Upper Class

Flight Review: Virgin Atlantic Business Class A330 - Atlanta to London

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

Aircraft: A330-300

Class: Business

Flight: 104

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.

Missing Overhead Bins in Center Row of Seats

Missing Overhead Bins in Center Row of Seats

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.

Upper Class Seat

Upper Class Seat

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. 

See Through Seat Dividers

See Through Seat Dividers

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.

Amenity Kit

Amenity Kit

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. 

Champagne

Champagne

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. 

Traffic in Atlanta

Traffic in Atlanta

Traffic in Atlanta

Traffic in Atlanta

Taking off from Atlanta

Taking off from Atlanta

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. 

Landing in London

Landing in London

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, 

Virgin Atlantic A330 Atlanta to London: Preview

Here are some quick photos of the Upper Class cabin in the A330-300 that I took aboard Virgin Atlantic. Enjoy!



The mood lighting of the Virgin Atlantic fleet

The mood lighting of the Virgin Atlantic fleet

The seat was tight to sit in.

The seat was tight to sit in.

In flight airshow

In flight airshow

One of the best vegan meals I've had in the air... or on the ground for that matter.

One of the best vegan meals I've had in the air... or on the ground for that matter.

What To Do When An Airline Changes Your Plane

Way back at the beginning of the year, I started booking some flights for my second major trip of the year at the time. This trip was to be the biggest of any I've ever flown, with no less than 5 major airlines, 2 new aircraft I've never flown, and my first experiences with first class international travel. The cherry on the sundae of the travel was to be my Emirates first class experience on board their flagship A380 from Dubai to Los Angeles. Imagine my surprise on Sunday when I started checking all my flights and found that Emirates had downgraded the plane to a 777-300ER.



This just highlights the need to check your flights on a regular basis, especially if you booked them very far in advance. Airplane loads change and more often that you may realize, airlines will change out aircraft types on you. When I originally booked my flights, I had purposfully booked a Virgin Atlantic flight on an A340, since I've never flown that aircraft. That plane also was changed out for an A330-300, which I've flown many times out of Philadelphia since US Airways and subsequently American Airlines flies these almost exclusively out of Philly to Europe.

My original booking with Emirates took place when they first announced a second daily A380 flight between Dubai and LA. Passenger loads don't always live up to expectations though, and at some point without my knowledge, the plane was changed to a smaller 777-300ER. Don't get me wrong, any other trip after this, I might actually prefer the 777-300ER. The 777 first class cabin is much smaller and would likely be very enjoyable. However, Emirates 777 aircraft do not feature the onboard shower of the A380, and I very much want to enjoy that part of the Emirates experience. I booked this flight specifically for the aircraft... so what can you do?

Your mileage may vary here, since this is an award flight, lack of space on another flight may be an issue. There may not be anything you can do, but I highly suggest you try to call the company you booked through. In my case this was Alaska Airlines, and as always the phone agent was perfect, why Alaska Airlines excels where other airlines fail miserably is beyond me, but they can keep up the amazing service, I will never complain about that.

As soon as I had an agent on the phone from Alaska Airlines, I explained the situation and she went to work. I informed her that there is an earlier flight from Dubai to LAX that is indeed still the original A380 aircraft. A quick search showed her that no open award seats were available for her to book me into. This didn't deter her though, she put me on hold for quite a while, but I knew what she was up to. She contacted Emirates directly and asked them to open a seat for her to put me in.... they obliged. 

She came back on the line, asked me to back out of the website while she made an update, and within a few minutes I was booked on the earlier flight and back on an A380. Can I just say this Alaska Airlines... you are awesome! No fuss, no hassle, they just took care of it for me. What a great experience.

As for the other flight that was changed on me, my Virgin Atlantic flight was booked though Delta. I imagine it would be much more difficult for me to change that flight. For one, there is only one daily flight on Virgin Atlantic out of Atlanta, so no other flight to put me on. Also, I'm not sure I'd want to change this flight. This puts me on the newest Upper Class product from Virgin Atlantic, and would likely be more relevant to you readers, since the A340 is on its way out and the A330 is the latest. If I do decide to change things around, I'd likely have to change airlines, which might  or might not be worth it. I'll look at it, but I don't anticipate making a change to this flight. If I do, I'll update everyone once that happens.

For now, the moral of the story is, if an airline changes equipment on you, try to get them to move you around. It may surprise you that they might just be willing to accommodate you, no questions asked.... though they may not as well. I had a great experience and cannot thank both Alaska Airlines and Emirates enough.