Virgin Atlantic is viewed as fun, cheeky, and even sexy. Virgin’s snazzy corporate colour of candy apple red, the razzmatazz attached to anything it does - whether it be iconic television advertisements and frequent publicity stunts - has created a positive glow for the company. It certainly has an effective image-making machine, underpinned by publicity magnet and maverick entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson at the helm.
For many years Virgin was an underdog in the aviation world: older aircraft; less extensive route network as it had cherry-picked the most lucrative routes rivals claimed; and generally, it offered less of the bells and whistles business travellers had come to expect. However, it made up for those shortfalls with bucketloads of sheer chutzpah, appealing to a younger funkier demographic - the hipsters from the entertainment, music, and modelling worlds.
The airline may have grown up, but thankfully it has also stayed the course – coming up to four decades in the business from those early days as a plucky little upstart carrier in 1984. It is now an established three-class airline – with Upper Class as its flagship product - and a great reputation.
Virgin Atlantic grew its network by teaming up with Delta Air Lines in 2012. The airline innovated where it could with bars on the upper deck of the now decommissioned 747s (The Bubble), massages in the air, fabulously decadent spas in the Clubhouse departure lounges and employing informal & friendly staff. The airline propelled itself into the international airline arena, highlighting that size does not matter. They overcame the initial network deficiency by differentiating services – and thankfully much of the rebellious spirit has remained.
For passengers departing from the Virgin Atlantic home base at London Heathrow, the Upper Class experience begins at the exclusive Upper Class Wing at Terminal 3. Acting almost as a private terminal for passengers flying Business Class on Virgin Atlantic and its partner Delta Air Lines, passengers are greeted by porters as if checking in at a luxury hotel. Passengers arriving by car can be dropped off directly at the Upper Class Wing, where passenger names are registered in advance to facilitate a smooth start to the Virgin experience. A bright and open atrium hosts dedicated check-in facilities, with priority lifts that whisk you straight to the dedicated Virgin fast track security channel. Then it is just a short walk to the airline’s Clubhouse.
Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses are something to behold. Uber stylish, they break the mould from standard airport lounges as they are designed more like a members’ club. They offer table service throughout, a deli bar, an amazing range of food and drink, a pool table, roof terrace and a wellness retreat for passengers to relax and recharge. There is even a Peloton bike to hop on. The bar is fronted by fancy mixologists, and all-day dining includes light bites to large plates. The airline’s signature cocktail is Virgin Redhead Prosecco, a blend of berry liqueurs, Bombay Sapphire gin and raspberries.
There are seven Clubhouses round the world; at London Heathrow, New York JFK, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Johannesburg. There are also shared lounges across the UK, the US (mostly with Delta), the Caribbean, Asia, and the Middle East.
Upper Class passengers arriving into Heathrow can also enjoy pampering at the Virgin Revivals lounge which is kitted out with 18 shower rooms, a valet cleaning service, bar, and lounge area and somewhere to make free telephone phone calls, access emails and Wi-Fi.
When flying Virgin Atlantic, take a look at the side of the aircraft when boarding. The airline gives each of its planes a name, often with a “hidden” link between the plane registration and the name, such as Miss Moneypenny (G-VSPY). Just like ships are traditionally named after women, most Virgin Atlantic aircraft carry female names, such as Red Velvet (G-VLUX) or the very first Virgin Atlantic aircraft, Maiden Voyager (G-VIRG). The only aircraft given a male name was Spirit of Sir Freddie (G-VMIA), in recognition of the support and advice given by the late airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker to Sir Richard Branson. Another exception was also made when a 747 was temporarily named Austin Powered (G-VTOP) after the 90s movie character Austin Powers (played by Mike Myers).
