I’ve never been a really big fan of flying new airline products the day (or week) they are launched, but I made an exception for this Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 review. The thing is, I really like Virgin Atlantic. I’m also a really big fan of the A350, and I’ve been trying to find every excuse possible to fly one of those brand new -1000’s.
Lucky for you, it doesn’t take much to make me create excuses out of thin air. If I want something really bad enough, I tend to do it whether it seems like a good idea or not. Yeah, a Virgin Atlantic A350 review seemed like a great idea at the time, even though I had just returned from a trip to Europe less than a month ago and I was still trying to find ways to pay for that little adventure.
I mean, you’d think that eating Ramen noodles and Cheerios at every meal for 3 weeks straight would give me reason to pause before shelling out a wad of cash for another trip, right?
Nope. And so begins an extremely thorough review of the Virgin Atlantic A350-1000. SANspotter style.
New York, NY (JFK) – London, England (LHR)
Monday, September 16, 2019
Duration: 6 hours 57 minutes
Seat: 50D (economy class)
As I usually do with all of my written trip reports, I post the video for the flight first – especially for those who want a quick overview of what the experience was like. My videos are usually fun but abbreviated, and they’re perfect for people who don’t like to read long all-inclusive reviews such as this. That being said, here is the video review I created for this Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 flight (VS138):
As you can see in the video, Virgin Atlantic always delivers a quality experience. However, I wasn’t able to dive into all the little details about that service in that video, so that’s where this written review comes in. Please be prepared for an onslaught of child-like excitement, petty complaints, and random AvGeek-style observances…
For those that are curious about where I get the music for my videos, I’ve got two words for you: Epdemic Sound.
Virgin Atlantic operates out of terminal 4 at JFK. And terminal 2. And terminal 1.
Before even telling you about how confused I was about figuring out which terminal Virgin Atlantic operates out of JFK, I should mention that I was worried that VS138 wasn’t going to be an A350 at all. The problem was that in the days leading up to this flight, I hadn’t heard anything in the news about the launch of Virgin Atlantic‘s new A350 service.
When the British Airways A350 started flying about a month prior, it was all over my Twitter and Instagram feed – to the point where I was almost sick about hearing live updates from everyone. Strangely enough, I heard nothing about the Virgin Atlantic A350 inaugural – even though I knew it was happening just 6 days before my scheduled flight.
The pessimist in me assumed that the inaugural flight was delayed somehow and that I was going to end up on an an A340 instead (just like the last time I flew Virgin Atlantic between New York and London). Not a big deal, as I know that these things happen and it’s just something you have to expect when chasing new aircraft.
So – that leads me to my arrival at JFK, when I was feeling absolutely confused about what terminal I needed to be at. According to Google, Virgin Atlantic operates out of terminals 1, 2, and 4 at JFK. Not only that, I had absolutely no idea what kind of aircraft I would be flying on. Travel is fun, isn’t it? I’ll spare you the details how I figured out that my flight was departing out of terminal 4 (it was actually written in my reservation lol), but I was feeling much better once I was standing in line to check in.
I was extremely relieved to find out during the check in process that the aircraft operating VS138 to London tonight was indeed an A350. Yes! Another wave of relief washed over me when I realized that I was indeed going to be able to do a Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 review. Woo hoo!
Even though I was thrilled to death that this was indeed going to be an A350, I guess I wouldn’t have minded so much if it were another aircraft type. The only other Virgin Atlantic review I’ve done so far was of an A340-600 in Upper Class, so…I definitely need more Virgin Atlantic reviews under my belt (and in my archives).
What’s the Virgin Atlantic ground experience like at JFK?
I had about 2 and a half hours to spare once I cleared security and entered into the sterile section of terminal 4. As I was walking around trying to find a quiet spot to sit and get some work done, it occurred to me that terminal 4 feels very much like LHR (or any other major European airport). The wide open design, yellow and black signage, and ultra clean fixtures are like no other airport in the US that I know of. If you would’ve dropped me here blindfolded, I would’ve guessed it to be London’s Heathrow airport.
This Virgin Atlantic review would be far more interesting if I had lounge access. I know. However, terminal 4 at JFK isn’t a bad place to hang out due to how wide open it feels. It does get a little bit crowded when all the gates are occupied, so it was a bit of a problem hopping around from gate to gate trying to find peace and quiet as I waited for my flight to London to board.
It should be noted that there is a Virgin Atlantic Club House here in terminal 4 located just above gate A5. Don’t get excited though. It’s not anywhere near as lush as the Club House at LHR! But hey – if you’re traveling in business class (Upper Class) on Virgin Atlantic between New York and London, at least you have a Virgin-branded lounge to hang out in while you wait. It’s definitely a perk to take advantage of.
