I still remembering hearing the radio commercials for "Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to London" when I was growing up in LA. I didn't know much about flying, and I didn't know much about London, but I loved that lady's accent! As the first major part of our honeymoon, my wife and I were able to experience the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class experience from Los Angeles to London.
Continental used to be a partner with Virgin Atlantic, and I was able to make this reservation shortly after the United merger, before United dropped Virgin Atlantic as a partner. We were heading to London in order to catch our connecting flight to Johannesburg. After a quick trip to the United Club, we started our journey on an SFO-LAX hope on United, and when we landed, we had to make our way from Terminal 6 to Terminal 2, where Virgin Atlantic resides. I know there's an LAX inter-terminal bus, but I really dislike buses, and it's quicker to just walk across the parking lot in the middle of the airport. After hauling our stuff over there again and going through security, we thought we'd have a quick snack and charge our devices at the lounge.
Virgin Atlantic uses the Air New Zealand lounge at LAX, and when you enter the lounge, there's a small, temporary Virgin Atlantic kiosk with an agent there to check you in. Having never been to the Air New Zealand lounge, I was interested to check it out, but it looked pretty slammed. The agent told us that because it was too crowded, Virgin Atlantic passengers should use the Air Canada lounge next door. She walked us over there.
I have flown Air Canada a handful of times (two flight reports here and here), and I'm generally a huge fan of them, but this little LAX lounge didn't live up to the expectations set by memories of other Air Canada lounges. It's a single, large room with a variety of chairs and desk area for charging devices. There's a small buffet for food, but the options are quite limited. They did have some minestrone, and I thought that was decent. Air Canada lounges typically have that signature amazing bean salad, and I was hoping to get some of that, but this lounge didn't have any. We weren't too concerned about the lounge, though. There wasn't that much time before our journey to London would begin!
As an aside, it was really interesting to see how busy Terminal 2 at LAX was at this time of night Whereas the United terminal was starting to die down, with only a few redeyes left for the day, Terminal 2 was slammed, as there were a few late night flights left to go, including both Virgin Atlantic (LHR) and Air New Zealand (AKL).
The flight was boarding out of gate 23, and the Air New Zealand flight was right next door so there really was a large mass of people. They called for Upper Class boarding, and I stopped for a moment to snap a picture of our plane, an Airbus A340-600.
When you first step on the plane, there's actually a small 3 seat bar, full with bar stools and everything. I didn't get a chance to snag a picture of it, and we actually never even got a chance to go hang out there. This flight doesn't leave the west coast of the USA until after 9PM, and once meals are served, people are pretty darn tired and just hit the sack. I'm guessing the bar gets a lot more utilization the westbound flights where it's daylight the entire time. Once you walk in the plane, you make a left turn and that's the Upper Class cabin. The seat layout in Upper Class is 1-1-1, and the seats are placed at an angle. Each seat has a good amount of recline and turns into a completely flat bed.
I got into my seat, and I immediately started playing around with pretty much everything I could find on the seat.
The seat is very comfortable, but if you look closely, you'll find plenty of signs of wear and tear. These cabins are ready for a renovation, and apparently Virgin Atlantic agrees, as they have already begun rolling out an enhanced version of the product. The controller for the inflight entertainment definitely looks older than the standard version deployed in most premium cabins, and the screen wasn't the sharpest. Despite the aging cabin, it was a very sleek setup. The individual pod, or suite as they call it, actually was very reminiscent of the Air Canada suites (my trip reports of that are here and here). The seat was comfy and there was a footrest that you could also stash things under, allowing you to keep some stuff nearby during takeoff and landing. That footrest also doubles as a companion seat so my wife and I were able to dine together - very cool!
The amenity kit was a very standard business class amenity kit, but we were offered pajamas, which is great. I have never yet flown in International First Class, but I had always thought that pajamas were restricted to First, whereas "Upper Class" is generally considered to be more of a Business Class product. I put them away, as I figured I would change into them after dinner. The flight attendants were extremely friendly, and I went with some sparkling wine as my pre-departure beverage of choice.
