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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Review

Joanna Hall

The Flight

Flight VS 200, Hong Kong to Sydney.

Virgin Atlantic turned 25 in 2009, which is an amazing feat given the airline's humble beginnings, and in particular the recent history of airline travel in general. The moment its inaugural flight to New York left the ground, the naysayers started queuing up to declare it would fail dismally. But a winning combination of Richard Branson's sharp business brain, his amazing marketing skills, and the delivery of what was promised - an affordable quality airline - proved everyone wrong.

When it comes to competition, one of the toughest routes is Australia to Europe. Six years ago, however, Branson's decided to take on Qantas, along with premium Asian carriers such as Singapore Airlines, and more recently the Middle Eastern airlines, by launching a service from London to Sydney via Hong Kong. And in recent years, the ante was upped even further, with the addition of a Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Hong Kong, and the launch of the revolutionary Upper Class suite, which at the time was the longest and arguably the most comfortable flat bed and seat in business class.

There will be more on the Hong Kong Clubhouse for another article, but for now I will concentrate on the Virgin Atlantic in-flight service in Upper Class from Hong Kong to Sydney.

Before The Flight

Hong Kong is a vast yet efficient airport, so check-in was trouble-free and speedy. Within a few minutes, we were passing through security and immigration, and then on to the airport train which takes you to the departure area. The Clubhouse is located on the upper level here, near the gate. Unlike many airline lounges, the atmosphere inside is bright and breezy, and the space is colourful with lots of nooks and crannies in which to relax, and an open balcony overlooking the action below in the terminal. We spent a pleasant 45 minutes here, enjoying Laurent Perrier champagne and reading magazines while waiting for our flight to be called….which it was about 30 minutes out from departure time.

The Equipment

Our flight was on a A340-600 with a three class configuration - economy, premium economy and Upper Class. On this plane there are 51 suites in upper class, and it was a packed flight with every single suite occupied. In the Upper Class cabin, the suites run 3 across, in contrast to the configuration on other 747-400 aircraft, which is 4 across. The suites running down along the edges of the plane (by the windows) are placed diagonally, and the long row which runs down the middle of the cabin, like a spine, was divided in two. Here the first six rows faced left, and rows seven to sixteen faced right. That explained by we were told we were sitting "together" and yet were in different rows - 15 and 16. In this cabin a window seat isn't that important - the way the suites are placed, you don't really get to see out of the window anyway. The cabin decor is bright and modern, although the large rows of high-sided suites don't make it feel especially roomy.

Food and Wine

Virgin offers Upper Class passengers a Freedom Menu, which gives you the flexibility to eat what you want, when you want. As our flight was an overnight haul, however, we were offered dinner shortly after takeoff, and most people took up the offer so they could then sleep. The menu consisted of starters, a choice of four main courses, a cheese platter and desserts. As the flight was full, and we were seated in the last few rows of upper class, it turned out that our first choice for a main course wasn't available, but with four appetising mains to choose from this wasn't a problem. The only curious things was the use of plastic cutlery - which undoubtedly took the edge slightly of the overall elegance.

The wine list was pretty good, with a nice Lucas Carton Brut nv Champagne to set the scene, and international wines including a nice Argentinian Vina Delia Chenin, and Chateau de Brandey Bordeaux from France. Later, before our arrival in Sydney, breakfast was served, although so early in the morning, and so soon after dinner, I didn't really have much of an appetite. Again, some choices such as fresh fruit had run out, but one of the flight attendants made of point of finding me some from somewhere so full marks to her.

The Seat and Everything Else

The Upper Class suite has a seat which converts to fully flat to a bed at the touch of a button, and is one of the longest in the business class category at 202 cms. It also has a generous width across the shoulders, stretching to 84 cms. The fabric is a soft plum colour, and the suite pod itself is gentle on the eyes muted silver. Suites also have a buddy seat, so if you're travelling with someone, they can visit you comfortably during the flight; from memory I recall that BA was one of the first to come up with that idea, which they used in their new first class seats some years ago. You also have your own interactive entertainment system which you can watch and operate via a decent sized TV.

The primary reason why people spend big on a business class seat today is to be able to sleep, and where Virgin Atlantic is concerned, the upper class suite delivers what it promises - a fully lie-flat bed, which is extremely comfortable when reclined. And you don't have to worry about privacy either; even your suite is facing another passenger, it's not full frontal so to speak, and the high sides of the suite ensure privacy from those in front and behind you. The bed is also made up properly, with a comforter and pillows.

The flight attendants are professional and lively and embrace the fun approach to travel for which the Virgin brands have become famous. As soon as you are sitting down they are handing out newspapers and drinks, and checking that you are comfortable. The inflight kit was pretty good, featuring all the usuals including a pair of black socks with purple toes. As we were about to embark on an overnight flight to Sydney, most passengers quickly lost their shoes and donned their Virgin Atlantic socks. The rows of like feet propped up on buddy seats at take off was quite amusing.

The service during meals was swift so people could retire, and although the crew were obviously pressed at time to keep up with the demands of a totally full flight, they handled the service efficiently and with a cheery disposition. Nothing was too much trouble, even though they were rather rushed off their feet, and no request was ever forgotten, accidentally or otherwise.


This was an excellent flight, too short to really enjoy fully if anything, and really the only thing missing from the service was proper cutlery, and some kind of back massager in the seat. But with a total lie-flat maybe this isn't a possibility. Virgin Atlantic has always prided itself in providing quality service which is more affordable, and when it comes to business class travel, it's still doing just that.

For more information on Virgin Atlantic, visit or call 1300 727 340.

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