Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class (business class) London (LHR) to New York (JFK)

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01. Introduction: Business class battle royale – British Airways vs. Virgin Atlantic
02. British Airways 747-400 Club World (business class) San Diego to London (LHR)
03. Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London
04. Hilton London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4
05. The 3 things that I love most about London
06. Virgin Atlantic Club House, LHR
07. Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class (business class) London (LHR) to New York (JFK)
08. InterContinental New York Barclay
09. jetBlue A321 Mint (business class) New York (JFK) to Los Angeles
10. Delta Connection CRJ-900 economy class Los Angeles to San Diego

I had pretty high expectations going into this flight, which is never good when it comes to international air travel. Things always seem to go much better when expecting the worst, but for some reason or another I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that this Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flight would be anything but phenomenal. The biggest reason for that, I think, was how much fun my recent Virgin America flights were – even in economy class. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve always heard that Virgin Atlantic was the hippest and most progressive airline around. Sir Richard Branson is a master at brand creation after all, and the pictures and videos I’ve seen on the internet from other VS experiences gave me no reason to think this was going to be my greatest flight ever. Whoa…that’s dangerous thinking right there. I tried my best to keep my thoughts in check as I made my way over to LHR terminal 3 that morning.

First of all, let’s kick this trip report off with the video I put together which documents this entire flight. The written portion (with all the pics) will follow just below:

As you can see in the video, my day started at the Heathrow Hilton located adjacent to terminal 4. I had to take the Heathrow Express over to terminal 3 (which only took a few minutes), and then I was inside and past security in no time at all. Heathrow isn’t so busy this time of morning it seems! Either that or I just got lucky.

heathrow express terminal 4

The Heathrow Express is the perfect way to get from terminal 4 to terminal 3 here at LHR.

heathrow express terminal 4

The only advantage to getting up so early is the lack of crowds. I pretty much had the train to myself this morning!

LHR underground tunnels

These underground tunnels at LHR are so cool. Like something straight out of Star Wars…

VS003
London, England (LHR) – New York, NY (JFK)
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Aircraft: A340-642
Registration: G-VWEB
Duration: 7 hours 7 minutes
Seat: 12K (Upper Class / business class)

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 (G-VWEB) side view

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 (G-VWEB) side view illustration by norebbo.com

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 seat map

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 seat map, showing my seat (12K) for this flight to JFK.

LHR to JFK route map

The route from LHR to JFK today: 4337N 06655W TUSKY PLYMM PARCH2

virgin atlantic terminal 3 heathrow airport

The signature purple mood lighting of the VIrgin brand, as seen from the exterior of terminal 3.

virgin atlantic terminal 3 heathrow airport

Beautiful Virgin Atlantic signage on the exterior of terminal 3. How classy and cool is that?

virgin atlantic check in heathrow airport

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class check in area, bathed in copious amounts of purple mood lighting.

VS003 to New York

VS003 to New York showing an on time departure of 9:05.

I spent some time in the Virgin Atlantic Club House before heading back downstairs into the main terminal to have a look around before walking to the gate, and I’ll just say this about terminal 3 at LHR: Meh. The center point of the terminal is quite nice with all the shops and restaurants (including duty free), but it is quite noisy and chaotic with few places to sit. Well, I take that back – there are plenty of places to sit, but in the time I was there, most of the seats were occupied by other passengers. To make matters worse, there really isn’t any place to escape that mess unless you have lounge access. The gates for each flight aren’t posted until about an hour or so before departure time, so there are no gate areas to wander off to in search of peace and quiet.

terminal 3 LHR heathrow airport

Heading down the long corridors of terminal 3 on the way to the departure gate.

terminal 3 LHR heathrow airport

Terminal 3 is as sterile as a hospital compared to the British Airways digs over in T5.

terminal 3 LHR heathrow airport

Still following the signs to the departure gate. I’ve seen government offices with more interesting decor than this!

And speaking of gate areas here at terminal 3, shocked isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feeling as I walked into the gate area for the flight to JFK this morning. Imagine the most sterile government office you can think of, then sprinkle in a bit of “hospital operating room” into it. That’s pretty much what these gates look like and I really couldn’t believe how bland everything was. I don’t have much experience flying through LHR, but I did get to experience terminal 5 for my British Airways trip to Stockholm in 2013 and I considered that to be a world-class facility. Because of that, it should be no surprise that I couldn’t help but to feel a touch sorry for Virgin Atlantic because of their abysmal gate situation here at LHR. British Airways wins the ground experience category here at LHR – no doubt about it.

terminal 3 LHR heathrow airport

The holding ar…I mean…boarding gate for our flight to JFK.

G-VWEB surfer girl

At least there were windows here at the gate, offering really nice views or our ride to JFK (G-VWEB “Surfer Girl”) getting loaded up for the trip.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long in the gate area. I arrived about 10 minutes before they announced boarding for first and business class passengers, and I was one of the first ones to step onboard. Apparently all of the other Upper Class passengers were still in the lounge, because I was alone in the cabin for about 5 minutes before any others came onboard. That ended up being really great for taking pics!

heathrow terminal 3 jet bridge

Walking down the jet bridge to board VS003 to JFK.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class cabin

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class cabin.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class seats

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class seats.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class seat

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class seat. This one (12k) was mine for this flight to JFK.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class cabin

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class cabin looking forward.

Almost immediately, I could tell they designed the Upper Class cabin for social interaction. The seats are all angled toward each other and away from the windows, with ottomans that double as an additional seat for your traveling companion – which works great for eating together or doing business. Unfortunately, I prefer business class cabins with more privacy so this was a bit awkward to me right from the get go.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class cabin

This is definitely a good looking business class cabin, but it did feel a bit awkward with all the seats angled towards each other.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class cabin

It’s pretty easy to see over top of the seats from a seated position – so there isn’t a whole lot of privacy here in Upper Class.

virgin atlantic a340-600 upper class bar

The swanky bar located just behind the Upper Class cabin.

virgin atlantic menus and bottled water

Complimentary bottled water and menus at every seat upon boarding.

Much like the British Airways Club World seats, these Upper Class chairs are narrow and lack usable storage space.

virgin atlantic upper class seat storage

There isn’t much storage space in these seats – so most of your stuff will have to go in the overhead bin.

virgin atlantic upper class seat storage

There is a bit of storage underneath the ottoman, but it isn’t much.

Making matters worse is that there aren’t any power ports – so make sure your devices are fully charged before coming onboard. It should be noted that power adapters (which plug in to the A/V jack) are available from the flight attendants, but quantities of those are limited and they are distributed on a first-come first serve basis. Luckily for me, I was one of the first passengers to ask. It didn’t take long before I overheard the FA’s tell other passengers that there were no more power adapters available.

virgin atlantic a340-600 upper class charging ports

Asking for this adapter from the flight attendants is the only way to get in-seat power to charge your devices.

Drinks were severed (several times) during the boarding reprocess, and hot towels were distributed just before pushback. Also just before pushback, the the captain’s PA announcement revealed that there were 284 passengers and 4 infants onboard today’s flight to JFK, which isn’t all that unusual. The stats geek in me found it to be a golden nugget of info though – I wasted no time in scribbling down that info for future reference, as I though it would be perfect material for the trip report. 😃

virgin atlantic heathrow terminal 3

A quick peek out the window just before pushing back.

virgin atlantic upper class amenity kit

Amenity kits were also distributed during the boarding process.

virgin atlantic upper class amenity kit

Close up details of the Virgin Atlantic amenity kit.

virgin atlantic upper class amenity kit

Why is it so exciting to open an amenity kit for the first time, even when we know what’s going to be inside?

virgin atlantic upper class amenity kit

Purple accents everywhere! The signature of the Virgin brand.

virgin atlantic upper class amenity kit contents

Contents of the amenity kit. Nothing out of the ordinary, unfortunately. The purple toothbrush rocks though!