The part where this Virgin Atlantic review officially begins (the boarding process for VS138)
The process of getting pics and video footage for this trip report distracted me for much of the time leading up to this flight. I almost felt rushed when they called for the first group of passengers to board, and as always, I didn’t think I had the preflight footage necessary to do a Virgin Atlantic A350 review justice. For the record, I feel the same way for nearly any flight I take.
After boarding premium passengers first, they boarded everyone else by row numbers. Considering that I had seat 50D for tonight’s flight to London, I figured that I’d be one of the very first of the common folk to board. Turns out that I was completely wrong, and I was actually one of the last. Did you know that there are 71 rows of seats on the Virgin Atlantic A350-1000? And that regular economy starts with row 45? I didn’t.
The process of moving down the jet bridge was a bit slow, as there were still a steady stream of wheelchair passengers coming from behind that had priority.
Welcome aboard the highly-swanky Virgin Atlantic A350-1000
Being greeted at the boarding door by a flight attendant who seemed excited about the fact that I was recording the process with my GoPro was a great way to kick things off. I always feel nervous about getting footage of the boarding process, as I never really know if the cabin crew will be keen on it or not. Thankfully, this VS138 crew seemed particularly proud of their new A350 so they didn’t even bat an eye at me.
Oddly enough, the first thing that hit me was that this particular aircraft didn’t have any of the “new airplane smell” I was expecting. That’s part of the fun about flying an all new aircraft type, and I can’t even describe how disappointed I am to not be able to include a fun use of the word “waft” in the very first moments of this Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 review.
Having never flown economy on Virgin Atlantic before, I was excited to see how they configure their main cabins. Especially this A350-1000 (the new flagship of their fleet). What I saw did not disappoint.
From what I could tell of my brief dash through the premium economy cabin on my jaunt back to the main cabin, it looked incredible. I do believe that these seats to be exactly the same as what I experienced on my QANTAS flight from San Francisco to Melbourne earlier this year (which was incredible by the way). If they aren’t the same, they look awfully similar.
The economy class seats looked equally impressive. Large, spacious, and covered in a deep red fabric which seemed somewhat off brand for Virgin Atlantic (at least it seemed that way at first). Also really nice about these economy class seats were the large / high-resolution video screens. The same kind of screens that used to be the norm in international first class seats. Progress!
Thick blankets and cheap-feeling headsets were placed on every seat, and I will admit that I felt somewhat disappointed (just as I did on my recent LOT Polish Airlines flight) that there were no amenity kits. I don’t feel it’s required in economy class of course, but this is Virgin Atlantic after all. Aren’t they known for being quirky and leading-edge?
Although we were denied amenity kits here on VS138 tonight, they were providing free WiFi access to celebrate the launch of A350 service. As a matter of fact, that’s the only special “A350” perk in this entire Virgin Atlantic A350 review. Other than the free WiFi access, it felt just like any ordinary flight from New York to London.
Once again, I ended up with empty seats next to me once the boarding door was closed. I’ve already explained in great detail how I usually end up with empty seats next to me on flights, but I do have to admit that there was very little strategy involved this time. VS138 was maybe 50% full (or empty, depending on how pessimistic you are) tonight. Nearly everyone had an empty seat or two next to them.
Oh – our flight to London tonight was piloted by @chrisjpohl. The only reason I know this is because he commented on the photo I posted to Instagram right after landing at LHR. Speaking of my online AvGeek buddies, I do believe a friendly shoutout to some of my Patrons in order. Do yourself a favor and check out their content!
My thoughts about the dinner service aren’t all that nice
Our departure on VS138 out of JFK this evening was quick and smooth, and it didn’t take more than 15 minutes of being in the air before the flight attendants came by with the drink cart. Just as I did in my recent LOT Polish Airlines flight to Warsaw, I double-fisted it with a merlot and a water. I was feeling great at this point, very much looking forward to the dinner service. And no, I hadn’t even had a sip of wine yet. That had nothing to do with it.
Unfortunately, this is where this Virgin Atlantic A350 review turns sour. I will say that my expectations might have been set just a bit too (impossibly) high, and the disappointment I was about to experience was a direct result of that.
There were several things that annoyed me about the meal service on VS138 tonight. The first was the fact that the food itself didn’t look all that appealing. I chose the curry chicken, and I’m going on record as declaring it the worst-looking economy class dish I have ever been served in my life. Seriously – it didn’t look appetizing at all.
