Review: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class A340 London Heathrow To Los Angeles

Filed Under: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic 7
London Heathrow (LHR) to Los Angeles (LAX) 
Sunday, July 5
Depart: 11:15am
Arrive: 2:30pm
Duration: 11h15min
Aircraft: Airbus 340-600
Seat: 5K

My return flight to Los Angeles was scheduled to, again, be on Virgin Atlantic’s new 787 Dreamliner. Given that I understood firsthand that Virgin’s A340-600 fleet was showing its age, I was excited to try out the new product.

However, once again, as I approached the gate I saw that there had been an equipment swap and our flight would be on the A340 instead.

At least this time, since I’d flown the A340 before, I knew what to expect, which was somewhat key. My flight to Heathrow from Los Angeles disappointed me in part because the A340 was so much more aged than I’d thought, but at least on this leg I’d know going in the quirks of the Upper Class seat.

As soon as I boarded, I asked one of the flight attendants for an EmPower adapter, and he brought one to my seat just a minute or so later.

The Upper Class cabin was only about half full, at best, which I was told was partially due to the equipment swap (since the 787 has a smaller cabin). I gladly swapped seats from 4K to 5K to accommodate a married couple, and settled in as a flight attendant brought around trays of orange juice and champagne (I chose both, and made myself another mimosa).

Virgin Atlantic A340 seat 5K
Virgin Atlantic A340 seat 5K
Virgin Atlantic A340 seat 5K
Virgin Atlantic A340 seat 5K

Interestingly, the amenity kit on this flight was set up a bit differently (more of a pouch, rather than a bag), though it contained the same relatively sparse selection of facial tissue, pen, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.

We taxied not long after doors closed and took off for an on-time departure. The captain informed us that we’d actually have a quicker flight than usual, and would be landing a bit early.

Shortly after takeoff the main flight attendant on my aisle of Upper Class, Nick (an easy name for me to remember), took drink orders. I asked for a Bloody Mary, and he came back from the bar a couple minutes later with a very spicy Bloody as well as a bowl full of potato crisps, which was nothing but greasy goodness.

Bloody Mary and potato crisps
Bloody Mary and potato crisps

With drink service, Nick also distributed menus — this time, given the light load, they were ours to keep (as opposed to the LAX-LHR flight where they were snatched back from us after 5 minutes). 🙂

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class menu cover
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class menu cover
Menu introduction
Menu introduction
Mains and dessert/pudding options... everyone loves a good pud, apparently?
Mains and dessert/pudding options… everyone loves a good pud, apparently?

Now, I’ve gotten quite a bit of flak on OMAAT for poking fun of the Brits for calling all desserts “puddings,” but perhaps we can all agree that the description “[e]veryone loves a good pud” means something very different to American ears.

I sure do love a good pud, though!

The menu also showed the “extra bites” that were available throughout the flight, as well as the afternoon tea that would be served before landing.

Snacks post-lunch service
Snacks post-lunch service

As for drinks, the wine list was identical to the flight over, with Gardet champagne being served.

Drinks menu
Drinks menu
Wine list
Wine list
Cocktail menu
Cocktail menu and hot drinks

To start, I ordered the pillow of smoked salmon, which seemed like it would be light. To accompany, I ordered a glass of the Chablis.

This time around, I was able to crack the secret code of how to watch TV and have your tray table set up while flying on the A340, which is to first pop out the tray table, then swing out the television monitor all the way, and then have the tray table set up with linens and cutlery, etc.

I decided to watch Horrible Bosses 2 to start, which was hilarious in a completely sophomoric way. I loved it.

Horrible Bosses 2
Horrible Bosses 2

A few minutes later, Nick brought out my smoked salmon pillow and a glass of Chablis.

Pillow of smoked salmon
Pillow of smoked salmon

The salmon was quite tasty, with the creamed smoked trout and horseradish adding a bit of kick and smokiness to the affair. It was lovely.

The Chablis was fine. I decided to switch to champagne, actually, for the main course.

