Feeling antsy, I made my way from the lounge to the gate in Atlanta's international terminal. Still fairly early, I wanted to be ready to board the first flight in a long line of great products coming up in this trip. From the departure gate, our plane was displayed outside of the window, ready to return home to London.
Airline: Virgin Atlantic
Route: ATL to LHR
After waiting for a short time, the business class section was called to start boarding, so I quickly made way for the aircraft.
Walking down to the plane, Virgin Atlantic does an impressive job of wowing you at first sight. On the other side of the entry door is the iconic lighting of the Virgin brand, pinks and purples flood the cabin, and style almost takes such a forward role that function kind of goes out the window. The immediate impact on you is impressive, nice little wow factor on first visual.
Look for a few more minutes, and the flaws start to come out. The most immediate to any passenger on the plane is the complete lack of overhead space for the middle seats. I understand the thought here is that there are fewer business class seats, so they should require far fewer overhead compartments. In practice however, the seats do not provide much storage space around them, so that extra hand bag or backpack many passengers carry needs to go overhead. While there may be fewer passengers in the forward section, there is a need for more luggage per person to go in the overhead. Our flight did run out of room for a few passengers and those bags needed to be placed in the coat closet instead. In my eyes this was a huge miss.
Seating was another miss in my opinion. Virgin Atlantic was definitely try to cram as many seats into the cabin as possible while still offering lie flat beds. Problem here is that the seats are placed at a pretty extreme angle, so window seats are actually hard to see out the window with.
Second and probably most annoying is how tight the seats are. Business class seats are not cheap, and if you are paying top dollar for these seats, then you are going to want a comfortable seat. Virgin attempted to get as much revenue as possible here and sacrificed passenger comfort. Honestly, I'd never pay full price for a business class seat in this arrangement, probably part of the reason this arrangement, while Virgin's newest, is already going away. Passengers just aren't happy with it.
Sitting down, the artistic seat divider becomes an in your face element. Beautiful from a design aesthetic sense, the see through nature loses a sense of privacy that is a cornerstone of business class. Business customers want privacy to work, and sleep. Making the cabin feel more open air is a nice design choice, but beyond looks, the feel isn't right for the type of customers the airline is trying to attract.
Before the plane pushed back, the crew came around and offered amenity kits and sleep suits. Sleep suits are the British equivalent of pajamas. The flight attendant gave me a medium sized pajama. I was skeptical of the sizing since I normally wear a large to x-large, but the mediums ran so big they actually fit me quite well.
Amenity kits on Virgin were quite sparse as far as kits go. There was some useful stuff in them, but it seemed to be lacking the variety of most normal kits. The bags were also the least useful of all those I received on this trip. I find myself underwhelmed by this kit, it's not one I'll be inclined to reuse.
Preflight champagne, orange juice or water was offered before takeoff. I chose the champagne, which was middling at best, nothing to write home about. Once again, the disclaimer here is that I'm not a big drinker, so take my alcohol recommendations with a grain of salt. I don't like alcohol, so I'm pretty picky on drinks that contain it.
As for the service crew, they were quite impressive. Friendly, attentive, laughing and joking. The crew brought a friendly and fun feeling to the cabin throughout the flight. Crew did strike a nice balance between being attentive and having fun. I would say service could have been a little faster, but they were always on top of things when they were needed.
Once we taxied out to the runway at Atlanta, the plane took to the sky for a nice 8 hours flight to London.
After takeoff, food was ordered and served. I'll be doing a food review later this week, stay tuned for that.
Once meals were done I watched some TV since it was still a little early to go to sleep in the US. Pulling out the in flight entertainment screen, the selection was up to date, but lacked depth. Once you saw the newest films, there wasn't a huge back catalog to choose from beyond that. Being that this was only an 8 hour flight, the entertainment selection wasn't a huge deal, but I could see it being a bit boring for the longer flights.
As a note, the screen is controlled by a separate remote. Like many modern products, this remote has a built in screen. The screen allows you to view the flight maps while still watching something on the main entertainment screen. My unit had some issues at first. The maps froze the handheld unit's screen for much of the beginning of the flight. I did not notice when, but the unit did eventually load the maps later on in the flight after I just ignored it for a while. This just highlights that the plane and product is showing a little age. Dings and bangs showed all over the cabin, nothing major, but minor things that did make the cabin feel aged.
After watching some movies, I got ready for bed. A flight attendant helped make my bed, and for good reason. Virgin's seating is not like most lie flat beds. Most other products allow you to stay in the seat and just go along for the ride as it converts to a bed, but not the Virgin Atlantic seats. These you need to bring to a full upright position and then unlock the back of the seat, which then folds down to a flat position. This is not intuitive and really I'm not sure I still know how to do it.
Similarly this is a problem when waking up. Getting ready for breakfast, we hit some turbulence. This meant I could not unbuckle and get up from my seat to convert back to a seat. In the mean time I just sat up in my bed until the ride smoothed out enough that the flight attendant could convert it back to a seat and give me my morning meal.
After a quick meal, we prepared to land in London. As always, London was cool and breezy but a beautiful day otherwise. The captain touched us down and before you knew it we were through immigration and on to British soil.
Virgin Atlantic was a beautiful product, but suffered from being too highly focused on that beauty. Design was put before function here and the seat was tight, difficult to convert to and from a bed, and see through dividers sacrificed a lot of privacy. At the end of the day I was happy to be in business class seat over economy, but the seat was a little lackluster. I look forward to seeing what the new updated business class product will be from Virgin,