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Well known for their stylish design and funky airport lounges, Virgin call their business class The Upper Class Suite. It even has an honest-to-god, stand-up bar.
But what is it like to fly business class with Virgin Atlantic? And, truthfully, is it worth it?
Here’s my Virgin Business Class Review, plus a rundown of the other cabin options on board.
The test run: Detroit to London Heathrow
Virgin Atlantic have also revealed plans for a new Upper Class seat which is planned to arrive in their new Airbus A350-1000s between 2019 – 2021. Among other changes, the beds will no longer need flipping and the bar will become a lounge. Watch this space for an update. Until then, though, this Virgin Business review still shows you what you’ll get (and remember, it will take a while for the new seats to become standard on all routes.)
The first thing you notice, because Virgin have made a point of making it a point, is the glowing white bar. That’s right, a stand up bar in the air with a qualified mixologist. While I always thought this looked like it would be fun, I wasn’t too convinced at how it would be on an overnight flight when you wanted to get some sleep (yes, that’s right, I’m not as young as I used to be. And then not even as young as that.)
As it happens, it is a brilliant idea! It gathers up all the people who want to chat and party at one end, allowing everyone else to turn off the lights, plug in the earphones and get some sleep.
Self-segregation keeps almost everyone happy, just make sure to choose a seat near the front if sleep is your main aim.
Virgin arranges its seats in a chevron pattern, with two seats in the centre and one at each window. No-one has to step over anyone else to reach the aisle.
And while it’s not impossible, it is quite difficult to chat for any length of time to the person next to you when sitting down. Depending on who you’re travelling with, that could be a blessing or a curse.
Seats fully recline to flat beds, which the cabin crew will help make up for you, complete of course with cotton sheets, pillowcases and duvets. There’s also the chance to recline your seat considerably. However, since the design involves flipping the bed over completely to make it flat, first time flyers will need some help to do this.
Related: 23 Tips for Long Haul Flights
I loved the ergonomic design of all the storage areas around the seat: there’s space for a washbag, laptop and cables underneath the foot stool at the end. Most business class seats provide ample storage but not all make it easy for you to reach in flight. Brush up on your carry-on essentials list before you fly to make the most of this space!
The TV screen folds out from your seat’s “wall” which makes it a little fiddly if you’re also having dinner or tapping on your laptop but it’s hardly an insurmountable problem. There are plug sockets and spacious overhead compartments, as well as some lost space behind the headboard to make the most of if you wish.
Another nice touch involves the LARGE fold-out table so that you can adjust your notebook, notepad and glass of champagne in a dignified manner (all of which is important, especially the last point.)
Related: read the Carry On Essentials List
Slick, stylish and friendly. Not too overbearing but certainly not inaccessible. Actually, quite good fun.
Plenty of space to bend your knees – always something I watch out for! Cabin crew are respectfully quiet and the Dreamliner auto-darkening windows mean you’re not accidentally woken up by someone suddenly admiring the rise of a new dawn!
As the first off the plane and with priority passes, you’re out of the airport before everyone else is off the plane. Priority immigration, priority baggage. Gone…
Make your choice about whether you want to work and sleep or chat and party – and then pick your seat accordingly. The further you are to the front of the plane, the quieter it gets.
Hm, now Detroit currently doesn't have a Virgin lounge, it has a (very busy) generic one. Still, food, drink, newspapers, wifi, and power points are all present and correct.
London has The Upper Class Wing, which looks very interesting, but I haven't had the chance to test that out yet.
The bar! Seriously, even though I didn't use it. Especially because I didn't use it. It kept all the people who wanted to stand around and chat well away from me, which let me settle down and sleep. (And, yes. I am that rock and roll.)
The plane-themed salt 'n' pepper creuset
The good night's sleep
Because of the bar, seat choice is more important than in many business class cabins. Do you want to join the party? Sit near the bar. Do you want peace and quiet? Sit further ahead in the plane.
Virgin produce a handy guide to the cabin options on board over here.
As we’ve mentioned, business class is called Upper Class and cattle class is, well, Economy.
Premium is the option in between. Seats have more space between them than in economy, champagne will flow and your meal will arrive with a grown up knife and fork. Whether or not that’s worth it to you probably depends on how long your legs are.
Flying Economy with Virgin Atlantic is typically a pleasure rather than a survival exercise, largely down to the professional behaviour of the staff and cheery outlook of the company.
Recently, they’ve split their offering into Economy Light, Classic and Delight, following the pay-as-you-go trend in flying. Make sure to check the small print for luggage allowance and seating options for each class, as well as which meals are included.
I’ve taken a fair few flights with a baby and toddler by now and, hands down, Virgin have been the best at this. They were also, luckily, the first. So, they ignited a lifetime love of travelling with children, rather than a shaking dread of it, as a few other airlines may have.
Despite the rock ‘n’ roll image, I found the Virgin staff to be extremely “family friendly” in that they were kind to everyone in the family. With young children, you get to board first, can pre-book a bassinet in economy, are handed extra water, rubbish bags, serviettes and so on.
Related: the best baby travel gear (and what you don't need)
Staff even ask about the timing of your meal in case you’re in the middle of breastfeeding (also A-OK on the flight) or your child is asleep. You can take a pushchair right up to the gate and the crew were so helpful getting us on board.
Even for frequent flyers, that first trip with a child is fraught. There are new rules and it feels as though the stakes are high. The benefits of business class may be less, however, since you’ll find extra space with the bassinet and you won’t be lying down to get any sleep anyway ;-) Nor will you be in a position to be enjoying fine dining or champagne ;-)
If flying in business with older children, just realise that there will be a slight divider between you and your child (as there is with all passengers.) And of course, also, remember the bar (!)
Virgin partner with Delta Air Lines to connect the UK to more than 200 destinations in North America, as well as flying to the Caribbean, Asia and Africa.
Disclosure – I received a complimentary flight in business class for review purposes. As ever, as always I kept the right to write what I like because otherwise what’s the point, life’s too short etc etc Also, though I usually use my own images on this blog, for business class reviews I tend to use stock images most of the time. Why? Because people feel as though they’re in a private place when they fly (especially if they’re sleeping) and it just doesn’t feel right to plaster photos of people all over the interwebs like that without their consent. (And, it doesn’t really show you much more in any case.) I have flown with Virgin Atlantic many times in my life, for work and for leisure, too many times to keep count.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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