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabins are certainly distinct, in particular if boarding when it is dark outside as the mood lighting comes into play. Passengers enter the cabin to find it bathed in colours including red, pink, orange, purple and blue. This sets the tone for an out of the ordinary flight with an airline that has become an expert in making its brand come alive. White seat shells serve as a canvas for the mood lighting to play with, contrasting with the claret-coloured leather seats – completed with burnt orange detailing, pink hues, and gold accents. Think nightclub meets spaceship!
While Upper class is available across the entire network, on all aircraft types, not all Upper Class seats are created equal. Virgin Atlantic offers three distinctly different types of seats in Upper Class, all depending on the aircraft type. Thankfully, all transform into fully flat beds, offer direct aisle access to every passenger, good room to work and in-seat power to charge devices throughout the flight. Many passengers will however find the lack of storage space frustrating, as there is almost nowhere to store small personal items other than the literature pocket. On a positive note, Virgin Atlantic is good at providing individual air nozzles, a useful feature that gives each passenger some control of their “personal” temperature.
The newest and by far best Upper Class seats are offered on the new Airbus A350-1000 fleet, where a total of 44 seats have been arranged in a rather unique 1-2-1 layout. Centre seats are in a herringbone configuration, facing away from each other towards the aisle. While not ideal when travelling with a companion, they offer good privacy for solo travellers assigned seats in the centre section A retractable divider between the centre seats adds further privacy. In contrast, seats along the sides of the cabin are arranged in a reverse herringbone configuration, with seats facing the windows. On the aisle side of each seat, the armrest can be lowered to create a wider sleeping surface. The seats offer a 44-inch pitch (1.1 metres) which reclines to an 82-inch (2 metre) fully flat bed at the press of a button.
Interestingly, while several airlines have introduced closing doors on their latest Business Class seats and started calling them “suites”, Virgin decided not to do this, citing customer research indicating that passengers prefer more crew interaction. Sliding privacy screens do however extend from the side of the seat shell to provide some added privacy.
On the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A330-300 aircraft, seats are still clad in leather, but the design is very different. The Upper Class cabins on these aircraft offer a 1-1-1 herringbone configuration where the seat flips over into a fully flat bed and feature an ottoman which doubles up as a footrest or for companions to ‘dual-dine’ or enjoy a drink with each other. These seats are on the narrow side and offer limited privacy and views as every passenger faces the aisle, away from the windows. Given the 1-1-1 setup, seats along the left side of the cabin have an aisle all to themselves, making them the go-to for passengers preferring less foot-traffic in the aisle.
Virgin Atlantic retains a few A330-200s that feature a staggered forward-facing 1-2-1 configuration. Staying true to its brand, Virgin named the seats on these planes Love Suites, Solo Corner Suites and Solo Freedom Suites. Passengers in search of privacy will prefer the Solo Corner Suites where the seat is right next to the window. All aisle seats are named Solo Freedom Suites due to the easy aisle access. The Love Suites are the centre seats in every second row that are placed very close together, more commonly referred to as honeymoon seats – how very Virgin!
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes images, videos and seat maps for most airlines and aircraft. Search results also include details such as seat pitch, width and recline. This way you can see the seat and cabin configuration of the flight in which you are interested, before making your choice.
Food service is of course an integral part of the Business Class offering and also a wonderfully time-consuming distraction on a long-haul flight. Menus are still printed and it is all à la carte dining for Upper Class passengers. The cuisine is designed around the destination and departure time. Passengers choose from a three-course menu and eat from a table laid with starched white linen tablecloths and served on designer plates and cutlery.
A famous element of the Virgin Atlantic dining experience are the highly collectible silver or black Wilbur and Orville salt and pepper shakers, shaped like mini planes. Introduced 20 years ago, thousands are “borrowed” every year - even while cabin crew keep a close eye on them. Special editions of Wilbur and Orville in red have previously appeared over the Christmas period, where the airline has made an exception and encouraged passengers to take them home.
For the main course, there is typically a meat, fish, and vegetarian option. There is usually a choice of two desserts including a cheese plate for those without a sweet tooth. Virgin Atlantic plates the main dishes onboard, a nice touch that really elevates the presentation.
