Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Report
Aircraft Type: A340-600
Class: Upper Class (Premium Business Class)
Route: LHR – LAX
Date: 02nd November 2012
Full images available here (apologies, 82 VERY large images so can't upload without ageing dramatically): http://wp.me/p2mH8F-eZ
Best for: Someone at home on the red-carpet… or a wannabe from ‘Made in Chelsea’.
Most likely to sit next to: Fashion designers, Graphic Designers, Fergie and anyone with a second home in the Hollywood hills.
Business or pleasure: It’s all about pleasure. This is a little treat of a flight. Although, there were a few reading scripts at the bar, obviously for the next Hollywood blockbuster.
Routes: Even without Moscow, these are still super cool. Picking somewhere to fly with them is actually down to a roll of the dice. You’d never lose.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Flying Club. Stupidly rewarding, very cool, easy to earn heaps of miles, even without flying.
Best bits: Entertainment and groovy champagne glasses that are more Austin Powers, than Austin, Texas.
Worst bits: ”Is it on the trolley?” – What is with the retro-trolley food service?!
Well, firstly, this is my second Virgin Atlantic trip report, and I have to say, the overall experience on the way out on this trip was a lot better compared to my previous Virgin Atlantic Trip. However, I haven’t taken any photos of the Upper Class Wing experience, as it was a fairly traumtic experience, as when driving up to the wing in our own car (something you can now organise 12 hours before your flight) one of the security bollards hit our car as it raised from the road, scraping the back bumper and causing a nasty scuff and denting the bumper (fender). The staff at the wing didn’t seem very apologetic, and we had to just get insurance details and make our way through the wing.
Still, undeterred, my partner and I headed straight to the Upper Class Lounge. The whole wing is really a wonderful and efficient way of arriving at Heathrow Terminal 3. I highly recommend it, even with our little scuffle with the security bollards. The flight itself to LAX is a regular flight I do, and actually love the length and departure times, as it means that I arrive in West Coast America just in time for a quick dinner and bed, whilst enjoying a good 11 hours of AVOD entertainment. The A340-600 is still a beautiful aircraft to fly, and sad to see them phased out around the world.
The lounge, even after all these years, is a wonderful product. Virgin are constantly trying to better the lounge, upgrading elements whenever they can, so it doesn’t date. Sadly, after sorting out insurance details etc for our car, we only had roughly 30 mins in the clubhouse, so didn’t have a chance to use the spa or hairdressing salon, instead, heading to the dining area to tuck into some amazing food. Trying out the Clubhouse burger, and dim sum potstickers (with the option of steamed or fried) along with some excellent wine and bloody mary’s, we were stocked up and ready to board. But not before taking some pictures of the lounge, including it’s new mixing desk, perfect for budding DJ’s. Although, it appears it’s definitely a gimmick, the whole desk doesn’t look like it’s been used yet.
The lounge wasn’t too busy, as there aren’t that many flights at that time, so the service was great, and there were plenty of spaces to relax, a few guests were sleeping on sofas under the mezzanine floor. Obviously resting between connections. About 1 hour before the flight, our flight was called, with a final boarding call only 5 minutes afterwards. As the cabin was full, we didn’t change our seats (from 11K and 12K) as we would normally take 3K and 4K. The concierge desk are usually quite good at organising things like that. The Grey Goose bar on the mezzanine actually looked great, but sadly it’s quiet up there, and looks like it could be quite difficult to get service up there.
Our A340-600 beckoned, on one of the farthest gates away in T3. Once onboard, the cabin was already 75% full, however, our coats were taken and Lanson Black Label champagne offered in their ridiculously shaped champagne glasses. Whilst a bit of kitsch and fun, you actually struggle to place them on the cocktail table, as the reading lamp positioned above it competes for the space. The flight seemed only half full, as when requesting a second pillow, no less than 6 economy pillows were brought for us to use to bolster our sleeping comfort.
