On our most recent trip to London, Sharon and I decided that we would save some miles and book tickets in Virgin Atlantic’s Premium (Economy) cabin for the flights. When using Delta SkyMiles, each segment in Premium costs 55,000 miles while a segment in Upper Class costs 120,000 miles. We were able to find flights from New York JFK to London Heathrow on an A330. A round trip on this flight would cost anywhere from $1,600 to $4,000. We’d never flown with Virgin in their Premium cabin before, so what did we think of their product?
The first noticeable difference is that when you’re flying in Premium, you don’t get lounge access like you do when you’re flying in Upper Class. While that’s not a huge deal, it did hurt a little bit inside knowing that the Virgin Clubhouse was just down the hall but I was sitting for my flight with this view:
To say the area of JFK’s Terminal 4 where Virgin Atlantic departs from is bland is a bit of an understatement. (Insert any generic airport picture here, but no, this is actually JFK).
The first negative thing I noticed was actually my own fault. When I went to check in, I noticed that Sharon and I were not seated together. I was sure that I picked seats but I remembered that I booked the seats through Delta and I forgot to go to Virgin Atlantic’s website to select our seats. We asked at the gate if there were any two seats together but the agents informed us the cabin was full but we could ask someone if they would trade with us. Sharon had a window and I had an aisle on the other side of the plane. Since we were looking to trade an aisle for an aisle seat, they said most passengers wouldn’t mind shifting if they were traveling solo. Fingers crossed.
Our flight from JFK started boarding right on schedule and I was pleased to hear that passengers in Upper Class and Premium cabins were invited to board first. We managed to get on the plane before most of the other passengers.
The A330 Premium cabin has a 2-3-2 seating arrangement, so there’s only one middle seat per row. Here’s a picture of the middle three seats.
Waiting on the seat was a pillow, blanket, a pair of low-quality headphones and a Herschel branded amenity kit (only available in Premium on overnight flights).
We did find someone to change seats with so Sharon and I were able to get two seats together by the window towards the back of the cabin. Once seated, we were offered either juice, water or Prosecco. Guess which one we picked?
The ever-proper British captain came on the PA and informed us that due to the amount of traffic leaving JFK at this time, we’d be waiting for quite a while for our departure but once airborne our flight time to Heathrow would be 6 hours and 3 minutes.
Once we took off and the seatbelt light was turned off, the crew started with the drink service and I ordered a Gin and Tonic. Aviation American Gin, really Virgin Atlantic?
Not long thereafter we asked for our dinner selections.
Sharon was daring and picked the Vietnamese caramelized pork. The entire meal was served on a single tray with the foil on the main still sealed over the food.
When uncovered, the dish didn’t look or taste that bad (Note from Sharon: Personally, I thought the pork looked like dog food, but it tasted really good). I don’t think it quite lived up to the description of coconut and black sesame rice and braised vegetables.
I picked the chicken stew as it seemed to be the most suitable for reheating in an airplane galley. I tried a (plastic) bottle of the house white wine to go with the meal.
While not the most appealing presentation, it was edible. More than I can say for most airline meals. While I didn’t pinch the salt and pepper shakers, I might know someone who did. (Note from Sharon: insert wide eyed innocent look here)
Now I know that people like to get to sleep as soon as possible after a NYLON flight takes off but there was none of that going on in the Premium cabin. It seemed like everyone was determined to eat their meal before trying to sleep. It was a good two hours or so after takeoff before the cabin service was complete and the lights were dimmed. It was at this point I reclined my seat and tried to get some sleep.
Unfortunately, I was able to sleep as well in this seat as I am on a typical first class recliner on domestic flights. Which means I can nap for about 30 minutes before I wake up and try for another 30 minutes to get back to sleep.
About four hours into the flight, I decided that was about all the sleep I was going to get so I decided to get up and freshen up in the restroom. I’m glad I didn’t try to change to my pajamas as I doubt I would have had the room.
When I got back to my seat, the cabin crew saw I was awake so they asked me if I’d like a tea, coffee or juice. I asked for juice and this was the first time I remembered that after living in Florida for over 15 years, ordering orange juice in the United Kingdom is ALWAYS disappointing.
It wasn’t long until the rest of the cabin started to wake up and shortly thereafter the crew started the brekkie service. I picked an almond croissant with the fresh fruit, yogurt and coffee. My comments on the breakfast? The croissant was tasty.
Shortly after the breakfast trays were collected, we started our approach to Heathrow. I figure that I managed to get 90-120 minutes of sleep on the flight. We arrived into Heathrow with seemingly every other flight so the neverending line at UK Passport Control was about 90 minutes before we were able to collect our baggage and get to the Underground for the hour trip to our hotel.
While we love London, the flight there is never fun. Living on the east coast of the U.S., flights to London only take 6-8 hours. Taking a meal service (or two) into consideration, that only leaves 3-5 hours of sleep (at most). While the food on this flight was decent and it was nice to board first and get a glass of bubbly, I’m not sure I got any more sleep than I would have if I had flown in an economy seat. If I’m paying a premium, that’s what I’d be the most concerned about on this route.
We’re still learning as we go and making decisions based on our experiences. We’ve now traveled in an economy seat, premium economy and upper class on flights to London. Since we never manage to get a good night sleep regardless of the cabin, we’re thinking the best option would be to take the cheapest flight and just pay for an extra night of hotel when we arrive so we can crash for a few hours and still be able to enjoy some of our first night in London, instead of wandering around like zombies or needing to catch a nap on the comfortable sofa under the stairs in the hotel lounge.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary