For my first
adventure boondoggle of 2023, I planned a wintertime trip to Scotland. In late 2022, Virgin rolled out a new Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class. As luck would have it, Upper Class had plenty of reward seats available through Flying Blue in early February. And so I jumped at the chance to try the swanky new product. I redeemed 88,500 Flying Blue points for a seat, plus $194.10 in fees. Thanks to about 10,000 orphaned miles, and a 20% transfer bonus through Capital One, I only needed to transfer 66,000 miles to complete the booking. While not a great price, I considered this better value than paying the obnoxious fuel surcharges through Virgin.
Virgin Atlantic (VS) Flight 130
- Wednesday, February 1, 2023
- Depart: Tampa International Airport (TPA), Concourse F, Gate F88, 21:05, 15m late
- Arrive: London Heathrow Airport (LHR), Terminal 3, 10:23 (+1), 8m late
- Duration: 8 hours 18 minutes
- Seat: 1A
- Equipment: Airbus A330-900neo
Check-In and Boarding
This trip nearly ended up not happening. A doozy of a Texas ice storm hit two days before my scheduled departure, snarling air traffic at DFW. Relief came from an unlikely source, though, with Spirit and Frontier coming to the rescue. Anyway, Frontier got me to Tampa at 1:15, but the Virgin counter didn’t open until 4:50. So I found a bench near a power outlet and settled down to work for a few hours.
Finally, at about 4:45, I walked over to the Virgin counter, and found the Upper Class line open. Check in was quick and efficient, and I had my bags checked and boarding passes in hand in a few minutes. After hitting up The Cafe by Mise en Place for a free meal courtesy of Priority Pass, I headed over to the “International Club Lounge”. This contract lounge represents the only lounge option for Virgin passengers – and it’s truly awful. Like, Swissport Lounge at O’Hare awful. Anyway, boarding began on time, and I turned left into the beautiful Upper Class cabin of the brand new A330-900neo.
Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class – Seating and Interior
First impressions – this is one beautiful cabin, especially with the purple mood lighting at night. The Upper Class cabin consists of 32 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, all forward of the galley. Best of all, with this plane just 5 months old, everything felt fresh and updated.
Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-900neo Upper Class features a variation of the Vantage XL seat with doors. Seats measure 22 inches wide, with 79 inches of pitch. The brand new plum-colored seats look gorgeous. I initially started settling in at what I thought was my seat, the “Retreat Suite” in 1D. (More on the confusion later.) The two Retreat Suites, in seats 1D and 1G, are the same basic Upper Class seat, with two exceptions. One, instead of a tapered footwell, there’s a large ottoman with a mini-table. This makes it possible to dine with a companion. And provides more foot room, if you find tapered footwells bothersome.
The other difference is the massive 27″ video screen, a full 10″ larger than the standard Upper Class screen.
Otherwise, the seats look essentially the same as other Upper Class seats. However, they do provide the illusion of being longer given the lack of a tapered footwell.
So about the misunderstanding about the seat. Exactly two weeks before departure, I went online to pay the £200 to reserve the Retreat Suite in 1D. I entered my credit card info, and even thought the purchase confirmed. At check-in, I saw the “1” on the seat number, and thought nothing of it. So imagine my embarrassment when a woman comes by to take her seat – and I look closer at my boarding pass, and see that it’s actually 1A. Oops. When I landed in London, I discovered the charge never went through on my credit card. So clearly some user error somewhere in the process.
Anyway, one thing to keep in mind is this configuration features “true” window seats in even-numbered rows. Window seats in odd-numbered rows are situated closer to the aisle. Although farther away from the window, I didn’t really think it detracted from the view outside any. Also yes, ostensibly, these seats have a privacy penalty as they’re closer to the aisle. But the presence of the door negates that to a degree (more on that later).
Odd-row window seats contain an oversized storage shelf next to the window. I don’t know that it’s any larger than the shelf next to the sidewall in even rows, but it does seem larger.
Waiting at each seat is a can of water, and a “goodie bag” amenity kit. I apparently failed to take the kit with me, but it includes various Ren products. The bag itself is made of recycled paper. While certainly innovative, the bag felt flimsy and cheap.
You can also see the storage cubby sticking out from the headrest. The cubby holds the headphones, and comes with a vanity mirror. Yes, the cubby is deep enough to store a wallet or passport. No, I never use these, because there’s a 100% chance I end up forgetting them.
There is one additional small storage area underneath the shelf. It’s large enough to hold a small purse, shopping bag, or tablet.
Meanwhile, I had no issues with the footwell. It’s not nearly as constricted as the Delta One Suite in the A350, for example.
