JONAS
Jonas Rask Eilersen
Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class
London Heathrow - Atlanta, A330-300 Upper Class (Business Class)
7th September 2016

The Virgin Atlantic/Delta alliance is getting the two airlines ever closer – and now there are daily flights from both London Heathrow and Manchester to Atlanta on Virgin, in addition to the daily Delta flights between Atlanta and Heathrow. I tried out Virgin’s Upper Class on a flight from Heathrow to Atlanta.

Check In
I arrived at Terminal 3 on the Heathrow Express about two hours before my 1135 departure. There was no queue at check in; I was quickly taken care of by a friendly clerk. It took a matter of minutes and I was then on my way one floor up in the dedicated Upper Class elevator. It could hardly have been any easier.
The Lounge
The Clubhouse may be seeing competition from other flagship lounges around the world, but at Heathrow, it's still king. It's a glorious space and encapsulates the Virgin brand perfectly. It's clubby, fashionable, monied and fun. The lounge, which I have visited on several occasions, will be reviewed separately, but suffice to say: it's a fabulous space. The only niggle this morning was the lack of wifi (which worked on my phone but not my computer - which leads me to believe it's my laptop which was the problem...)
Boarding
Boarding calls were made in the lounge exactly an hour before departure. I didn't get up immediately, but when the call was made again, some 45 minutes before departure, I quickly finished my Eggs Royale and emptied my glass of orange juice and was at the gate (27) around 1100. I realised that I was the last passenger to board and ran down the airbridge where I was greeted at the door by two cheery cabin crew. I was not shown to my seat, 6A - but I quickly made myself comfortable. It seemed like the cabin was some 70% full.
The Cabin, Seat and Service
The cabin on this close to four year old A330 was neat and quite fresh - although the LED light really has to be turned on to make it feel the way it looks like in most of the marketing material. One thing which struck me, however, was how "tight" the configuration of the Upper Class cabin really is; it feels quite cramped. The aisles are very narrow.
That said, the seats are very comfortable; I love the large and quite sturdy table, the screen for IFE, the good quality headphones. Also notable is the comfort of the bed; the only issue here is that you can't just lie down without having to get up and flipping the cushion over - this seat requires a bit more effort.
A - relative - weak point was the service. On this flight, it did not at all feel as polished and sleek as the Virgin brand would like you to believe it is; I thought the cabin crew, with one exception, were all quite cold and, honestly, sometimes even unpleasant. They lacked genuine warmth and responded curtly to very minor requests - for example, I had lost my menu and the cabin crew member rolled her eyes when I asked if I could see another one. Not great. Furthermore, the meal service was really slow.

It turned out that the four unoccupied seats across from mine were all crew rest seats and so were occupied with sleeping staff for much of the flight - and it seemed as if several of the other seats in the cabin were occupied by other Virgin staff who were not working on the flight.
Food and Drink
Another weak point was the food and drink on offer - or rather, the first problem here was the lack hereof. For example, none of the cocktails in the menu were available (apparently, ingredients had not been loaded). I therefore stuck to Champagne (Gardet Brut Premier Cru) which was excellent; however, I would certainly have expected to get a cocktail onboard Virgin Atlantic (I mean, they even have an onboard bar...)

On this slightly over nine hour long flight, there are two meal services - lunch and afternoon tea. The menu is provided in a smart looking purple pamphlet. In addition to the special meals requiring booking in advance, for lunch there are three starters and three mains.

For my starter, I chose the leek and potato soup which was just ok (in hindsight, I would've chosen the prawn, avocado and tomato tian). I'd opted for the soup as I'd decided on the fillet steak for my main. However, after I'd finished the soup (which took ages to arrive) , the cabin crew told me that "they'd run out" of steak. I found it odd that she'd only announce it at that time, as, surely, given the fact that orders had been taken so much earlier, there would have been plenty of time to work this out. "Upper Class" this wasn't.
I then accepted a second choice, the roast chicken. This was nice enough, but nothing too exciting. I also opted for one of the three red wine options, a 2011 ViƱa Koyle Malbec - I was not crazy about this one (too sweet). The best part of the meal; a bread pudding. Delicious.

During the flight, I paid a short visit to the bar where I enquired about the possibility of a Bloody Mary. The cabin crew told me that she was busy with other passengers (which is fine enough), but she made me feel like I was asking the world. In the end, I did get my drink - although I had felt bad for asking.

Some two hours before arrival into Atlanta, an afternoon tea service was provided. This too was slightly underwhelming - the sandwiches were all very much akin to what you'd find in a plastic wrapped triangular sandwich at the newsagents. I did enjoy the small Battenberg cake and my mint tea. Again, all was served with cabin crew wearing some awfully fake smiles.
Inflight Entertainment
The Virgin Atlantic inflight entertainment system is called Vera (for no particular reason, apparently) and offers an adequate number of both new and classic movies and TV. Annoyingly, there are hardly any TV series with more than one episode available. I also didn't find the selection of movies that exciting - but I'm being a tough critic here. The headphones offered are of a good quality. Unlike most of the carrier's A330s, this particular aircraft was not equipped with wifi, although an SMS/email service is offered (at a high price). I did not use it. One thing which I appreciate is the feeling that the TV shows and movies are not as heavily censored as you do experience on many other airlines nowadays.
Arrival
We arrived some 20 minutes early and taxied to our stand. I noted that the cabin was not that tidy on arrival. The crew seemed relieved to get off the plane - and so did I. It was a lengthy queue at immigration - not the airline's fault.
Verdict
Flying Virgin regularly, I know that consistency is an issue. This particular flight was uninspiring; the food, beverage and service were all below par - note that the good overall rating is more due to the check in services and flagship lounge than due to the product in the air. Virgin Atlantic pitches their Upper Class product as a Business/First Class hybrid - but, on this occasion, we were barely into Business Class territory.