To return home from my tryout of British Airways Club Suites, I chose a Premium Economy product. I quickly discovered that Virgin Atlantic offered PE seats on the upper deck of the 747. As a huge fan of the Queen of the Skies, of course, I jumped at the opportunity. At the time, Virgin offered Premium Economy points redemptions at 22,500 points each way. That’s a pretty good price, though it comes with steep fees ($385.43). Little did I know at the time, the chance to fly Virgin Atlantic B747 Premium Economy would disappear in a matter of months. Thus, I considered myself lucky that I got to add this cool AvGeek experience to my bucket list.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my quick trip to Manchester in February, 2020. Click here for the trip report index and introductory post.
Virgin Atlantic (VS) Flight 109
- Monday, February 10, 2020
- Depart: Manchester International Airport (MAN), Terminal 2, Gate 204, 12:00, on-time
- Arrive: Atlanta – Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL), Terminal I, Gate F2, 16:20, 10m late
- Duration: 9 hours 20 minutes
- Seat: 24A
- Equipment: Boeing 747-400
Check-In and Boarding
The return trip came uncomfortable close to getting derailed before it started. As mentioned in the introductory post, I ended up flying right into Winter Storm Ciara. The weather settled down by Monday morning, but the English rail network remained significantly disrupted. Something I didn’t realize when boarding the train at Oxford Road station. After boarding about a quarter after 9, it took more than an hour just to get to Manchester Piccadilly. Yes, an hour for a 20-minute walk. At that point, I gave up and got a Lyft to the airport. I made it just an hour and 15 minutes before departure.
Thankfully, though, I found a friendly agent at the Premium Economy counter, along with no line at security or immigration. I made it through with time to spare to grab a bottle of single malt at the duty free. And, of course, snap some photos of the beautiful bird, “Forever Young”, waiting to take us to Atlanta.
Boarding began a few minutes late, with Premium Economy given second priority after Upper Class. I soon made my way up the stairs to the upper deck PE cabin. Going upstairs never, ever gets old. (Yes, this view looks back down at the lower deck.)
Virgin Atlantic B747 Premium Economy – Seating and Interior
Virgin Atlantic’s 747s came configured with 455 seats: 14 Upper Class, 66 Premium Economy, and 375 Economy seats. The airline configured the upper deck with both Premium Economy and Economy mini-cabins; the Premium Economy section contained 16 seats in a 2×2 configuration, while Economy had 27 seats in a 3×3 configuration. Though the seats showed their age, I liked the look of the purple leather. Virgin Atlantic B747 Premium Economy seats were 21″ wide and featured 38 inches of pitch; that’s equivalent to the A330-300 and 787, but considerably wider than the A330-200 and A350.
Overall, the seats very much resemble domestic First Class seats, though with better padding.
The upstairs cabin also felt especially spacious and private.
Legroom was also about on par with domestic First.
Waiting at each seat was a small pillow and blanket.
Generous padding made for a comfortable Transatlantic flight, at least during the daytime. The entire 9+ hour flight passed with no saddle sore at all. I choose a seat in the last row of the mini-cabin, which also meant I could recline with impunity. Together, that made for an especially comfortable trip across the ocean. I did nap comfortably for a couple of hours after lunch. However, I’d definitely recommend a neck pillow for the eastbound redeye.
The upper deck Premium Economy window seats featured plenty of in-seat storage. Two large bins on the window side provided plenty of space to store a computer, phone, and even a small backpack.
Though the overhead bins are decidedly undersized upstairs, a large closet at the back of the mini-cabin provides plenty of storage for larger bags.
Needless to say, anyone traveling upstairs in Premium Economy never had to worry about storage space.
A little later in the flight, I snuck back to Economy to snap a few photos of the upstairs mini-cabin. Seating is pretty standard coach, but the 3×3 configuration does look and feel considerably more spacious than the 3x4x3 configuration downstairs.
I’m sure coach passengers jumped at the chance to book the upstairs exit row seats; these provided literally unlimited legroom.
Virgin America B747 Premium Economy – In-Flight Entertainment
Each seat in Premium Economy and Economy came equipped with a seatback screen with USB port. While SeatGuru indicated that Premium Economy seats came with 110v power ports, I could not find one. No big deal on this flight, since I didn’t intend to work. Unlike many older aircraft, the “Vera” system on this aircraft provided high resolution screens and plenty of choices. You could use the touch screen, or the handheld controller to operate the system. Nicely, you could keep a different choice on both the controller and main screen. Very helpful if you like to have the moving map on while watching TV.
Each PE seat actually has two USB ports, and a slot for an A/V cable. That’s not something you see too often on an IFE system.
The Vera library itself features a good selection of TV, movies, and games; it includes a variety of UK, European, American, and Bollywood selections.
There is, of course, a moving map, though the functionality is a bit limited. There’s only so much you can zoom, and you don’t get the level of detail that, say, WestJet offers.
Meanwhile, the safety video has definite shades of Virgin America. Thankfully without the dance routine, though.
If you forgot your headphones, Virgin Atlantic leaves a (cheap) pair at your seat. Bear in mind, though, that the adapter only works with the IFE. It won’t fit the socket on your iPhone, for example.
If you’re looking for WiFi, Virgin offers 1-hour, full flight, and messaging passes. £21/$27 for 10 hours of WiFi isn’t horrible.
