Virgin Atlantic Upper Class LHR-IAD: Is this really better than Delta?

My apologies for the recent absence – I’ve been out of commission for some time thanks to the GMAT.  Apparently a top business school requires one to not only have top business skills but a 700+ GMAT score, and I locked myself far away from a computer to get my studying done.  That meant no Flyertalk, no deal searching, no fun.  Now, back to the travel commentary…..

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Beautiful things aren’t always what they seem to be…..

Oh boy. On a recent trip to Europe I went out of my way to fly Virgin, so much so that I included an overnight in London so that I could spend more time at Virgin’s Clubhouse lounge at Heathrow T3.  Having completed the trip, I now realize that flying a more direct route on Delta would’ve been a much more sensible decision.  While the Clubhouse was excellent, the on-board offerings left a lot to be desired, and the seat quality wasn’t better than Delta’s 767 lie-flat beds (the alternative).

To start, I’ll briefly talk about my experience at VA’s Clubhouse, which is their excellent lounge at Heathrow.  The lounge was accessed through premium security which had no lines, and I was inside the lounge 5 minutes after getting my boarding pass.

The lounge was stylish and well-equipped, with lots of seating space, a huge bar, a sit-down dining area, a pool table, hair salon, and more.  It’s worth noting that one can order food and dine anywhere in the lounge if desired.  My first objective was to get a haircut.  The Clubhouse has an outpost of NYC’s famed Bumble and Bumble, and I made an appointment with the hairdresser.  He was quite good, and we had some interesting discussions about why Americans and Brits have a better sense of humor than ‘dry’ Western Europeans.  After the haircut, I got some complimentary comments from the staff and made my way over to the sit-down dining area to experience the thrills of British cuisine.

The service was average and the dining area was quite busy, but the food quality was excellent.  I ordered a full English and a side of eggs royale (eggs benedict with salmon), both of which were excellent.  The menu had a good selection of options available, as well as coffee, juice and sparkling wine.

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All in all, the lounge was nice, but was loud and busy.  Still, it was one of the better business class lounges I’ve experienced, and probably would be the best if it was just a bit less loud!

My flight to Washington was on the A330, which is outfitted with VA’s dream suites which were attractive-looking, but not as comfortable as I would like. The seats were arranged in the herringbone layout similar to Air Canada’s Executive class and Cathay Pacific’s old business class seats. I chose 5A, a ‘window’ seat in the middle of the cabin away from the galley and the on-board bar.  Of course, I couldn’t see out the window at all.

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Footrest with amenity kit and menu

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The seat opposite mine – elegant aren’t they?

I was offered a pre-departure glass of (mediocre) champagne accompanied by delicious salt and vinegar potato chips.  Soon later we were on our way with a flight time just under 8 hours.  It’s worth mentioning that VA allowed use of the in-flight entertainment on the ground and through takeoff, but it was nearly impossible to view the screen as it needed to be stowed!

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‘Champagne’

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Vin rouge with crisps

About 30 minutes after takeoff, the stewardesses came around to take lunch orders.  I chose the beef, which they were out of.  I then chose the chicken, which they were out of.  I had to settle for Thai Green Curry which was awful (And I forgot to take a picture of it, but it did look nice).  I can’t expect Brits to cook rice and that’s just what happened with this meal.  The ham hock starter was quite nice, while the French red wine wasn’t.  Since I was forced into eating Thai food (that doesn’t pair at all with strong reds) I ordered a Spanish white that was again disappointing.  Really all of the wines+champagne were quite disappointing.  I had maybe a bite of the curry before requesting dessert.  This was the highlight of the meal and thankfully they had enough for me!

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Cold bread with fashionable salt+pepper planes

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Quite decent ham hock appetiser

I then requested turndown service and tried to get some sleep.  I’d been out quite late in Central London the night before (need to return!) and was tired, making the 10:30AM departure perfectly reasonable.  I did find that it was frustrating that the seats couldn’t really move between their lie-flat position and a position suitable for lounging, since the seat needs to be flipped over by a stewardess to be in the sleeping position.  I found this annoying as I woke up, wanted to watch TV, then go back to sleep.

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Ready to sleep…..

The bed was comfortable and a duvet and a mattress pad were provided.  The major issue with the seat was that it had a slightly curved shape and wasn’t a rectangular shape like Delta, American, and most other’s business class seats. I found it terribly uncomfortable because I don’t sleep perfectly straight, and I would frequently hit my knees against the sides.  Since seat quality is the single most important part of business class, I was quite disappointed.  Even Delta’s cramped flat seats offered a better rest than these seats. Despite sleeping maybe 3 hours the night before, I only slept 3 hours on this flight and really had trouble dozing off.

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This is how much I slept….

The in-flight entertainment system was decent, comparable to Delta, but definitely worse than Cathay Pacific’s, especially in terms of selection.  The selection was so limited that I found myself watching Japanese crime dramas.

About two hours prior to landing, afternoon tea was served.  The arrangement was very cute, but the food quality was decidedly average.  At this point I was tired and wanted to eat then go back to sleep, but the design of the seat made this impossible.  I just decided to forego the sleep and put the seat in the lounging position.

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L’Afternoon Tea – on ne fait pas plus British….

We landed on-time and I cleared immigration in 1 minute thanks to Global Entry. I then proceeded to the Delta desks to get on an earlier flight home.

It was definitely a mixed experience with Virgin and it most certainly wasn’t better than what I’ve experienced on Delta.  The lounge is a nice touch, but the plane is average compared to other options.

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