It had been a few years since I last tried Virgin Atlantic’s business class - and a good-value redemption flight provided the opportunity to give it another go.
This one-way redemption flight was something of a bargain, costing just 37,500 miles plus £367 in taxes and fees.
By comparison, the same flight with British Airways would cost 62,500 (off-peak dates) or 75,000 Avios (peak dates).
I booked the flight directly on Virgin Atlantic’s website about three weeks before travel and the reservation process was easy enough.
At the airport
Arriving at London Heathrow Terminal 3, the home of Virgin Atlantic and its partner Delta, in pouring rain, I was glad to get into Virgin’s large check in area.
There was no queue at the Upper Class desk I headed to and after taking the date of my intended departure from India, the agent quickly checked me in. Baggage allowance was x2 bags at 32kg each.
Within a couple of minutes I was in the lift next to priority check in and straight up to the Upper Class Wing for security.
Unfortunately, the security line was slow, but I was in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse about ten minutes later.
Boarding began at 9.45am - a little less than half an hour before our scheduled departure.
Virgin Atlantic tries to be different, and the mood lighting and cheesy 80s pop music playing when you board reflects this. You’ll also notice the iconic Virgin Atlantic bar - though its popularity has diminished over the years and it’s been replaced with a different concept, a social space called The Loft, on new A350 aircraft.
Back to the 787, and you’ll find 31 flat-bed business class seats in a 1-1-1 format. There’s a dividing wall between the A seats on the left and the central G seats, so you may find A seats (shown below) a little more private.
This flight was very lightly loaded, with just 15 passengers in business class and only about 60 passengers in economy.
The cabin manager, John, who has been with Virgin for 15 years, said this was the first flight to Mumbai he has known to be quiet, adding that they are usually full.
Unfortunately, there was a used tissue in my seat, but John was apologetic and offered me some alcohol hand gel after I returned from washing my hands. This was more concerning than it might otherwise have been since coronavirus was just starting to spread.
Onboard announcements were made in English and Hindi, and John soon came back to offer a glass of champagne.
We pushed back at 10.30am and the cabin was sprayed with a “non-harmful” insecticide before our take off at 10.45am.
Virgin Atlantic’s “classic” herringbone business cabin (the one featured here) is being phased out in favour of a new 1-2-1 configuration on its A350 aircraft.
While the original seats don’t exactly feel cutting edge anymore, I do like how open and airy the 787 cabin feels - especially when Upper Class is lightly loaded.
The low dividing walls between seats means another passenger’s head isn’t far away, though fortunately I had an empty seat next to me.
There’s precious little storage at the seat and you struggle to find space to keep your passport and other bits and bobs (I used my shoes for storage!).
All passengers had the seat controls explained to them before take off and John said that the crew would do a turn down when you wanted to sleep. Blankets were stored behind the seats.
Note there is no possibility to recline / incline the seat yourself - the crew must flip your bed over.
There’s a small ottoman at the end of the seat, meaning your feet don’t disappear into a small footwell.
There are air vents and two overhead lights above the seat, as well as an additional small light above the small cocktail table. USB and mains plus can be found under the TV monitor.
The seatbelt sign was turned off at 11am, and decent quality hot towels handed out.
Drink orders were taken shortly after and I asked for another glass of champagne, which was served with a small bowl of potato crisps.
Virgin Atlantic doesn’t offer dine on demand, and lunch service began at 12pm. My table was set with Virgin’s famous salt and pepper shakers. The tray table is large but cannot be folded over.
The menu was as follows:
A wide selection of alcoholic and soft drinks were available, including an English sparkling wine, Ayala Brut Majeur champagne, three white wines and three red wines.
I went for a Spanish white wine with my meal and was pleased to find it was well chilled (so many airlines can’t manage this).
The cauliflower and vegetable starter was (unexpectedly) served hot and had a bit of a spice kick. It was quite salty, but otherwise good.
I tried the bread selection and while the paratha was a little heavy and dull, the fig roll was soft and fresh - and I was offered hot ones from the oven.
The napkin presented on the tray table contained only one knife and fork, and I wasn’t offered fresh cutlery for the main course.
The chicken karahi was also quite salty but had a REAL kick to it. I’m fine with spicy food so I enjoyed it and the fresh coriander and chillis gave a lot of flavour.
Overall, the main course was good, and the bhindi (okra) still had some bite.
The chocolate pudding and vegan custard was just OK, but something had a slightly floury taste.
I had a couple more glasses of the Spanish white and resisted the urge to mix my drinks.
I initially turned down a cheese plate, but my arm was twisted when the crew passed by with the trolley.
I choose the brie and the blue cheeses, as well as and a glass of port. The cheese was served with crackers, grapes and red onion chutney. Very nice.
As in the lounge, different crew members who passed by my seat would stop to ask if I wanted anything, and I found the service to be more proactive than you’d find on some other airlines.
The meal service was wrapped up by about 12.45pm.
The TV screen looks tiny when stowed in the seat, but the footprint of the Upper Class suite isn’t huge, so it’s actually fine by the time it’s pulled out and in front of you.
There were 144 movies (including 12 in the Indian cinema section) as well as 51 shows in the TV section. Even so, I couldn’t find much I wanted to watch - where are the classic BBC comedy shows like Only Fools and Horses?
Wi-fi was available and chargeable in all cabins as follows:
Initially I could’t get the sign up page to load so John told me to navigate in a browser to the URL 126.96.36.199 in order to force it.
(This made me think that it’s a common problem...)
I ended up buying both the £2.99 messaging package for my phone, as well as the Max package so I could work on my MacBook.
It’s common for in-flight wifi services to be blocked over India, owing to the government’s concerns about security.
The good news is that the government just announced it is reversing its ban on in-flight wifi, so we'll soon be able to surf while we fly in Indian airspace.
In flight amenities
Some airlines to try go all-out with their in-flight amenity kits, partnering with luxury brands in order to come up with a high-end giveaway.
Once again, Virgin Atlantic takes a different path, instead introducing a “goodie bag” made of “responsibly sourced” recyclable paper and containing “sustainable” treats.
The Ren products inside were nice, but I did think the name and the bag itself were a bit cheap.
It also had socks, eyeshades, earplugs, a pen, a dental kit. No sleep suits were offered.
The bar served mostly as a preparation area for the crew, though a few passengers did use it as a place to chat during the final few hours of the flight.
Fruit and snacks as well as a selection of alcohol and soft drinks were available from the bar.
There were three washrooms located to the rear of business class. They were a decent size, but don’t feature windows like you’ll find in the Qatar airways 787 bathrooms.
The bathrooms weren’t always kept clean, however...
I worked on my laptop and dozed on and off for the second half of the flight meaning I didn’t watch TV at all.
I did ask to have my bed made up with about an hour an a half to go, primarily so that I could test out the bed in full-flat mode.
The bed was definitely on the firm side and I struggled to get comfortable next to the wall on my right hand side. The suite did however feel reasonably spacious and not at all claustrophobic.
I still wasn’t hungry, but in the name of research I had a cognac coffee as well as a couple of mini cakes.
We began our descent at 12.10am local time before a smooth, on-time landing at 12.55am.
Quiet flights are always more pleasant, though not necessarily reflective of the typical experience.
Lack of seat storage was the major problem, and I did find the bed to be hard. For me, business class is a treat and I would have liked to have seen a more premium amenity kit.
Having said that, I enjoyed this flight and it was nice to fly with an airline I don’t travel with regularly.
It was good to have direct aisle access and the service was proactive, consistent with what I experienced on the ground. I’m looking forward to trying Virgin Atlantic’s new business class as soon as I can.
How do you find Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class?