We taxied and took off on time. Here is a video of the super smooth take off. http://youtu.be/je8rBeEONKQ
The entertainment was great, and actually seems to have been updated recently. There is a new navigation system on the entertainment, which is actually quicker, however a little more clumsy to use. The biggest problem Virgin suffered with their entertainment system, especially on the A340-600 was that it was slow to start up and respond. It’s good to see it’s been updated. Even the always confusing Seat Back magazine has been improved, with easier to read entertainment listings, and a cleaner look and feel to it. The iPad cover bag of goodies was available for the flight, however, there was no pen in my one. In our opinion, the goody bags aren’t as good as they used to be. A few years back, the chief cabin crew used to come around with amenities such as lip balm, moisturiser, polos etc. The cost cutting exercise of the company is evident here.
Shortly after take off, there was a drinks service, offered with potato chips. Then came the food offering, being a lunch time departure, the first meal was the main one. This didn’t have an amuse bouche, like my previous flight did, and comparing the salmon starter, (identical to the one I had a month before) was smaller, and slightly less well presented, but equally as elegant on the palette. The taste was amazing.
Following the starter, was the chicken dish, that was fantastic to eat, with an amazing white wine and truffle cream sauce. The presentation still isn’t as good as the Asian carriers, and I can’t actually see much difference between the previous incarnation of their food service and the apparently ‘new fine dining menu’ that they are advertising as offering onboard. The desert, whilst looking somewhat unappealing, was the best bit, a salted caramel and chocolate pudding.
The weirdest thing, was the new trolley service that ensued. Two cabin crew manned this mobile cheese station, that was more hassle than benefit. It was like a Victoria Wood sketch, and as my partner mentioned, actually making the intimate experience of Virgin more of a group exercise, drawing your attention into the cabin, and involving the rest of the passengers, thus reducing your privacy. I would be happy to see this trolley left in the kitchen, with your food brought to your seat, as it’s this service, that you come to expect from Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.
After the dinner service, things settled down, and everyone relaxed into the flight, some already going to sleep, trying to combat the forthcoming jetleg. Roughly around this time, we were passing Greenland, an amazing sight, and needed to take a few shots. You can see them below. A really breathtaking experience. Very humbling.
After a few hours of watching movies, TV shows and looking through the offerings of magazines onboard (still no inflight magazine), it was time for afternoon tea. Something I was looking forward to, as it was advertised on the website, yet hadn’t truly experienced it yet. Sadly, however, this meant the trolley was coming out again. Little tea stands were offered (and assembled in front of you) containing an array of sandwiches, cakes, and scones. Asking for one of everything, seemed to turn into a rigmarole. The crew took so long to try and assemble the cake stand, lay the modern black paper doily and arrange the cakes as per the obvious catering standard template they were following, the magic of the whole event had sadly deflated somewhat. Joking with the cabin crew about the whole scenario, they too agreed, it was too much of a farce. The sandwiches were slightly stale, yet tasty, and the cakes were delicious. I asked for one of their hot chocolates. I still standby the fact it is one of the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted.
Soon enough, it was time to land. The usual tidying of the cabin, collection of headsets etc followed, and cabin lights dimmed for landing. Sadly, sat across the aisle was someone who wanted to continue to read. Their reading light shining quite sufficiently into my face meaning I had to turn my head away. I was unable to ask him to turn it down without shouting across the aisle, and couldn’t call any of the crew in the final stages of landing, so had to grin and bear it. Still, this meant I could turn my head to the window, and watch the Los Angeles skyline as we came into land.
Virgin Atlantic are trying to improve their product, even on the currently mainstream and successful A340-600 routes, that didn’t ever need much tinkering. The improved entertainment offering, and magazine were great. The food was tasty and almost decent in presentation, however there is still much room for improvement here. The cabin crew were attentive and professional. The only major drawback is the trolley. It is cheap in appearance, cumbersome and unnecessary and cheapens the whole in flight experience. With the recent announcement that Virgin Atlantic are looking at replacements for their A340 fleet, I will be sad to see them go. They are beautiful, elegant aircraft that I hoped would grace the skies for many years to come. Sadly, it seems the cost of fuel has seen the demise of these, longest commercial aircraft in the sky.