Review: Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class (Business Class)


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When booking our flights from New York to London on Virgin Atlantic I’d had a decision to make: Do I book us to fly out of JFK where Virgin has a highly lauded Clubhouse lounge and fly on an Airbus A330? Or do I book us to fly out of Newark (where the lounge isn’t really anything special) and fly on Virgin’s Dreamliner which is reported to have the best Upper Class cabin?

I chose to fly us out of Newark – we probably wouldn’t spend more than two hours in the lounge so, as we would be in the air for three times as long, the sensible option was to choose the best aircraft cabin.

With that choice made, and having given up the chance to finally try out Virgin Atlantic’s JFK Clubhouse, I wasn’t all that excited to find out (on the way to the airport) that Virgin had hit us with a last minute aircraft swap to an A330.

Still, this wasn’t a huge issue in the scheme of things…just a little irritating.

We arrived at Newark’s Terminal B at around 17:30 (when check in opens) and found just 5 people ahead of us in line. 

The line moved very quickly and we were checked in, through the priority security line and at the elevators for the clubhouse within 20 minutes.

Here’s a link to my review of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Newark airport

After a perfectly acceptable stay in the Clubhouse Joanna and I headed down to the gate with time to spare before boarding – I wanted to be one of the first to board to try to get some reasonable pictures.

Waiting to board wasn’t the most auspicious of starts to my first ever Upper Class flight – we had a lady vomiting violently in the gate area with the Virgin Atlantic staff seeming somewhat indifferent to her plight.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Boarding was scheduled for 20:30 but didn’t actually start until 20:55.

There were no announcements made to inform passengers of the delay and the monitor at the gate never showed anything other than “boarding at 20:30” and “on time” – I hate it when airlines do this.

The Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class cabin is set out in a 1-2-1 herringbone layout…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class Seat Map courtesy of Seatguru.com

…and my first impressions  upon boarding were not good.

The seats looked tight and coffin like…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

…and the cabin felt like it had been part of a “how many seats can we cram in” exercise.

This is probably going to sound ridiculous considering I’m writing about a Business Class cabin….but there was something about the way the seats were laid out that reminded me of individual animal stalls.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Things didn’t improve when I took my seat and started having a look around.

There appeared to be absolutely no storage at all….to the point where the arm rests had been put down so there was somewhere for the crew to stow the bottles of water that were waiting at each seat:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

In the interest of fairness I should point out that, later in the flight, Joanna noticed that the small ottoman seat actually flips up to offer a modicum of storage…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

…but that’s still pathetic.

Firstly you can hardly fit anything into this tiny space and, secondly, if you have your seat in bed mode (and therefore have your feet on the ottoman) how are you meant to get at whatever it is that you stored there?

You could, technically, store items under the ottoman….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

……but then they’ll move during the flight (especially during take of and landing) and the next thing you know your items are three rows away.

As if this truly pathetic lack of storage around the seat wasn’t enough, there are no overhead storage bins over the middle seats…. so the whole cabin is sharing the bins over the window seats. Presumably this is to give the cabin a feeling of space but the way Virgin has packed in the seats negates that idea entirely.

Anyway…moving on.

Next to the seat there was a small metallic flap that opened out to offer a small ledge where passengers can place a drink…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

…there was a universal power port under the seat….

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

….and 2 USB and audio sockets around shoulder height next to seat divider:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Because of the way the seats are arranged in the cabin (i.e in a herringbone layout) the windows are pretty much redundant from the point of view of someone who wants to look out of them during the flight – they’re behind the seat with the seat facing directly away:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

If you want to look out you have to look over your shoulder.

At this point I already thought that whoever had designed this cabin had never flown in an aircraft (let alone understand what a Business Class cabin should be like)…..but little did I know that there were more discoveries to come.

As passengers were taking their seats it became pretty obvious that there wasn’t much privacy to be had.

This was my view looking directly ahead and, as you can see, I’m basically staring straight at the gentleman in the seat across the aisle from me.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

The see-through nature of the dividers between the seats (or at least the top part of the divider) not only adds to the lack of privacy but, because they’re either side of the seat, you also notice any movement by passengers next to you…it can be distracting.

At this point Joanna (who was in the seat next to me) found a used pair of socks by her ottoman which, when added to the filthy state of the power sockets in Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy cabin on the way out, doesn’t give me much confidence in the airline’s cleaning crews.

A menu and amenity kit had been on my seat when we boarded…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

…and I discovered a blanket and pillow behind the seat while a very unimpressive set of headphones had been squeezed in to the magazine rack next to the seat.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Before I had a chance to wonder if the “Upper Class” experience I was having could get any more underwhelming the cabin crew came around with pre-departure drinks – there was a choice of water, orange juice or champagne.