The food service extends to a self-service snack bar to raid in between meals, which is usually full of fresh fruit, sweets, and savoury snacks. There is also an Extra Bites menu available on longer flights and this includes a Mile High Tea on day flights created by French master pâtissier and celebrity chef Eric Lanlard.
Choose between scones with clotted cream and jam, a raspberry-glazed éclair, salted caramel vanilla tart and cherry macaron. A mini roll filled with herb cream cheese with pickled cucumber and pea shoots, or a beetroot wrap filled with falafel, red pepper houmous, grated carrot and chilli mayo satisfied those with a savoury craving. If afternoon tea is not to your liking, then a choice of Ploughman’s or aloo tikki are alternative extra bites.
On night flights, passengers can wake up to hot and cold breakfast options, including pastries, Bircher muesli, fresh fruit, or a Full English. Breakfast can be ordered by filling in a breakfast order form, much like ordering room service breakfast in a Virgin hotel.
The little ones are not forgotten. Those passengers aged 2-12 have their own menu which can be pre-ordered in My Booking or by telephone up to 24 hours before your flight.
Virgin Atlantic does not offer Upper Class passengers the benefit of pre-ordering main courses like some airlines, but special meals such as diabetic, lacto-ovo vegetarian, kosher, vegan, halal, low lactose, and gluten-friendly meals can be pre-ordered.
A glass of Champagne or English sparkling wine is served pre-departure, and pre-dinner drinks are offered, with good wines with the meal. For the pre-dinner drink, do not be surprised if Virgin serves popcorn in lieu of the standard nuts offered by most airlines.
Virgin does things differently and mainly offers Ayala Champagne - which hails from the heart of the Champagne region - which is a drier style of bubbles, suiting the palette 40,000 feet up. It has provenance, having been established in 1860 and granted the Royal Warrant in 1908 after the coronation of King Edward VII. If Ayala is not available, the airline does still stock Champagne – including the delicious Canard-Duchêne.
Alternatively, passengers can opt for English sparkling wine - Hambledon Classic Cuvée - which is grown in the oldest commercial vineyard in the UK - from the three grape varieties most commonly used in the production of Champagne. Initially a trial run in 2019, passenger approval has made it a permanent feature of the drinks menu.
Virgin Atlantic offers a good selection of spirits and liqueurs, soft drinks and hot drinks including a wide range of trendy teas from Pukka.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
One of the hallmarks of the airline are its stand-out red-uniformed crew; they are always warm & friendly and keen to interact with passengers if given the opportunity. Cabin crews are proactive, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the airline recruits primarily on the basis of a bubbly personality - before everything else.
At the start of most flights, cabin crew will stop by the seat of each Upper Class passenger to introduce themselves by name and explain the features of the seat - a delightful way to start the journey. The focus on personalised service continues throughout the flight, with cabin crew making the effort to address passengers by name.
Many flights operated by Virgin Atlantic are relatively short transatlantic flights, where overnight eastbound flights can be stressful if the service is slow. Virgin has perfected the soft product with effective yet extensive meal services that allow for maximum rest. Crews also do a good job of prioritising turndown service for passengers opting to skip the onboard meal service in favour of going straight to sleep.
Music greets passengers as they step into the Upper Class cabin. 300+ hours of films and television shows are part of the airline’s IFE system, known as Vera, the content for which has been curated by the airline. Vera is easy to navigate, and an in-flight magazine in the seat pocket details what to watch. Aside from the usual blockbusters, there is a good selection of movies, television, and audio suitable for children plus a few surprising inclusions such as up-and-coming bands and quirky short films. Noise-cancelling headphones are standard issue but sadly of limited quality.
On the A350-1000 fleet, a tail camera serves as a nice extra feature, giving passengers a bird's-eye view of the aircraft.
