THE PLANE: Airbus A340-600
the Route: London to Hong Kong
I'm on cloud nine as I snuggle down to sleep under a proper doona in Richard Branson's pyjamas. Not Richard's personal PJs obviously, but those sleek black numbers supplied to passengers on
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class*. A status symbol reserved on many other airlines for those flying first. So just how good is the rest of Virgin Atlantic's offering?
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Cabin
ON THE GROUND
One of the most luxurious things about Upper Class might just happen before you are in the air - the chauffeur driven limo service from door to lounge, with drive-thru check-in. Who needs a private jet when the
Virgin Upper Class Wing check-in at Heathrow check-in is seamless and crowd free? Of course you do still have to go through airport security, and despite it being a private security channel there may still be the odd bottleneck there, but otherwise the service is jet propelled from your door to the lounge. With some grades of Upper Class tickets this service is complimentary, if it isn't - book it.
Most fun of all is the limo bike, motorcycles that whisk you though London traffic to Gatwick or Heathrow, always supposing you travel light.
What can we say... no one does lounges better than Branson. Not for nothing are they called Clubhouses. The Heathrow Clubhouse is the only lounge I've ever been in where I almost wished for a flight delay. The award winning new JFK Club lounge is pretty good too. See our lounge report here
As you'd expect
Virgin Atlantic is all app'd up. The main Virgin app allows mobile check-in, seat allocation, updates on flying status, and a tally of Flying Club points. There is also a live feed so flight schedules up-to-date. In true Virgin style you also get destination video content for inspiration and two games in case you get bored in the lounge.
Paperless world-wise those flying through London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dubai and Johannesburg will be able to download a boarding pass to their mobile phone. There are other good apps to, including a great London city guide.
IN THE AIR
Virgin Atlantic's new Upper Class suite has one of the longest beds in the sky. I'd ask my fellow passengers how comfortable the beds are but at this point they all seem to be sleeping peacefully. I tiptoe past them down an aisle bathed in a purple glow, lighting which apparently helps induce sleep. Seems to work. You do have to get up to turn your seat into a bed though - so no slipping quietly into dreamland mid movie. You have to decide it is time to sleep and then get up and press the button to flip the seatback down into a bed.
As Virgin Atlantic fans will know the Upper Class deck doesn't look like a normal airline cabin with seats in neat rows. Everyone is cocooned in capsules which fan out from the walls and central divider at an angle like bones on a fish. (the newly configured 747s the pattern is more like interlocking fans) . Virgin was one of the first to use this seat configuration, later Air New Zealand had something similar. It is how I'd imagine the sleeping compartments on a mission to Mars to look; all very 21st century and Futuristic.
The seat configuration is hard to beat in terms of privacy or access to the aisle- no climbing over your fellow passengers to stretch your legs - but it does mean no one gets a clear view through the windows, although given that we're 30,000 ft up this doesn't really matter and I do catch a glimpse of city lights when we take off.
As you'd expect from Richard Branson even the safety information video is entertaining with characters that have a definite South Park look about them. which as you'd expect from an airline owned by Branson, is pretty state of the art. The wide 26-centimetre TVs supply movies over 20 channels.
Brownie point for the fact that the soft grey amenities bag is made from rPET, a sustainable material made from crushed plastic bottles. And for the fact that the size of the bag outbound from London means that it doubles as a tablet or e-reader case perfect for travelling. Like the cherry silk lining. Expect the usual goodies; socks, eyeshades, toothbrush and paste. There is also pen (NOW I can fill in the landing card). No high quality face creams though , they are in large containers in the toilets.
The food is brought on a tray not trundled along on a trolley, which helps make you feel that you are getting personal service. The in-seat table is also large enough to stop your bread roll shooting into a fellow passenger's lap when you try to cut your meat. Not true of all business class tables, trust me (to the man sitting next to me when I did this on an airline which shall remain nameless, I apologise).
TLTB approves of the new anytime Graze menu and the afternoon tea, complete with tiered cake stand available on some flights.
Longest bed ... and longest bar in the sky too.
Virgin Atlantic is now well known for its inflight bar at the back of Upper Class. I have seen a romance blossom here that probably had a mile high club ending but most of the time there is only the odd insomniac boring the flight attendant. Yet it is good to know it is there for a change of scene, and possible intrigue, like a little speakeasy in the sky.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Bar
The service is slick and mercifully lacking in that cheerleader quality that can be irritating when encountered on Virgin domestic flights early in the morning.
THE LITTLE THINGS...
TLTB is loving the pre-take off champagne served in classic coupe champagne glasses - Very 'Great Gatsby'. Flutes are so passe this year. We're also fond of the dishes of popcorn handed out to make that inflight movie experience seem all the more authentic.
The long-haul route from London to Sydney may be slightly longer via Hong Kong than it is via Singapore or Bangkok, but who cares when the ride is this good?
*The new Upper Class Dream Suite is not available on the London to Hong Kong route. It can be found on the London to New York JFK flighte. Next up - London to Mumbai. All of Virgin Atlantic's new Airbus A330 planes and all the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners (due 2014) will feature the Dream Suite.