For my main, I ordered the seared tuna steak, which was Virgin’s celebrity chef option for the flight. I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

Tuna steak and tomato salad
Tuna steak and tomato salad

The tuna certainly looked beautiful, with the tomato-and-bean salad underneath a bit drowned in oil, but otherwise delicious-looking.

The salad was delicious, at least, if oily, but the tuna was incredibly overcooked. It was borderline inedible, and I only had a bite or two.

Overcooked tuna
Overcooked tuna

While the menu didn’t specify that the tuna steak would be seared rare, there’s definitely the thought process that when you’re “searing” something, you’re charring the exterior of it to get a good coat on it. This seemed to have been cooked in the oven to oblivion. It was tough, chewy, and dry, and altogether disgusting.

Nick seemed to have noticed that the main course was left mostly uneaten, and spied the overcooked fish with sympathy. He offered me the choice of another main course, but I didn’t particularly want to stuff myself on an 11 hour flight.

For dessert — because who doesn’t love a good pud?! — I selected the salted caramel pudding, which, to be fair, really was what folks on both side of the pond would agree is a pudding.

Salted caramel pudding
Salted caramel pudding

It wasn’t too different from a sticky toffee pudding, and while it was delicious, it was unbelievably rich, particularly when paired with the cream sauce. It was difficult to finish.

After lunch service, I asked Nick whether it would be possible to have one of the empty seats turned into a bed so that I could nap without rearranging my phone, headset, TV, etc. He said of course, and insisted on making the bed for me while I finished Horrible Bosses 2.

I decided to have a nap. As I mentioned before, Virgin Atlantic’s bed is extraordinarily comfortable.

Seat across the aisle that was made into a bed
Seat across the aisle that was made into a bed

I dozed on and off for a couple of hours. Interestingly, while the window seats have rather strong air conditioning vents, it appeared that the middle seats had no vents at all. It wasn’t really an issue on this flight, since the plane was kept bone-chillingly cold (to be fair — just the way I like it in midair).

I woke up to the sounds of raucous laughter coming from the onboard bar. I figured it was as good a time as any to check it out, and perhaps have a Diet Coke to revive myself a bit.

The bar was totally full, with people standing around it who couldn’t get bar stools. Most of the crowd was part of one group of cheerful “lads,” as I think the Brits would call them, off for holiday in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They were, as you might expect from guys on a “lad do,” totally hammered. My eyes almost popped out to watch how much they could drink and continue to stand up and function. However, they were nice as hell and made for a great way to break up an otherwise long and occasionally tedious flight, so I was delighted to chat with them for a while.

Through various chatter at the bar, I was able to discern that Virgin’s 787s were essentially “broken,” or at least in need of near-constant mechanical repair. Another flight attendant concurred that he much prefers to 747 and A340 to the 787, since the 787 was so glitch-prone.

I headed back toward my seat to watch another movie, so I decided to continue with dumb comedy sequels and watch Hot Tub Time Machine 2 instead, which was dreadfully unfunny. I’d get about a half hour in, and decide to go back to the bed to nap for a bit. I’d wake up, return to the movie for another 20 minutes, read a magazine, and then go back for a bit of a nap. It was too terrible of a movie to keep my attention span going, but unfortunately there wasn’t a lot else on offer.

After a few more naps and visits to the bar (where I largely abstained from drinking but was entertained by the lads and helped them plan their trip to L.A.), I switched off Hot Tub and finished watching the Amazon/UK co-production, “Catastrophe” (an ingeniously charming rom-com sitcom of sorts), and flipped through some more magazines.

Around noon Los Angeles time (with about two hours to go in the flight), Nick popped by with an Afternoon Tea menu.

Tea menu
Tea menu
Tea menu
Tea menu

At this point, I was famished, so I was excited to eat something, and finger sandwiches and sweets seemed like they’d hit the spot. There was also nothing left to do but finish Hot Tub Time Machine 2, as painful as it is to write that. It’s interesting to note a little message pops on the television screen informing you of tea service.

Service interruption for afternoon tea
Service notice for afternoon tea

I got a tray with all three sandwiches, a scone, and two of the three treats (the flight attendant didn’t give me a blueberry-and-bubblegum macaron, though I was able to try one later).

