While British Airways is the UK largest international carrier, Virgin Atlantic has, in the past few years, posed stronger a challenge to its domination over London. After trying the Virgin Clubhouse back in November while flying Singapore Airlines first class, I decided I had to try Virgin Atlantic to see how it compared against BA. I will tell you now – Virgin won hands down.
The excuse to book a revenue ticket with them was my cousin’s wedding back in Italy. For once I was free to choose my carrier, and so I opted for Virgin via JFK.
I reached the airport at 6pm, around 3h30 minutes ahead of my scheduled departure time to London Heathrow, where I would then connect to British Airways to Nice.
Being summer, the lines to check in at Terminal 4 were pretty long, even in the Delta priority section. Thankfully, a Virgin rep stood guard at the entrance of the area to personally escort customers to the Virgin check in desks, located in a corner past the Delta counters.
The great experience started here already, as a friendly agent proceeded to check me in and to ask me whether this was my first time with them. After assuring her that it certainly was, she said: “You will enjoy it!”. I liked the confidence!
Check in was smooth, and the agent had a seat map of my plane (one of the older A340-600’s) and showed me where my seat was located.
I then proceeded through security (it took around 10 minutes overall) and I walked to the Clubhouse lounge, located near gate A5.
I had visited this beautiful lounge already back in November 2016 when flying Singapore Airlines First Class, and I was very impressed then. My visit this time was equally as impressive.
After being checked in I proceeded to the spa to book a hair salon hair cut – I liked my previous cut from Bumble & Bumble and I wanted to get another one right in time for my cousin’s wedding.
Then I took one of the seats overlooking the tarmac – the view is beautiful whenever there are planes waiting to leave. I ordered a Martini cocktail, and to my pleasure the attendant asked whether I wanted it with vodka or gin and with olives or not. Great! The martini promptly came a few minutes afterwards, and it was well made.
Around 35 minutes before my salon appointment I moved to the restaurant to have a quick bite since I had not eaten almost all day. The menu read as follows.
I decided to go with the sweet potato soup and the truffle grilled cheese sandwich with parmesan chips – a simple dish that the kitchen made it perfectly. I washed it down with a nice glass of Lanson champagne and some sparkling water.
My haircut with B&B then came up – my stylist was the same of a few months back and she did a great job once again. I must say – getting a haircut overlooking the tarmac is a real treat for an #avgeek like me!
Haircut vith a view!
After a final glass of champagne, I was ready to go board our VS10 flight to London. Once I got to the gate, I found out the flight had been delayed around 30 minutes, and so I strolled around the Terminal for a while – I must admit that T4 is way better than T8 as it has a more “international” feel to it.
When boarding was finally announced, I proceeded through the priority line for my short hop to London Heathrow.
June 28th, 2017
21:40 – 09:40+1
Upper Class, Seat 4K
Two things stood out right away while I was boarding the plane: the vibe on board was awesome – almost party-like; the plane was very dated.
Yes, Virgin’s hard product on the A340-600 is way past its prime – the plane is in serious need of refurbishment. Also, the herringbone seats are all but cutting edge these days – they weirdly let you exposed and with lack of privacy.
The controls are not hard to reach and well positioned, although the functionality was not the best (likely given to the age of the system).
The monitor wasn’t big, and the video quality poor (with little selection).
Where the hard product fails the crew come to the rescue, though. The service is cheering – exceedingly so for a British crew – and it feels genuine and authentic. The flight attendants and polished and stylish, they know what they are doing and how to please customers.
The bar at the top of the business class cabin is small but a neat feature – a bunch of people would stand there regularly pre- and post- take off to have a drink and chit chat with the lovely crew.
A pre-departure beverage was offered, and not long after everyone was on board we were on our way to London for a short 6h10m flight.
Given the late departure and the flight time, Virgin gives customers three menu options, as pictured here.
As you can see, you can have a small night cap before bed; a snack; or a proper meal.
As soon I saw that they offered a burger, I decided I had to go for it – together with some cheese, of course!
I had a glass of champagne while waiting for my food, that was served ten minutes later – I appreciated the fast service as I wanted to get some sleep time. I started to watch a Hong Kong movie, but honestly both the sound and video quality was pretty bad, and so I soon gave up.
Loving my new Tod’s
My cheeseburger came promptly, and then another hard product failure struck me: the tray would not work. The flight attendant tried and tried to open it, but nothing could be done, and so I just decided to put the tray on my lap. Oh well…
The burger was pretty good for being on an airplane.
That was followed by a selection of cheese featuring some English blue cheese and aged Gouda – I liked the quantity and presentation. By looking at the menu I ordered a glass of Gavi but by mistake I mentioned it was an “Italian red” while Gavi is obviously a white wine. I still received a red wine, but I do not know what it was – the wine wasn’t bad though.
One cool feature of Virgin Atlantic is that they provide pjs in Upper Class – not many business class products offer that. I changed into my sleep suit before even taking off – it was very comfortable. Also, the amenity kits was very nice and with good amenities.
After I was done with dinner, I asked the flight attendant to prepare my bed while I was in the restroom. Once I came back the bed was ready, and I must admit it was very comfortable and with quality bedding. I managed to sleep around three hours, although I got very warm at a certain point – possibly due to one too many drink… 😉
When I woke up we were about 90 minutes from landing, and some people were having breakfast. As soon as I got up the flight attendant asked me whether I would have breakfast, but I politely refused and only asked for a glass of orange juice.
We ended up landing ten minutes behind schedule, not too bad overall. he flight, while short, was a good one – I really enjoyed how the crew worked and interacted with customers.
After landing and going through immigration I made my way to the Virgin’s Revivals lounge. For once I did not have to go to the office here in London, but it would be nice to rest and relax for a while waiting for my long connection on BA to Nice.
The lounge has the same overall vibe of the Clubhouse in JFK (and I assume in LHR), but it’s more relaxed as most people are just plain tired. I asked for a shower room, which was good sized and with good amenities. Virgin offers complimentary valet clothes pressing – a must I feel these days.
I took then a seat in the restaurant area and ordered some eggs royale from the extensive menu, as well as an Americano. Unfortunately, I was just brought drip coffee and an egg benedict – which was disappointing as neither were what I ordered. The quality of the food was good nonetheless.
After breakfast I had the chance to have a spa treatment as well – a complimentary, fifteen minutes facial. The treatment room was relaxing and the lady working it very pleasant – it left me very relaxed and with my face feeling much better.
So, what do I think of Virgin Atlantic overall given my experience?
It was a fun experience. The vibe was great, the ground and flight crew enthusiastic were really happy to be there, and the F&B offerings were top notch. My marks would have been higher had the hard product been better though – something that will certainly improve once more dreamliners are rolled out (I forgot to mention VS also offers in flight wifi even on these planes, which is a plus; I did not have the chance to try the service though).
Overall, it was a great experience I look forward to repeat. I will try to compare my experience on VS with my many on BA soon.