As far as seat controls, there’s an easy to use control panel on the shelf. You can choose from four preset positions, or mix and match to your liking. There is also a do not disturb button for the door, along with lighting controls.
Below the shelf is another duplicate set of basic controls, including lighting, do not disturb, full upright mode, and full bed mode.
In bed mode, the seat stretches fully flat, extending up to 6 feet 7 inches in length. Mattress pads are provided, and the flight attendants will make the bed for you when you’re ready to sleep. Two negatives about the seat: first, it’s noticeably narrow. As a side sleeper, it didn’t bother me much, but the quarters are definitely tight. Second, you’ll noticeable a sizeable gap in the middle of the seatback. The mattress pad makes this unnoticeable, but I’d imagine it might be uncomfortable for sleeping without it.
With the door closed, you do feel like you’re in an enclosed space. It does at least provide the illusion that you’re separated from the foot traffic in the aisle.
But here’s the thing – this is the third Business Class product I’ve tried with a door. And I STILL don’t get obsession with the gimmick. Why? Take a look at the photos of the cabin up top. The doors don’t go up very high. So even with the illusion that you’re separated from foot traffic, anyone walking by can see right inside your suite. This simply isn’t a First Class product with wall-to-ceiling enclosures, like Singapore Suites Class. At the end of the day, it’s a Vantage XL seat with a door. Albeit one making better use of space than Delta One, as it felt noticeably less claustrophobic.
Regardless, it’s a comfortable seat, both for lounging and sleeping. I slept soundly for just shy of 5 1/2 hours, not bad at all for an eastbound redeye.
I do want to mention one other unique feature of the A330-900neo, and that’s “The Loft”. While not a bar in the true sense, it’s a common seating area to socialize. Snacks and ice cream are served here, and the crew does serve drinks on request. The space honestly feels a bit awkward for socializing, but it’s a nice space to have if you and a friend want to chat without disturbing others. The TV screen is supposed to play the moving map, but it wasn’t on during our flight.
While here, I took a peek back into Premium Economy. While I’m sure it’s objectively better than the product on the 747 I flew three years earlier, I don’t think any PE product can compare to flying on the upper deck.
Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class – In-Flight Entertainment
While not as impressive as the 27″ screen in the Retreat Suite, the standard 17″ screen is plenty big and has excellent resolution.
The IFE controller is in a flip-up storage compartment under the seat control panel.
While the IFE controller seems rather austere compared to many modern units, it does contain one unique and useful feature. That’s an estimated flight time remaining right up top. Very useful if you’re sleeping and want to quickly check how much flight time remains.
Virgin Atlantic provides an average pair of headphones in Upper Class. However, the new system includes Bluetooth connectivity, so you can connect your favorite pair to listen.
Virgin Atlantic’s “Red” entertainment system has quite a robust library of movies, TV shows, and games.
While enjoying dinner, I tuned in to a wildlife documentary about – what else? – Siberian tigers. This actually gives you a good example of just how good the resolution is on these monitors. The giant cat’s full complement of markings really pops for you to admire.
Of course, if you just want to fixate on the moving map, it’s also very good. It’s highly customizable from a variety of vantage points. The basic flight information also can be helpfully pinned at the top of whatever show or movie you’re watching.
Each Upper Class seat includes cutting edge technology in the power department. Next to the seat controls is a power unit with a 110v outlet, two USB-A outlets, and one USB-C outlets. There’s also a wireless charging pad just above this. Needless to say, you won’t lack for charging ability in Upper Class, even with multiple devices.
Virgin Atlantic does offer Viasat WiFi on the A330-900neo. All passengers can receive 20 minutes of free WiFi by watching an add, once per flight per device. Otherwise, WiFi costs £5.99 for one hour or £18.99 per flight. I took advantage of the 20 minutes of free WiFi, and it seemed pretty quick.
Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class – Food, Beverage, & Service
Menus were waiting at each seat when we boarded (the “Hello You” booklet on the window shelf. Virgin does offer a light “Speedy Supper” option for those who wish to sleep immediately. This consists of cream of tomato soup, plus choice of one starter, cheese plate, or desert.
Service began with a pre-departure beverage choice of English sparkling wine, orange juice, or a “Ruby Sipper” cocktail. I decided to try the signature cocktail, a mix of sparkling wine and rhubarb and raspberry tonic water. I enjoyed this cocktail; it was refreshing without being too fruity. A nice drink for a PDB selfie.
Meal service began about 20 minutes after take-off with an offer of drinks and potato crisps. I went with a familiar classic, a gin & tonic. While I’d prefer mixed nuts, the kettle chips were of good quality at least.
