There are several trip reports out on the inter-webs featuring Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product on the Airbus A330, but I wanted to draw attention to the “soft product” element on this particular flight, which is why it deserves a stand-out mention.
As a recap, the general rule of thumb distinguishing an airlines’ hard product vs. soft product is as follows (I’ve added a few of my own just as a personal measurement):
- The “hard product” is anything that is physically attached to the plane, i.e. seat pitch/width, seat design, seat configuration, seat accessories, lavatories, entertainment system, wi-fi product, bar/lounge, windows and lighting.
- The “soft product” refers to things that can differ from flight to flight, namely catering, menu print and design, amenity kit, pre-departure and post-arrival ground services, hospitality of the crew, presence of on-board chefs (or butler, if you’re flying in the Etihad Residence), duty free selection and pajamas.
When I traveled to London this summer for Farnborough, I found a premium class ticket for 62.5K Delta SkyMiles thanks to the sign-up bonus for the American Express Platinum Business card. I transferred these points to SkyMiles and purchased a one-way flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Detroit (on Delta in First) and then from Detroit to London Heathrow. (Note: Delta will be replacing Virgin Atlantic on the combined carriers’ 2x daily flights between Detroit and Heathrow on March 26, 2017, and Virgin will commence flights to Seattle on that day in lieu of Detroit).
We were delayed slightly due to late crew arrival, but once we boarded, Upper Class passengers were able to board through a separate jet-way entrace to the Airbus A330. Today’s ship for VS 108, G-VLUV, s/n 1206, was manufactured in 2011 and delivered to Virgin in 2012, after a brief lease period to China Airlines.
At first glance, while the aesthetics of the cabin are pleasing due to the lighting, the seat configuration was not appealing to me. The Upper Class suite is “open” meaning that passengers on both the window and the aisle seats on either side of the aircraft point towards each other in the center. It essentially means that if you’re a window seat aficionado, you will not get to enjoy the views outside the aircraft. You will, however, get to enjoy a view of your seatmate’s feet.
Introductions, Amenity Kits and Menu distributions
As I settled into my seat, I was greeted by Paul and later Antony, who would be two of the primary crew members serving me that evening. I was seated in seat 2A.
It was my interactions with these two gentlemen that made me realize that this would be a fantastic flight. I mentioned that I was going to Farnborough, and they both suggested that I swing by the bar later on to chat about Aviation Geek stuff. Well, that is always a fun sign!
Afterwards, I browsed through the amenity kits, as a pre-departure beverage was served (champagne, water or orange juice). Upper Class customers receive pajamas (which are very comfy, and I changed into right away) as well as noise reducing headsets. The Rituals amenity kit contained toothbrush/toothpaste, a pen, socks, earplugs, eyeshade, facial cream, moisturizer and chapstick.
We’d be receiving dinner and breakfast service on this flight. Breakfast cards would feature selections that the customer could choose a la carte and hand to the crew before going to sleep.
Once airborne, I settled in watching TV (the selections were adequate, although I’m not much of a TV/movie guy, so I cannot really remark on whether the content was extensive enough).
I love how Virgin Atlantic has a list of signature cocktails. Paul suggested that I try the Cuban Cooler, despite the fact that I don’t really drink rum. This was served with a cup of flavored crisps.
After the snack service, dinner commenced. First course was a shrimp and scallops appetizer, served with jicama and slaw, which were accompanied by warm breads. For the main, I ordered the steak with vegetables and mashed potatoes. I absolutely loved the chimichurri sauce that it came with, and the steak was cooked very well, perhaps the best I’ve ever had on a plane.
For dessert, there was a cheese selection served with port, as well as chocolate chip cheesecake. All was fantastic.
After dinner, I stretched out into my seat and started to settle in for the evening. Given that it was a short transatlantic hop, we only had about ~4.5 hours until arrival into London Heathrow. After my meal digested, and the cabin was dimmed, I decided to venture over to the bar to finally chat with Paul and Antony.
This was perhaps my favorite moment in the flight. The three of us spent some time geeking out over aviation history and sharing our stories and backgrounds. I decided to purchase a Virgin Atlantic 747-400 model aircraft as a souvenir, which, sadly, is making its way out of the fleet. In fact, currently, none of the Virgin 747s are based at Heathrow any longer.
The bar itself is a cool concept, but it was not being utilized by anyone at this time. I helped myself to a few snacks for later, and then eventually returned to my seat for a little of sleep.
Breakfast service and arrival
After a short doze, the sun was rising and we were approaching Heathrow. The crew readied the cabin for the pre-arrival meal service and also handed out immigration and Fast Track cards at Terminal 3.
Meanwhile, I took some shots outside the aircraft, as it was an absolutely stunning day for flying. It’s a pity that the window seat alignment made it sub-optimal to photograph outside the window, but this was the best that I got.
For the pre-arrival meal, I opted for the “full works” with scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms, sausage, grilled tomato, spinach and sausage. I also enjoyed a fruit bowl with Greek yogurt and a croissant. I figured that it was prudent to tank up prior to heading out to Farnborough.
After we parked at the gate, I took a photo with the amazing crew in the cockpit, which was a very kind gesture on their part. I thanked them, exchanged contact info and proceeded towards immigration.
Having FastTrack access saved my life at Heathrow. I was waiting on a friend to arrive from Atlanta, but the lines were atrocious in Terminal 3! I did get to use the arrivals lounge at Heathrow, which is located post-immigration, and enjoyed a shower and a freshen-up while I waited for my friend.
With the fantastic crew of VS 108!
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class: Summary
What made this flight fantastic was the hospitality of the crew, and the genuine approach they took to taking care of their customers on VS108. Overall, the VS Upper Class suite on the A330 is a solid product.