The second problem I had with this meal was how small it was (though not as small as the meal served on my recent LATAM flight from Los Angeles to Santiago). I wasn’t particularly hungry or anything, but I didn’t feel satisfied after eating every last bite of it. Which leads me directly to the third problem: speed!
Maybe it was because this flight was half full (I mean, half empty), but the cabin crew were back in the aisles picking up trays just 10 minutes after delivery. I felt extremely rushed! I realize that I could have taken my time and delivered my tray to the galley when I was darn good and ready, but I was so close to being done anyway.
I did keep the little jar of cake (and my spoon) as they picked up my tray though. Which ended up being a wasted effort after dropping said spoon on the floor as I was unscrewing the top to the jar. Oh well. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth anyway.
Is it possible to sleep in Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 economy class?
The short answer to that is yes. Especially when you have the luxury to lay down across three empty seats like I did. However, even if you’re not fortunate enough to be on such an empty flight, I found these particular seats to be quite comfortable. Especially in the upper body area.
Being able to sleep upright (at least better than I’ve experienced on other airlines) is especially redeeming for this Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 review. After such an abysmal dinner service, I wasn’t in the best state of mind as I settled down for a few hours of sleep. Being able to start out lying down across three seats was nice, but it didn’t last very long. Due to rough air, the seatbelt sign came back on and I was forced back into an upright position.
But then, just as I though I was feeling distracted by the high-resolution moving map, I woke up two hours later and slowly began to realize what had happened as I was coming back online. I slept. Hard. Sitting upright in an economy class seat! If you know me at all, you’ll understand how rare of an event that is.
I actually slept so hard that I felt satisfied. I was not sore at all, and I didn’t feel anywhere as dead as I normally do at the tail end of a red eye flight.
I do need to mention that my sinuses were feeling quite stuffy when I woke up though. As a matter of fact, the reason why I woke up was because of the older woman across the aisle from me sniffling uncontrollably like she had a bad cold or something. Does that say something about the cabin pressure / humidity levels of the A350? I hadn’t noticed it before on my three previous A350 flights (Thai Airways BKK-SIN, Vietnam Airlines SGN-ICN, and Delta ICN-DTW).
The breakfast service was worse than the dinner service
I’m not trying to write an overly negative Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 review (or a negative review of VS138 in general), but they make it difficult for me when the food they serve is sub par. I was quite like everything else about the A350 (the seats, the technology, etc). But the food was disappointing.
For breakfast, we were served nothing more than a cheap snack box consisting of a small bowl of fruit and a cup of yogurt. There was no substance to it all, which disappointed me greatly considering how light the dinner service was at the beginning of the flight.
Not that I was expecting anything fancy, but I was so hungry that I could have eaten my seat if they served it to me on a platter. Come to think of it, that seat did look more appetizing than what I was spooning into my mouth…
Is the A350-1000 better than all the other aircraft in the Virgin Atlantic fleet?
The answer to this question is subjective of course, but my opinion is that the A350 is the superior aircraft in the Virgin Atlantic fleet at the moment. Especially if you’re flying business class or premium economy. The A350-1000 features all new seats and configurations for these two premium products, and you’re not going to find more comfortable seats on any other Virgin Atlantic aircraft.
While I don’t have any prior experience with the Virgin Atlantic economy class product on any other aircraft, the fact that I thought that this was one of the most comfortable economy class seats I’ve ever experienced in over 1,000,000 miles of flying says something. If the A350 is available on the route you’re flying, it’s in your best interest to book it.
The final verdict on Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 economy class
With the descent into London well underway now, I was feeling mixed emotions about my experience on VS138. On one hand, the new A350 is absolutely incredible. It’s a very high-tech and extremely comfortable aircraft to fly. On the other hand, meal services were abysmal and not very memorable at all. I guess it’s a good thing that I took pictures of the food, because otherwise it would’ve been erased from my memory for good. I’m sure of it.
I should note that the cabin crew on this flight were on top of their game and helped to make up for the lackluster dining experience. They were fast, friendly, and very attentive throughout the entire flight. My only hope is that it wasn’t because of the relatively empty load this evening. They definitely had it easy, so anything less than “good” would’ve been unacceptable in my opinion.
And that’s where this Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 review ends. It was a very good experience, and I’m very glad that I did it despite some minor disappointment *cough*FOOD*cough*along the way.
Speaking of disappointment (not that I’m trying to be overly negative or anything), it’s a shame that this new flagship Virgin Atlantic aircraft didn’t get any of the media fanfare that the British Airways A350 got when it was launched. That’s just not fair! Especially considering that I have just recently flown BA107 to Dubai, and I’ve got to say that I much prefer the Virgin Atlantic experience.
More on that British Airways flight soon…