I have been keeping a keen eye on Virgin Atlantic since they introduced a new Suites product in the second half of 2019. To check out this product, I booked the first flight I could in my already busy travel schedule at the time for March 2020. That was to be cancelled just 2 days before when Trump suddenly imposed a travel ban Europe wide. Fast forward 17 months, I was double vaxed and looking to book my first long haul trip since (several other booked and rebooked trips were cancelled one by one in the 6 months prior). I booked this trip just 5 days before, which had to be one of my most last minute long haul booking. It just had to be that way due to the nature of countries changing travel rules in the blink of an eye during this time. I was stoked to just to fly Upper Class, Barbados was almost a second thought for me! Lets see how Virgin Atlantic premium travel looks like in the new normal.
Route: London Heathrow – Barbados
Flight No: VS131
Departure Time: 09:30
Aircraft: Airbus A350-1000
Seats/Suite: 1K Upper Class
Virgin has a separate Upper Class Wing check-in in Terminal 3, which is probably the best way to arrive. They meet you at your car/drop-off and have a seem-less experience. I was planning on getting an Uber, but due to the early morning flight and me already running late, I did not want to spend 90 minutes estimated to get there. So I opted to get a train to Heathrow which was quicker.
When you arrive by the trains/subway however, you check in from the main terminal. Which is fine, just not the same exclusive experience you would have in the Upper Wing entrance.
Unsurprisingly Upper Class check-in area was empty. So I had my boarding pass as soon as they checked through my Covid test results as well as the required pre-departure information for Barbados, including the bimSafe app.
I was then pointed to the lift to take up to the Clubhouse.
Virgin Clubhouse lounges are a huge part of the experience of flying Upper Class. They are amongst the best business lounges out there for good reason so which warranted its own review here
Announcements are made in the Clubhouse when your flight is ready to board. It seems Virgin currently has a policy of keeping passengers in the Clubhouse as long as possible, as they did not make boarding calls until 30min before the flight! Its not a long walk to the gates, which took about 6/7 minutes. I did not see many passengers at all, much less any queues.
We boarded through door 1, with that jet bridge just for Upper Class passengers.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suites
Stepping into a striking cabin through the second aisle, my thoughts were this could not be more Virgin. It was a very lively and welcoming atmosphere.
There are 44 new Upper Class Suites on this A350, covering the entire cabin between door 1 & 2.
Right behind us was the Premium Economy cabin with 56 seats, which seemed to be almost full. This is quite a premium heavy configuration.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suites cabin and onboarding mood lighting really is stunning. And somehow the purple/pink hues do not seem as overwhelming as one might expect. It is still somewhat subdued that it feels relaxing.
After a couple of minutes, I went back up to my suite
About 10-12 passengers had already boarded. With about another 15 or so arriving while I settled in.
The crew were quick to introduce themselves and offering welcome drinks from choice of juices and champagne.
There was a great atmosphere in the cabin, with many crew flying for the first time in a while, as things gradually picked up pace in travel.
Each Suite is equipped with a deep comfy leather seat, a 18″ HD inflight entertainment screen that pops out from from the site. There are 2 shelves that are open, as well as side console with various controls to adjust your seat/lighting and entertainment options, a literature storage pocket in the right. There is a reading light and all finished off with beautifully placed mood lighting. Finally there is a semi closable door too, which acts more like a partial privacy screen.
COVID Protocol & Safety Video
I forgot to take pictures of this, Virgin provide every passenger with a hygiene pack, with surface wipes, hand sanitizer sachets and a face mask. The cabin looked super clean already but it never hurts to have wipes anyway.
Please note, as with most airlines now, Virgin require all passengers to be wearing face masks, when they are not eating or drinking. They stated that just after the safety video.
Talking of which, I love Virgin Atlantic’s safety video! It was just so playful and British! I posted a clip on my Instagram stories for those of you interested!
Virgin Upper Class On Board Service
We departed 10 minutes to 10, on a clear sky overlooking a relatively quite Heathrow airport.
Within 10 minutes the service kicked into gear with a choice of further drinks served with a small bag of Pretzel.
One thing I love about most A350 is the ability to watch your plane from live camera feeds (unfortunately there are a few airlines that decide to opt out of the option to save costs!)
I was glued to the screen for first 15 minutes of the flight just watching the green English landscapes below.
The menu for this day flight was as follows:
During the early stages of the pandemic many airlines started offering a very reduced and condensed onboard service. However Virgin was one of the few that was still serving hot meals, which I had admired them for.
Yes the menu choices are every so slightly adjusted to make service quicker/safer I imagine.
About 45 mins in the crew started taking orders for meals. I opted for the Roasted cod for the main meal.
The starter was served about 25 minutes after the orders were taken.
Note, the only difference in service here is that they keep the packaging/covering on.
About 15 minutes after the starter, the main was served..
The Cod was lovely, tender and complemented very well my the mint & pea sauce. Even the potatoes were delicious!