Also worth noting is that the awkward seating position made it difficult to watch the safety presentation on the video screens as we taxied out to the runway. The screens, when in their stowed positions, are exactly perpendicular to the seating position. I suppose they could be extended for the sole purpose of watching the safety video, but I didn’t see anyone doing that.

As we departed and climbed out of LHR, the layout of this Upper Class cabin seemed more and more awkward to me. All passengers were essentially forced to look at each other, and I found it to be very difficult to relax and zone out. Making matters worse was the fact that I would have much preferred to be looking out the window, but it was extremely difficult since the seats were angled towards the interior of the cabin.

heathrow airport

Off the gate now and making our way out to the runway. Nice look here at the aircraft that brought me here to LHR a few days ago (British Airways 747-400).

virgin atlantic A330

There are several Virgin Atlantic liveries floating around at the moment, and the one on this A330 is my favorite.

british airways 777 heathrow airport

The local competition waiting for us to pass.

virgin atlantic london heathrow airport LHR

Here we go! Make sure to check out my video for this flight if you wanted to hear the glorious sound of these quad Rolls Royce Trent 556’s.

departing LHR

The awkward seating position (facing away from the windows) made getting these departure shots difficult. But I tried my best.

departing LHR

Up up and away!

british airways LHR heathrow

This shot is a pretty clear indicator of how well established British Airways is here at LHR.

british airways terminal 5 LHR

British Airways for as far as the eye can see!

departing LHR

There’s quite a bit of open land around LHR it seems.

departing LHR

So long England. Until next time!

departing LHR

Overall I was happy that the skies were generally clear on departure – the clouds didn’t get thick until several minutes into the flight.

departing LHR

Starting to level off at our initial cruising altitude.

And not to sound like I’m complaining too much (good stuff is coming, I promise!), I found the seat controls and audio port to be highly difficult to reach. What’s the deal with placing the audio port down in a crevice between the seat and divider wall? Luckily I’ve got small hands – otherwise I would have never been able to reach it.

upper class seat controls

Some of the buttons and controls on the seat were very difficult to reach. You need small hands to fly Upper Class!

virgin atlantic upper class headphones

Complimentary (non-noise cancelling) headphones for the entertainment system.

virgin atlantic upper class remote

Speaking of the entertainment system, there was nothing high-tech about it. This is the front of the tethered remote.

virgin atlantic upper class remote

In all my years of flying I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use the phone feature of the remote.

Ok, on to the good stuff. Drinks were served soon after departure, along with kettle cooked potato chips in a little porcelain dish. Whether you like potato chips or not, that beats the snot out of the cheap bag of nuts that British Airways serves as a snack.

virgin atlantic upper class snack

Kettle cooked potato chips – so good I almost forgot to take a pic before they were gone!

business class selfie

I may look dead serious, but trust me – this was fun!

I spent the next 25 minutes or so nibbling on this while watching Modern Family on the in flight entertainment system, every so often getting a whiff of what they were cooking up for lunch in the galleys. Whatever it was, it smelled good and it was getting me psyched for the meal service.

virgin atlantic upper class menu

Let’s check out the lunch menu…

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class appetizer menu

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class appetizer menu.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class main course menu

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class main course menu.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class snack menu

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class snack menu.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class menu

Rear cover of the menu.

virgin atlantic a340-600 upper class tray table

Setting up the tray table wasn’t very intuitive – I actually had to ask the flight attendant how to do it.

virgin atlantic a340-600 upper class tray table

All right, I’m ready. Bring it on!

airplane salt and pepper shakers virgin atlantic

Little airplane salt and pepper shakers. I want a pair of these at home!