Tea tray
Tea tray

The tuna sandwich and the ham and tomato sandwich were dry and not particularly tasty, but I liked the egg mayo sandwich on white bread quite a bit.

The scone and the sweets were absolutely perfect. The Brits really do know their sugars.

Anyway, we soon were starting our descent over the Western United States, and were on the ground at LAX by 2:15pm.

Because Virgin Atlantic lands at LAX’s Terminal 2, rather than the Tom Bradley International Terminal, immigration and customs were quiet and I was out rather quickly.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Bottom Line

Despite its quirks and despite a truly horrid main course for lunch, I really enjoyed my return flight to Los Angeles on Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class. Much more so, even, than on my flight over to Heathrow.

In part, I suspect, it’s because part of what makes Virgin “fun” is the onboard bar, the socializing, the chatting with flight attendants and other passengers and laughing. It’s a truly convivial atmosphere on a day flight which is either lacking on the redeye, or is not as important as getting a good night’s sleep.

This particular flight was really made all the better by the warm and friendly and can-do attitude of my flight attendant, Nick, and the fact it was a fairly light load in Upper Class meant there was more individual attention to passengers. While my service LAX-LHR was fine, I was quite impressed with the service LHR-LAX.

Food continues to be a hit-or-miss aspect of flying Virgin Atlantic. I suspect if you stick with the basics you’ll do all right. I probably should have gathered it would be difficult for Virgin to lightly sear an ahi tuna steak onboard, and the chicken tikka masala might have been a nice alternative. Virgin does seem to quite well with its sweets, so save room for dessert.

All in all, the A340 remains a tired plane in Virgin’s fleet in need of refurbishment, but the quirkiness and character of the airline help me forgive flaws in the hard product.

I’m hopeful to try Virgin’s 787 Dreamliner soon and to make new friends on my next Virgin flight. It really felt the epitome of British hospitality — cheerful, back-slapping, doesn’t take itself too seriously, loves a good cocktail and a chatty pub. (Despite what commenters may think, I love Britain and the British and merely find our cultural differences amusing since they’re so minor.)

Cheerio, and thanks for reading!

  1. I must say, this whole review series has been miles better than any of the other trip reports I’ve read on this blog in a long time. The fact that they were on time, actually gave a good amount of information about the flight and had decent humour made this a very good read.

    Maybe lucky should take lessons from you and improve his trip reports

  2. Catastrophe is sooooooooooo good. As much as I love Ben, its nice to have someone with decent taste in movies/tv on here.

  3. Excellent review. Shame about the last minute equipment swap and bad catering.

    I had now idea what “pud” meant in the US! I love it!

  4. Thanks for the series of reviews Nick! Appreciate your humor and putting up with some negativity in the various posts. For every hater there are many more fans who totally get you. Hope you return soon with more Delta love and witty commentary.

  5. Considering the food was being catered out of Britain I would think the Indian food would have been the obvious choice 🙂

    I am a bit confused by the drink menu calling a Margarita a “Brazilian” favo(u)rite though.

  6. Thanks for the review, Nick – a definite return to form with this one, preferred it to your outbound one (a bit like you did with the flights!). Glad the on board bar atmosphere was so friendly, now we just need you to start calling champagne+OJ a ‘bucks fizz’ rather than a ‘mimosa’ 😉

  7. For those flying into London from New York, I highly recommend the early morning flights (leaving from 7 AM ish) from JFK/Newark. This is also a “day” flight – you land essentially in the late evening in London, can go to the hotel, then straight to dinner. I haven’t flown Virgin Upper Class, but I imagine the bar would be a great time on these flights.

  8. We flew the A340 SFO-LHR “dark” and loved it. IMO who cares about the ancient IFE, we bring our own entertainment anyhow. Either iPhone/iPad or talk or SLEEP!

    I really like the A340, it’s a solid plane and I don’t understand the people who deride it as old. Wish we had a shot at the 747, but we were very lucky to find 4 UC seats for only 62,500 SkyRubles. Someday I will ride the Queen of the Skies.

    Nice review!