20 minutes after boarding sleep suits were handed out and, just 35 minutes after boarding had started, we pushed back – that was pretty efficient.

48 minutes after boarding had started we took off.

At this point the Cabin Director announced that fight was being operated with “reduced cabin crew” (he didn’t say why) but he assured us that there were enough crew onboard for our safety – good to know.

The next announcement we heard was to tell us that, after the seatbelt signs were extinguished, the crew would come through cabin to make up beds for those who want to go straight to sleep. Due to the short nature of the flight the rest of the service would take place after this. 

I didn’t feel that I needed my bed at this point so I took to checking out the touchscreen monitor.

The monitor pulls out from the side wall next to the seat…..

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

….and, although it wasn’t quite as bad as the touchscreen I had on my Premium Economy flight, it was still pretty unresponsive –  I had to jab at it a few times to get it to do whatever it was I wanted it to do.

Having finished playing with the IFE (the content was ok…nothing more) I watched a member of cabin crew setting up the bed in the seat across from mine.

Wow. Just wow.

The whole thing is a complete farce!

The mattress is actually the reverse side of the seat so you have to decide if you want the bed down (which the crew have to do for you because only they know how to flip the seat over) or if you want to recline and use the seat as normal.

On top of that, because of the truly idiotic way the seat is designed, you cannot recline it past about 60 degrees.

I thought I was being less than intelligent and simply failing to work the seat properly but, when I asked a flight attendant how to get the seat to recline more, he confirmed that this was as far back as you can go. It’s 60 degrees or a bed…nothing in between.

Who thought that was a good idea?

On a sub-six hour flight I couldn’t be bothered with the bed but Joanna tried it out and seemed to find it comfortable.

Around 30 minutes after take off dinner and drink orders were taken and, five minutes later, the drinks arrived with some sweet potato chips.

1o minutes later the crew set the table for dinner (for those of us who weren’t trying to get some sleep) and soon after that my meal (a curry) was served.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

The food was fine (it’s quite hard to ruin a curry), it was flavourful and hot….and the flatbread was actually pretty good.

By this stage of the flight I thought I’d found all the design flaws around the seat…but then I found one more.

The TV, when pulled out, hovers right over the tray table so you can’t eat and watch tv at the same time!

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

I don’t know if it was just my seat but I couldn’t get the tray table close enough to me for my liking….it was annoyingly just a little too far away to make dining comfortable.

After dinner I reclined the seat (no more than 60 degrees!) and pulled the table out to watch a movie on my MacBook –  the whole experience felt cramped and confined.  There was nothing particularly relaxing about it.

Tired of trying to get myself comfortable I decided to check out the “bar” that Virgin Atlantic has onboard.

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

I guess it’s better than nothing but it’s not exactly giving off any wow factor is it?

The sweet potato chips were ok and it was nice to have the option of fresh fruit too (sorry for the bad photo!)

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

As well as fruit the bar offered pastries, muffins and, surprisingly, hot dogs (in buns) and ketchup:

Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class

That’s about it. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we arrived into London Heathrow just a few minutes late.

Thoughts

I’m not going to bother with my usual list of positives and negatives here because there’s really only one conclusion I can come to: Based on this flight, Virgin Atlantic’s A330 Upper Class is probably the worst modern Business Class product I’ve experienced.

The seat and cabin are so bad that I can honestly say that I had better trips when flying in American Airlines’ old angled flat Business Class seats. I found nothing comfortable about the seat and I can only hope that the person who designed this cabin is now out of a job – a child would struggle to design a less practical cabin than this.

I really could go on and on discussing just how woeful the experience was but I think I’ve found the perfect way to sum up how I feel about Virgin’s A330 Upper Class Cabin:

I thought I’d never experience a modern Business Class cabin that made me wish I was back in a British Airways Club World seat…..but I was wrong.

6 COMMENTS

  1. You write this as though these seats aren’t in the process of being removed and replaced. Virgin admitted defeat with this seat design quite some time ago, and all of the A330s are being refit to match the 787 UC interior during 2017. You were unlucky to fly something which is about to disappear.
    Failing to mention this gives the impression that you don’t keep up with the news about products you’re reviewing.

    • Unless I’m missing something, from the reviews I’ve seen the product on the Dreamliner isn’t exactly a massive step up from this – the layout of the cabin isn’t massively dissimilar, privacy is
      still a big issue for a lot of seats and storage space still a big issue too. Virgin appears to be replacing a woeful hard product for one that’s marginally less terrible.

  2. The ‘new’ seat is from 2012. The replacement is their 2003 model. It is a shame Bob N doesn’t keep up after 14 years. He gives the impression he works for the airline in some capacity.

    This review is spot on. Virgin is a relic w a fresh coat of red paint. It doesn’t put customers first no matter the fare you pay. They’re stingy and far from humble, more shopkeeper than modern service business.

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