offering, complimentary limousine airport transfers for guests travelling on paid tickets and access to the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge after arriving at Heathrow where showers, dining options and a day spa await.
Australian Business Traveller reviews a recent Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class journey from Hong Kong to London.
- Frequent flyer program: Choose to earn points and status credits on Virgin Atlantic flights through Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer scheme, or join Virgin Atlantic's own Flying Club program.
- Chauffeured transfers: Complimentary at each end of the journey for passengers travelling on paid tickets, although not on bookings made using frequent flyer points.
- Priority check-in, boarding: Yes. In Hong Kong, in-town check-in is also available.
- Checked baggage allowance: A generous 3x32kg bags (96kg), plus a further 23kg bag for Flying Club Gold members (no extra allowance for Velocity members).
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x115cm bags at a combined total weight of up to 16kg (max. 12kg per single item).
- Priority airport services: Business class express path facilities don't exist in Hong Kong, although registered frequent travellers can use the speedy e-Channel at HKIA. In London, access to the Fast Track lanes is provided at passport control.
For many years, Virgin Atlantic ran its own stunning Clubhouse lounge in Hong Kong – but this was permanently closed in February 2017.
Gone is a la carte dining, table service and bartender-mixed cocktails: replaced by a small selection of buffet dishes and a drinks cart where staff offer to pour your beverage from the bottle as you stand aside.
Don't expect much from the lounge's WiFi connection either, with speeds unusably slow during our visit. Compared to the pre-flight lounge experience offered to Cathay Pacific and British Airways passengers on the same route (in lounges operated by Cathay Pacific and Qantas), Virgin Atlantic is now leagues behind the competition.
However, a saving grace is the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge at London Heathrow which Upper Class passengers can visit after their flight... ... with a large wing of private shower suites, barista-made coffee, a la carte dining and even a Clubhouse Spa, where travellers can enjoy a 15-minute facial or massage at no charge or can pay for a broader range of treatments.
The staff can also press your suit while you shower – just leave it the shower room's two-way cabinet and press the 'housekeeping' button to the side, while the WiFi here proves considerably faster than in Hong Kong.
When stepping aboard, passengers will notice funky mood lighting that sets the scene for the flight ahead, and which can later be used to mimic scenes like the morning sunrise or a moonlit night, depending on the time of day. Passengers are also offered amenity kits, plus inflight pyjamas on this entirely-overnight service which departs around midnight in Hong Kong and touches down in London before the real sun rears its head.
Inflight Internet access is too available at a flat rate of £14.99 (A$24.35) for the entire journey, although given the timings of this flight, we'd love to see a less expensive plan on offer to provide more affordable access for a short period, such as 30-60 minutes, for travellers to send any last emails before heading to bed.
Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787s comes in a 1-1-1 layout, with the 'A' and 'K' seats by the windows and the 'G' seats in the centre: all of which feature direct and uninterrupted aisle access. That's enabled by having seats which aren't directly forward-facing – rather, each passenger is angled towards that aisle, yet away from the window. This does make it harder to enjoy any views during daytime flights, however, as you have to look behind you to peer out that window. Just as in Qantas' Airbus A380 first class, the layout puts the bulk of travellers (those in the 'G' & 'K' seats) at one aisle, with the other aisle considerably quieter and used only by those in the 'A' seats, below: For a good night's sleep, we selected 2A – on that quieter aisle and away from the galleys, lavatories and inflight bar – and managed to doze for around seven hours, with the seat folding forward into a fully-flat bed and dressed with thick sheets, a duvet and a comfy pillow. The crew are happy to help make your bed and to restore your seat in the morning, but if you prefer the DIY approach, you're all set: Additional controls are available when your seat is in the upright mode, and there's no confusing which button to press to access your inflight table. The table comes large, sturdy and can slide forwards or backwards for comfort... ... or to help accommodate a guest at your seat, who can sit on a footstool opposite and join you for a meal or just a chat: a feature normally reserved for first class.
There's room enough for your own shoes underneath that footstool, too: just remember to slide them in before the seat becomes a bed or you'll have a hard time stowing them away. But even with these first class touches, the seat does have its limitations when stacked against other modern business class digs, as further storage is relatively limited and some travellers find these seats to be lacking in privacy, as you're fully visible from the aisle.
That said, you can still make use of a small literature pocket on the side, and the AC power outlet you'll also find there accepts Australian plugs without an adaptor. Champagne (the Canard Duchene Cuvée Léonie) can be perched on a fold-out cocktail shelf positioned just below a handy reading light... ... although the shelf tends to reside at elbow height and is easy to bump, so we prefer to have the inflight entertainment screen open (this folds out to face you), and to use the space it creates to house our drinks instead. A USB power outlet can also be found at the bottom corner of that screen – if you can't see it, just touch anywhere on the screen itself and the port will light up for a short time: You can plug-in your headphones here too, but there's another headphone port down by the AC outlet which we prefer to use instead as it keeps the cords out of the way.
Despite the midnight departure, Upper Class travellers can still enjoy a full dinner with a choice of starters and main courses, plus a pudding course – fittingly British for an airline based in the UK – followed by cheese and port.
We'd eaten dinner on the ground so went straight for a toffee cheesecake (with chocolate cigarillo and smooth toffee sauce in a chocolate raindrop cup) which was delicious, joined by a glass of Cognac... ... and used the opportunity to dine with a companion. While there's ample room on the table itself for multiple plates and glasses, the legroom space when doing so is rather 'cosy' and seems more suited to high-flying couples than travelling colleagues.
But don't fret: these jets feature a four-seat inflight bar area where you can hold your business meeting instead... ... or can relax and unwind with a cocktail in-hand, prepared by the crew. It's a great feature, but with no curtain separating the bar from the Upper Class seats nearby, you'll want to avoid choosing a spot in rows 9 through 11 if sleeping is your goal. Closer to landing, you'll also find quick 'grab and go' breakfast options available at the bar such as cereals and juices, while a traditional full English breakfast can be taken at your seat. To maximise your sleep, you might also consider skipping the inflight brekky and having your morning meal at the Revivals Lounge after landing, such as an Egg Benedict (yes, that's singular: but you can always ask for a duo)... ... and fresh barista-made coffee. Don't be fooled by the lounge-like push-button machine tucked behind the counter: when you ask for a real latte, a real latte you shall receive. A selection of teas and espresso coffees are also offered throughout the flight, along with seasonal cocktails and a selection of wines, which on our flight covered drops from France, Sicily (Italy), Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Entertainment & Service
You'll find movies, TV shows, music and games aboard Vera, Virgin Atlantic's inflight entertainment system, which also handily reminds of your flight number: useful for completing any required arrival cards: With the aircraft connected to the Internet, passengers can also stream CNN International, BBC World News and Sport 24 live to their seat at no charge via the entertainment monitor – but browsing the 'Net on your own device comes at a charge. Service from the crew on this flight was excellent with requests tended to promptly, plates cleared quickly and discussion kept friendly.
We were also impressed that despite informing the crew we wouldn't be eating breakfast in the morning (before heading to sleep the night before), they came past to offer a meal anyway once noticing that we'd awoken.
Even more impressive was that the crew had prepared the hot dish for us as just-in-case, and was able to deliver this within minutes of offering it: service I'd expect of first class, less so in business.
Overall, the seat was comfy enough to provide a decent rest and the flight itself was most enjoyable – it's just a shame that the same can no longer be said of the pre-flight lounge experience in Hong Kong...
Chris Chamberlin travelled at his own expense using frequent flyer points.