However, notice the alignment of the dining table with the screen? The seat directly faces the screen at 0 degrees, but the tray table remained stuck in about 20 degree angle. I recall there were various issues being reported with these new tables since launch. Virgin has since tried to rectify them but they now have this quark. I was informed most A350s don’t have this issue. It seems minor but it was somewhat strange and hard to be totally comfortable eating in.
Anyway, for dessert, I ordered the chocolate dome with orange middle. It was perfect. Unfortunately I also forgot to take a picture of it!
Virgin also serve the cheese plate, but I did not order that. In hindsight, I probably should have!
I finished off the meal with some tea, which was served in a proper mug.
Upper Class passengers are provided noise cancelling headphones, already placed in one of the Suite pockets..
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Noise Cancelling Headphones
I found the headphones reasonably comfortable.
After lunch, I started to explore the Inflight entertainment selection..
There were a very good selection of movies and programmes to choose from. And the screen was crisp clear.
Note, Virgin has decided to do away with a remote. You can pair your phone with the IFE to control your screen, as well as the screen itself. But if you are lying down, you have access to some controls on the side panel too for easier access.
Inflight map is always an important one for me, especially when I just cannot choose something or just want to listen to music while watching what we are passing through..
Virgin Atlantic Loft Space
A unique feature of the Virgin A350s are the new Loft space, which replace the Bar of older planes.
I do like what Virgin has done with this space and it feels like a cosy place to hang out and or stretch your legs around. There is probably enough seating for 7-8 people, though only if you were in respective groups of 2. Otherwise if it was a stranger, you may not want to sit right next to them I guess.
Initially, there were quite a few people hanging out here, but after I finished my movie, it completely emptied out as people started napping.
I ended up chatting with quiet a few of the crew here, who were all rather lovely. I was offered an ice cream while I sat there for a bit.
Virgin Upper Class Suite Bed
As with most business class products now, your seat turns into the fully flat bed. In fact, Virgin crew appear proactively offer to make the bed for you
In addition to the pillow already on the seat, they have a complete bedding set, with a full size pillow, duvet and mattress pad in the overhead bins above your suite.
The bed looks very inviting all made up!
During this day flight, Virgin did not offer PJs, which they normally do on night flights. In any case, I was wearing relaxed clothing so was super comfortable just to tuck into the bed..
We were just about half way into our journey so had a snooze for about 1 hour 15 minutes. I needed it after a 4.30am wake up!
One thing I did notice was the bed did feel a little cramped on the shoulder. I do have broad shoulders especially considering my height so maybe this is not a problem for most people. Also, note, the side armrest panel on the aisle side is supposed to come down, to make the width bigger in bed mode, but the crew did not put that down. I struggled to do it myself as it seemed to be stuck. When I eventually asked the crew, they also struggled to do it. But offered to move me to another suite if it bothered me.
I did not want to move really just for an hour or so.
A Very British Afternoon Tea
About 90 minutes to landing, an afternoon tea was being served. This was not intended as a full on meal. Not sure if this was due to flight length of being just under 9 hours or some Covid scale back here..
The meal consisted of a beetroot wrap, a cheese roll, large warmed scones with clotted cream, jams and some additional cakes.
It was all rather lovely as a snack. I was rather surprised they did not have any Earl Gray tea though! I did not order anything else, as I still wanted to enjoy a nice local dinner once I got in.
And then it was suddenly all coming to an end way too fast.. we were already at the south coast of the island
And what a view it was coming into land, I was now getting excited by Barbados itself!
We landed pretty much as scheduled and quickly came to a stop around 1.20 pm local time. There was no jet bridges, so we had such a treat going down the stair…
One of the main benefits of landing in a tiny airport with no jet bridges, you get to see glorious views of the aircraft in the tarmac..
Upon landing we had to go through a very serious looking immigration hall, where there were several lines to go through to get your documents verified and then finally getting a second PCR test at the airport before you leave. I was also given a green wristband that I had to wear until I got my test results back.
It took about 1 and half hour to get out, where I had my pre-booked taxi waiting for me.
This was such a delightful experience, at times I had to just gaze out the window with gratitude just to be able to fly long haul again. In the midst of that it kind of passed me by all too quickly. Now that I am sitting here back at my home writing this, I am thinking I did not fully make the most of this. I did not try many drinks onboard, nor did I have the cheese plate, which looks oh so good now! But even then it was still a pleasure. There is something about Virgin that makes flying so enjoyable with their crew being a more cheerful and upbeat bunch. That was on full display on this flight. The crew were very proactive with clearing away plates and asking if I needed anything. When I accidently pressed the call bell a couple of times, they just popped up almost instantly! That is a world away from BA Club World level of service.
As for the new Upper Class Suites, it is certainly a good step up from the old setup which I was never a fan of (and party the reason I did not fly Virgin often before). I booked this fare for £1399 during a summer promo. All in all, very good value! Checkout the latest offers directly at Virgin.
I cannot wait to fly Virgin again!