About 15 minutes later, the flight attendant came by to make the tray table. I must say, the tray table seemed oddly undersized for this seat. It’s possible the odd shape makes it seem smaller than it actually is.
A few minutes later, the FA offered a drink refill, along with a selection of bread. I switched to a South African pinotage for my next drink. The bread was quite good, as was the pinotage. South African wines are among my favorite, and this one didn’t disappoint. It’s fairly inexpensive, about $20 a bottle, but had a nice flavor profile. It has distinct dark berry notes, and even a hint of smoke. The bread roll was also quite good, with a nice crunchy crust and chewy center.
And of course, we got those awesome airplane shaped salt and pepper shakers. I really miss seeing those on Virgin America…
For the appetizer, I selected the yellow beetroot salad.
I ordered this with some trepidation, as I dislike goat cheese. But it was subtle enough here that I didn’t really notice it. The beetroot itself was tasty, with the sweetness balancing the sour notes of the vinaigrette nicely.
For the main course, I ordered barbecue pork loin.
As a self-appointed barbecue snob, I quite enjoyed this dish. Though the pork was a little dry, the flavors were Carolina-esque, with a vinegar-based sauce and mustard mashed potatoes. Speaking of which, though skeptical of mustard mashed potatoes, the dish meshed well together.
Rather than desert, I selected the cheese plate, which was fine if not particularly fancy.
I ordered a glass of port to enjoy with the cheese and finish off the meal.
From start to finish, meal service took about 90 minutes to complete. That’s probably my one complaint about this flight; that’s a little too long on an eastbound redeye.
Flight attendants ask when you order dinner if you want them to wake you for breakfast. I declined, as I planned to eat at the arrivals lounge after landing. However, I did ask if they could serve a coffee closer to landing, and they said no problem, just ask after waking up. I appreciated that; too many times, if you oversleep breakfast, even getting a coffee proves next to impossible. I asked for a cappuccino, which was alright. It’s real cappuccino, not powdered (shame on you, Air France), but not very strong. (The cups are way cool, though.)
Overall, I rate the meal service solidly above average. Everything was tasty and well presented, though the pace was a little slow.
Service-wise, I have no complaints at all. The flight attendants were friendly and cheerful from the get-go. They greeted all passengers warmly, and offered to show off the features of the new Upper Class seats. Clearly, they’re proud of their new plane. The Upper Class attendant on our side was particularly nice. When I ordered the pinotage, we had a nice conversation about our travels to South Africa. It’s a much better experience than my other recent flights on Air Canada and Air France in business class.
With a night departure, there were no flightseeing opportunities until landing. But boy, did this flight eventually deliver. As we reached the coast of England, a dull overcast covered the land. Nothing extraordinary for February, but not much to see. But just as we overflew London to the south, paralleling the Thames, some breaks appeared in the clouds. The result: a fascinating view of the old part of the city as we flew east-northeast.
Look closely in this photo, and you can see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Eye along the river.
Then, as we continued east before turning around, we passed Canary Wharf and the Financial District.
Our vantage point gave us an excellent view of The Shard.
That’s by far the best view I’ve had of London from the air. Skies clouded back over a few minutes later. So you might say fortune really smiled on us that morning.
After landing, the planeporn at Heathrow didn’t disappoint, either. First, we passed a Star Alliance tail parade at Terminal 2. Pick your favorite from United, Air India, Thai, Air Canada, and Singapore.
Then, we passed a ginormous Qantas A380. The photo came out blurry, but that is one impressive hunk of metal.
Later, we passed a British Airways A350-1000.
Then, a Virgin Atlantic A330 (but not a 900neo) as we made our way to Terminal 3.
Based on our circuitous route, I had a sneaking suspicion we were headed to a remote stand. And indeed, that’s exactly what happened. At least from the bus, I did see a couple of cool aircraft. The first was a Qantas Dreamliner.
The second was another Dreamliner, this one Virgin’s “Miss Moneypenny” 787-9. Which of course brings up the question of the century. Does Virgin use this aircraft to operate flight 007?
Virgin Atlantic A330-900neo Upper Class – Final Thoughts
I walked away thoroughly satisfied with Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class on the brand new A330-900neo. The hard product is excellent, of course, but service and meals both rated solidly above average. (The lounge situation in Tampa is unfortunate, but it’s not like Virgin has an alternative.) If you’re headed to or connecting through London, Virgin’s new Upper Class is a definite cut above its arch rival British Airways and its Club Suite. Maybe next time, I’ll actually manage to reserve the Retreat Suite…