  9. In my opinion, you failed to mention the best part (next to the comfortable bad) of flying Upper Class, namely the darling and easy (and encouraged) to pilfer, the airplane-shaped salt and pepper shakers! In fact, did you notice that on the bottom are engraved the words “pinched from” on one and “Virgin Atlantic” on the other?

  10. @Bgriff: Ha, good catch! I knew they were doing a “margarita mix-up” menu, but to call the Virgin Margarita a mouth-watering take on the “Brazilian favorite” certainly implies a geographic mix-up instead. 😉

  11. tuna, egads… agreed chicken tikka might be a solid option ex-LHR. i always go for pasta on a longhaul. it’s harder to screw up and the carbs help knock you out for a good sleep.

  12. Virgin makes very good Indian food in-flight. The Chicken Tikka Masala holds up very well at 35,000 feet. You can also preorder a Hindu Vegetarian meal that is also spicy and also survives well in the air.

  13. Just wanted to say I love your trip reports. Nice to get a Delta/Skyteam view and I for one like that you are little “cheeky” it’s make for fun reading.

    I guess Star Alliance gets covered by Lucky when he travels Internationally and United is so horrid they aren’t worth talking about? I think it would be interesting if one of y’all took a United flight (Transcontinental or maybe NYC-Europe?) who knows you might get lucky and have a free stop over in Goose Bay? Regardless something tells me it would be fun reading.

  14. Nice report, though that tuna looks horrendous. If it’s on menu then should bloody have figured out how to serve it without murdering it (I’m an Aussie, we’re allowed to say bloody). Mmm now I’m hungry.

    I do quite like how you snuck a shot of your shoes in there. Well done on sticking it to the haters 😉

  15. @Alan. I had to look up what a mimosa was. It appears it is slightly different to Buck’s fizz as it is 1-1 OJ and champagne. Bucks Fizz is supposed to be 2-1 OJ to Champagne. Mine you i make my Buck’s fizz 2-1 Champers to OJ.

  16. @Nick – I think most restaurants in UK now say desert menu not pudding. Just accept what ever you say you can not win!!

  17. Oh wow THAT TUNA is terrible. Probably a fault of catering or the FA’s overheating (i.e. cooking) it? I doubt any chef in the world (much less a ‘celebrity chef’) would even consider serving a fully well-done-all-the-way-through tuna steak …

  18. @Nick – LOL when I saw “Hot Tub Time Machine 2”! Did not realize you are such a film connoisseur 😉 But I guess it is probably healthier than popping a Xanax to fall asleep.

  19. Great post – however, I’m beginning to see a common thread to most of your posts and I’ve made a determination. You only take 1 pair of shoes when you go on a trip – the pair that you wear – the same disgustingly dirty pair of shoes. Seriously??? Add some variety, and cleanliness to your life!!

  20. @Casey: How about we make a deal? You don’t judge my footwear or fashion choices based on a cell phone pic, and I won’t judge the fact that, while 99% of the population has better things to do, you specifically logged on here on a workday to criticize a perfect stranger’s footwear for being what you consider dirty.

    Honestly, they’re white canvas Chuck Taylors. This is what happens to them. Move on.

  21. hahaha so even Nick admits that we shouldn’t read this blog anymore. or on weekdays at least. totally true. one because he’s here and two because there are like no more trip reports. i mean respect your legacy readers. no one wants to do this boot camp and the new readers probs arent gonna stay

  22. @A / Jim / Ariel: Nice to see you back! For someone who doesn’t like reading me, you sure like to comment on all my posts and obsess over me. Either way, we welcome the pageviews here at OMAAT.

  23. Enjoyable read. The aspiration to fly Virgin Atlantic UC is why I started this hobby. Haven’t flown it yet but it’s nice to see it can still impress even with the objectively better products out there.

  24. Really enjoyable trip review – I had forgotten how much i enjoy Virgin Atlantic UC and how much more fun it is to fly than CW on BA and your review was a good reminder

  25. Really late on this one, but I personally like seeing a guy in a pair of not-so-perfectly-clean sneakers. There’s something to it.

  26. Wait you enjoyed Horrible Bosses 2 more than Hot Tub 2? I don’t think I can respect your opinion anymore!

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