As we began to take off, I perused the menu, figuring out what I'd be having for dinner. I won't bore you with an entire transcription of the whole thing, but for those interested, you can download my photos of the menu here: (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4). Once it was safe to take off, my wife came from her seat to sit across from me, and the tray table pulled out in between the two of us. It was really cool to be able to dine together on an airplane, and it was definitely the first time I've done that before! Dinner service started immediately after takeoff, and we were first served starter beverages with little ramekins of potato chips.
After snacking on our chips and enjoying our drinks, our friendly flight attendant set the table for us. This was another really impressive part of the service. Instead of just plopping a tray down, our table was carefully set for two, including a separate bread plate with knife and butter. We had a choice of two appetizers. My wife went with the salmon, and I went with the corn chowder. Before either of those were put out, we were both served some gazpacho to cleanse our palettes.
And in terms of our main courses, I guess it's just easier to state that I got "the chicken" and my wife got "the beef." I thought my chicken was awesome. I had a bite of her beef, and I didn't think it was that good. Neither did she. Rather than the much coveted airplane medium rare steak, her beef looked like it could have been out of a TV dinner. All of her sides were really good, though.
For dessert, I had the bread pudding, also delicious, and my wife got the fruit and yogurt (yawn.......).
After dinner, we were actually pretty pooped. Consider that this flight doesn't leave until after 9PM local time. Then after takeoff, a three course meal is served. By the time that's all finished, the cabin is pretty tired out! I actually planned on playing a few computer games on my MacBook Pro before hitting the sack, but this older cabin doesn't have the standard 120V power ports. They have the older EMPOWER standard, and in order to use a normal plug, the flight attendants can bring you an inverter. If you have a beefier computer, though, like a MacBook Pro with a 65w power adaptor, as soon as you plug into the inverter, the lights on the inverter go off, and you're out of luck. Thus, I decided I didn't feel like killing my battery on my laptop and I went to bed.
I wish I had some pictures of the seat in bed mode! The seat transforms into a bed unlike any other seat I have seen. Instead of it just reclining into a fully flat bed, the seat actually flips forward and the back of the seat is nice and soft, like a mattress. This produces the most comfortable business class bed I have ever slept in. In addition to the bed / seat / mattress being extremely comfortable, Virgin Atlantic offers a full turn down service. They put a mattress pad on top of the seat, making it even more comfortable, and they give you a great pillow and blanket. The pillow and blanket is a huge improvement over just using the headrest, like you do on a United BusinessFirst seat that is flattened into a bed. I slept like a baby!
As always, I set my iPhone stopwatch to time how long I slept, just for no other reason than satisfying my curiosity. I was pleased to see that I slept for over 4 hours. After waking up, I actually declined the full breakfast service. I knew that by the time we landed, it would be almost 4PM, and a few hours after that, we would be boarding the plane to Johannesburg where we would be having another meal. I just went with a simple, warm croissant.
I was really impressed with the flight. The flight attendants were extremely friendly, and they actually took time to strike up a bit of conversation with us, ask about our trip, etc. It actually seemed like they enjoyed their job - what a concept! In addition to top notch service, the food was quite good, and I REALLY enjoyed the seat. My only constructive feedback would be that the cabin seemed a bit dated and the in-flight entertainment could use an upgrade. As I mentioned earlier, Virgin Atlantic is one step ahead of me, having already upgraded some of their fleet. This award booking was part of a ticket that I booked before the IT systems of Continental and United merged. I transferred miles over to Continental, and I booked them there. Soon after the IT systems merged, United ended its partnership with Virgin Altantic. Thus, I don't know when I'll get to fly this airline again. Maybe I'll use my Virgin America points on a Virgin Atlantic flight, but I don't have enough of those or earn them that quickly. In any case, goodbye for now, Virgin Atlantic! Thanks for a great flight!