When I booked our round trip flights from JFK to LHR on Virgin Atlantic (through Delta), I got excited to see that we could take the 789 Dreamliner both directions in Upper Class. We flew on the 789 last year in Premium Economy and while we didn’t like the Premium Economy seats very much, a nice, clean, new plane is a joy. About two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, though, I noticed that the aircraft had changed to an Airbus A330-300.
At first I was a bit annoyed that they had changed the plane. I started searching around to see if it’d be a dreaded DreamSuite product that most folks hate flying on. A couple of searches told me that Virgin is in the process of renovating all of their A330-300s to match the 789 layout… ours was not one of them. DreamSuite it was. Ugh.
Ugh. TFW @VirginAtlantic changes the equipment you’re flying on to an A330 when you bought your ticket based on the 787-9.
— Joel G Goodman (@joelgoodman) May 21, 2017
Not the Dreamiest suite
Protip: if you happen to get the misfortune of flying the old A333, there is a hidden space to store small things under the footrest cushion.
The plane definitely felt tired and abused. While I think Virgin Atlantic has done a great job with their overall aesthetic, the white finishes on this flight were full of nicks and scratches while most of the tray tables I saw in our cabin didn’t fully close and latch. The little pods you sit in also don’t provide the most width and I found it difficult to figure out where to put my arms in a comfortable manner. Luckily, the seats were still very comfortable and my recline functions worked a treat.
On the A330-300, specifically in this soon-to-be-retired configuration, VS has opted to take the overhead storage bins out of the center of the cabin. I suppose the cramming more seats (this is a 1-2-1 herringbone layout) into not the widest of cabins made it necessary to try to open up the space. But removing the overhead storage also means removing individual vents from the middle seats. The worst part was that the Upper Class cabin was kept warm during the entire flight.
Additionally, the inflight entertainment (IFE) screens were old and small. The touch screen on mine didn’t really work, so I resorted to using the handheld remote to select things to watch. But even then playback stuttered and buffered on my screen to the point where I just gave up and tried to get some sleep.
But even when I tried to get some sleep I found that the lack of any air movement (remember, I didn’t have a vent), the warm temperature in the cabin, the scratchy pajamas they gave me, and a duvet I can only guess is made of pure polyester had me sweating… a lot. Not only that, I barely fit in the lie-flat bed. I’m less that six feet tall and not a huge person … but I couldn’t stretch out fully and had a hard time getting comfortable.
Meals and touches
There were a couple of bright spots, though. At boarding we were greeted with champagne and given a chance to stow our things. These seats have a small footrest that can also double as a second seat if you want to eat with a travel companion. The boarding time also gave us a chance to look through the Herschel amenity bags. The bags are made by Herschel and hold: toothbrush, toothpaste, ear plugs, pen, lotion, lip balm, socks, and eye mask.
On this flight our flight attendants came by shortly before takeoff to get our dinner order and, if you want it, your breakfast selections. Dinner has several courses: starter, entrée, dessert, and cheese and biscuits with port. This is the entire menu from June 2017.
Overall, we were pretty impressed with the food. Obviously, you’re not likely to get a medium-rare steak on a plane but this was my first steak on a plane and I needed to see what it was like. The sweet corn and miso soup was a good starter—sweet and bright at the same time, served warm. It had a pleasing texture and a delicate nose but proved a great entry way to the beef fillet. The beef was fine… I didn’t have high expectations. I was able to cut it with my butter knife and the accompanying peas and potatoes were tasty. I’m not sure I’ll become the guy that always gets the steak, but certainly glad I tried it.
Jessica was happy with her salad and chicken, but mostly we were looking forward to the cheese and port.
About 90 minutes before landing, the cabin lights come up and breakfast starts being served. We were looking forward to hot showers and non-airplane food in the Revivals Lounge, so we decided to skip out on the breakfast service. I changed out of my sleep suit in the cramped lavatory and came back to a seat that had been transitioned back to its normal upright position.
Overall, I really didn’t like this flight. The food service was enjoyable and the crew were kind, but everything else about this plane was awful. I think Virgin Atlantic needs to provide a comparable product on all planes if they’re going to charge the same prices. This is definitively a bad product—just do a quick search on Google and you’ll see what I mean. Luckily, they’re retrofitting it with the very good 787-9 Dreamliner Upper Class cabin. Watch for that review soon.
It’s important to note that Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is a business class product, not a first class product. I think it’s an okay way to fly transatlantic, but I’m looking forward to trying a few other options.