Luckily, what was served had lived up to the anticipation. I went with the curry dish for the main course, and I found it to be quite good by business class standards. I even opted for dessert, which was an unwise decision due to how terrible I felt afterwards. It was perfectly tasty – but I’m not a very big fan of sweet treats, and the sugar rush that followed wasn’t worth it at all. Still, it was a fun experience to be wined and dined at 37000ft while watching episodes of Veep, Modern Family, and Vice Principles from the comfort of my Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat. Interesting to see was that there were many passengers who made use of the in-seat ottomans to enjoy eating lunch with their traveling companions.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class appetizer

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class appetizer: Chicken satay with cashew nut dipping sauce.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class main course

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class main course: Keralan curry.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class dessert

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class dessert: Warm chocolate salted caramel pudding.

virgin atlantic cheese and port

The cheese and port looked good but I didn’t have any room left for more.

Once the sugar rush wore off, I put the seat into the flat position and managed two hours of solid sleep before being awaken by the flight attendants as they were coming through the cabin with then pre-arrival snack service. The options were sandwiches, cake, or scones – all of which sounded good, but I just couldn’t do it. I was still too full from the lunch service just a few hours prior.

flying over atlantic ocean

Nothing but beautiful blue ocean down there as we were finishing lunch.

virgin atlantic upper class

Getting sleepy now…

virgin atlantic lie flat seat

Putting my seat into the flat position. Those two blue buttons on the wall (bottom left corner of pic) are the controls for this procedure.

virgin atlantic lie flat seat

Power nap. One interesting thing to note about this flight is that they never turned off the cabin lights. They were on from takeoff to landing.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class lavatory

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class loo check! Nothing special here, except for the blue LED mood lighting.

Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class lavatory

Complimentary perfumes and lotions.

virgin atlantic bathroom selfie

Bathroom selfies are becoming a bit of a tradition here on SANspotter.com…

virgin atlantic a340-600 upper class cabin

I was never in the military, but this is exactly what I imagine the barracks to look like.

Virgin Atlantic moving map feature

Only a short while longer before we reach New York.

The descent into New York’s Kennedy airport was smooth and uneventful, though I did make things a bit more interesting by dumping nearly a half bottle of water into my seat as I was trying to get it back into the seated/upright position. I ended up with a very wet rear end for the remainder of the flight, which was quite embarrassing to say the least. Luckily the dry cabin air took care of most of that moisture in no time flat and my pants were mostly dry by the time we landed. But that seat though – I hope it was ok for the next guy…

virgin atlantic a340-600 in flight

Starting the descent into JFK.

virgin atlantic a340-600 in flight

The captain said that it was mostly sunny in New York, but this isn’t looking good.

flying over long island new york

Long Island, I presume?

approaching JFK airport

The weather started looking real good the closer we got to JFK. Looks like a beautiful fall day out there!

approaching JFK airport

Starting to look a bit more like NYC now.

approaching JFK airport

I’ve been in New York in October when it was snowy and cold, so this was a nice surprise!

arrival at JFK airport

Welcome to New York!

arrival at JFK airport

If it looks warm out there, that’s because it was. The calendar may have said October but it was 85 degrees at the time of arrival.

arrival at JFK airport

Taxiing past some jetBlue aircraft – I’ll get my chance to fly with them tomorrow.

arrival at JFK airport

Pulling up to the gate.

arrival at JFK airport

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class was certainly a fun experience. It’s not the best business class I’ve ever tried (by a long shot) but it was still a great flight.

international arrival at JFK airport

Making my way to passport control and customs.

international arrival at JFK airport

In the arrivals hall, exchanging currency, and soon on my way into the city.

So that wraps up my first ever Virgin Atlantic Upper Class experience. Was it as phenomenal as I thought it was going to be? Not so much. I actually found the hard product to be quite dated and mostly awkward, but the flight attendants and food (soft product) were a notch above what I experienced in British Airways Club World. This was a bit disappointing to me considering how high of a pedestal I had put VS on in my mind, but I’m glad that I got to experience it in order to reset my expectations. This was a perfectly fine flight and I don’t have any major complaints, but given the choice, I’d choose Club World over Upper Class for future trips to the UK.

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    1. Lizzie December 6, 2016
      • SANspotter December 6, 2016

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