All Virgin Atlantic aircraft offer connectivity, with the A350s providing an upgraded system over the rest of the fleet. On these planes, as well as on the A330s, internet access is available for purchase with different options available, all based on duration with no data caps. On the Boeing B787-9, internet pricing is based on data use, with three different passes available. Passengers can make and receive phone calls and send texts from their own mobile device using the AeroMobile network, although roaming costs can be excessive.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi.
Virgin’s Goody Bag is a sustainable one; made from responsibly-sourced, FSC-certified recyclable Kraft paper and filled with sustainable goodies. These include REN Clean Skincare products, full-size toothbrush, an eyeshade, socks, ear plugs in paper packaging, toothpaste, and a Kraft paper pen.
An impressive amenity in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is that passengers on night flights receive pyjamas, even on short transatlantic night flights. The airline offers good quality bedding, with a quality duvet and a large pillow.
For parents flying with infants, bassinets are available on request.
A signature feature of all Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabins is that they feature a dedicated social space. On the A350-1000 it is the expansive The Loft with room for eight passengers providing a 32-inch touchscreen monitor and eight Bluetooth audio jacks to let passengers view content together. On the Airbus A330s and the Boeing B787s the social space is The Bar. Either way it is somewhere to go and stretch your legs, meet colleagues, drink with friends, or eat dinner. The latest social space to be announced by Virgin Atlantic is The Booth, a smaller and more intimate space for two passengers to socialise on selected new A350-1000s that will feature a smaller Upper Class cabin than their fleet-mates.
Strangely, Virgin Atlantic decided not to add any dividing curtains between the social areas and the rest of the Upper Class cabins. While the rationale was reportedly that this would create a more social atmosphere, we nevertheless recommend avoiding seats near the bar area since there is potential for noisy conversation from other passengers.
Virgin Atlantic is currently exclusively a long-haul airline. Within the USA, passengers can take advantage of Virgin’s partner airline Delta. It also enjoys a codeshare with a few other carriers that offer short/medium haul in their regions including Air France, KLM, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand.
In early 2021 Virgin signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Vertical Aerospace to pioneer sustainable and zero emissions for short haul air travel in the UK.
As with all the major players, Virgin is moving towards a goal of net zero by 2050, principally by developing sustainable aviation fuels. The airline was the first to fly using sustainable fuel in 2008 and since has launched a partnership with sustainable fuel tech company LanzaTech in 2012. It subsequently flew the first ever commercial flight using their waste-based sustainable aviation fuel in 2018.
Virgin has invested some US$17 billion into more efficient twin-engine aircraft which are on average 30% more fuel efficient than the four-engine aircraft they replaced. This investment together with improving operations, has led to a 20% reduction in total aircraft emissions (between 2007-2019). In 2020, Virgin became a signatory of Sustainable Aviation’s commitment to Net Zero and is also a founding member of the UKs Jet Zero Council.
In 2003, the airline established The Virgin Atlantic Fundation, a UK registered charity which has raised over £9 million through the Change for Children onboard appeal. Virgin is also an international partner of Save The Children, and twice-annually diverts funds from the Change for Children appeal to their Children’s Emergency Fund.
Virgin Atlantic is committed to creating a motivated, resilient and vibrant workplace where employees are valued, listened to and supported, irrespective of their background, gender, race, beliefs, physical ability or who they choose to love. The airline has long been champions of LGBT+ rights, taking part in many Pride events in the UK and promoting LGBT+ friendly holidays.
In 2019, Virgin announced that its historic flying lady emblem, seen at the front of each Virgin Atlantic aircraft, would be retired in favor of a diverse collection of “Flying Icons,” pledging to increase diversity and inclusion across its business. The airline also updated policies related to style and grooming to promote equality. It no longer requires female cabin crew to wear makeup during flights, and has updated its uniform to include trousers as a standard option for women.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on CO2 emissions for each flight. Our quality algorithms also give a higher score to flights operated by the most modern and environmentally friendly aircraft.
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