Virgin Atlantic B747 Premium Economy – Food & Beverage/Service
Upon boarding, the FA handed out menus covering both lunch and afternoon tea.
Virgin Atlantic offers pre-departure beverages in Premium Economy, a choice of water or sparkling wine. So naturally, it was champagne selfie time.
About 30 minutes after take-off, the FAs began lunch service. The meal began with a choice of beverage; I went with a G&T, with the appropriately themed “Aviation” band gin. Also served were a small bag of pretzels.
This part of the meal service went at a rather leisurely pace, with main meals delivered about 30 minutes later. With apologies to Brad, I’ve consistently had bad luck with Indian food on planes, so I ordered the stir-fried pork. Virgin Atlantic serves PE meals on real dishes, though it comes wrapped in foil like a coach meal. In additional, all courses come out on a single tray.
I found the meal pretty tasty. The pasta salad definitely wasn’t “Cajun”, but it had nice flavors, with the mustard vinaigrette not too overpowering. The pasta itself wasn’t too mushy (often the case on planes, and a real problem for cold pasta salad). Anything with noodles is also hit-and-miss on board – they’re also often mushy – but here they were actually cooked pretty well. The pork, meanwhile, wasn’t overly chewy, and the sauce had a nice kick to it. Definitely better than I expected.
Also, the airplane-shaped salt and pepper shakers are always a nice touch on Virgin.
I ordered the Spanish sauvignon blanc to go with the meal.
The wine is a bit tart and citrusy, though it paired well enough with the pork. Certainly drinkable, if far from memorable.
After the FAs cleared plates, they offered a coffee and tea service. Tea came served in a proper cup, which I appreciated. (Bonus points for the aviation-themed cup.)
Finally, I finished my meal with a…generous…serving of cognac.
In total, meal service took just under an hour and a half. That’s fine for a daytime flight, though I’d hope for quicker service on the eastbound redeye.
After meal service, the FAs set up a small self-service snack and water station in the galley. Nothing fancy, but a few items like chips for those who get the munchies.
About 90 minutes before landing, the FAs offered the “Mile High Tea” service. They only had mozzarella pesto sandwiches by the time they got to my row, but the FA apologized and proactively offered a leftover turkey wrap from the Economy lunch service. I appreciated the gesture, especially since I don’t like pesto. It actually was pretty tasty, especially for something in a box. Nothing quite matches a warm scone, though, of which they still had plenty.
Despite the pandemic, it appears Virgin Atlantic still offers the same meal service in Premium Economy currently. Overall, I found this a good quality Premium Economy meal service. I’d rate it a bit better than Cathay Pacific, though a little below Air New Zealand.
I found service both on the ground and in the air quite good overall. As mentioned earlier, things started with a friendly check-in agent in the Premium Economy line. Onboard, while meal service was a bit slow, the flight attendants provided friendly service otherwise. Midflight, they didn’t just rely on the self-service snack basket, either; instead, they patrolled the cabin at regular intervals offering water runs. I also appreciated some of the smaller touches, such as proactively offering a leftover Economy snack when one sandwich choice was unavailable at tea.
One thing I love about flying international are the airlines I don’t get to see every day at DFW. Manchester certainly was no exception. First up as we left the gate was a Jet2 Boeing 737.
Next up, a cool mishmash of an easyJet A320neo moving past an Emirates A380.
Following the super jumbo, we passed a Flybe Q400 out on the ramp. Flybe went out of business during the pandemic, but supposedly plans to return next year.
Farther down the taxiway, we passed a KLM 737-800 in “100 Years” livery. KLM originally rolled out this livery in 2019 to celebrate the airline’s 100th anniversary. While there are several versions of this livery, some might call the 737 livery a bit plain. Personally, I like the simple numbers with the wavy Dutch flag running through.
Finally, as we reached the threshold, a group of brand new TUI MAX 8s.
After takeoff, the view didn’t last long, as clouds in the wake of Ciara quickly took over. We did enjoy a brief glimpse of the North West England countryside before heading into the clouds, though.
About an hour later, a few storm clouds continued to bubble across the North Atlantic west of Ireland.
A couple of hours before landing, we flew over a bit of snow cover over Pennsylvania.
Virgin Atlantic B747 Premium Economy – Final Thoughts
At the time, I planned out several flights on the Queen for 2020, with Virgin Atlantic B747 Premium Economy the first. As it turned out, this might have represented my last chance to fly her. The pandemic hit a month later, with many airlines permanently retiring the 747 as a result. If this was the last flight on the Queen, one on the upper deck certainly was a good way to do it. Granted, this was 7 years ago, but Virgin Atlantic provided a far superior Premium Economy experience than British Airways.
So do I recommend a points redemption in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy? On the one hand, the points price using Flying Club isn’t bad, at 22,500 each way. That’s only 10,000 points more than coach. On the other, the surcharges and fees leaving the UK are obnoxious. I forked over $385,43 in taxes and fees for this flight. If you value points at 1.5 cents/point, that’s about $725 of points and cash for the seat. For the AvGeek novelty, yes, it was worth it. For a practical redemption? If the alternative is a Saver Business Class redemption in a program that doesn’t charge fees, probably not.
On the other hand, if paying cash, Virgin charges a premium of about $250 each way over standard coach. That’s certainly not a bad price, given the overall quality of the product.