Review: Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class Business Class

Filed Under: Virgin Atlantic

Having recently reviewed Virgin Atlantic’s A350 business class, I figured it made sense to also review their 787 business class. Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have any immediate plans to introduce their new business class seats on the 787, so how does the “old” seat compare on a very short overnight flight?

Redeeming Miles For Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

I booked my Upper Class ticket directly through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program just a day before departure.

I booked the following one-way ticket for just 47,500 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles plus $674 in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges:

01/24 VS12 Boston to London departing 9:50PM arriving 9:30AM (+1 day) [Business]

The cost in miles is excellent, though it goes without saying that the carrier imposed surcharges (often referred to as fuel surcharges) really sting. For what it’s worth, the 47,500 miles price was for a “standard” season ticket, while a “peak” ticket would have cost 57,500 miles.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is transfer partners with Amex Membership RewardsChase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou, so there are lots of ways to easily earn miles with them.

Personally I transferred points from Amex to Virgin Atlantic when there was a 30% transfer bonus, so really the ticket only cost me 37,000 Amex points plus the taxes and surcharges.

Lastly, I should mention that I could have avoided the carrier surcharges by booking through Delta, as they don’t impose surcharges for Virgin Atlantic awards originating in the US. However, for booking last minute they would have charged an unconscionable 160,000 SkyMiles (which is outrageous when there’s saver award space).

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class 787-9 Review

After a nice evening in the Clubhouse, I headed to gate E8 at around 8:45PM, just over an hour before departure. This was just a short walk from the lounge, and I had a good view of the 787-9 from the gate area.

Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Boston

My boarding pass indicated that boarding was supposed to start 40 minutes before departure (at 9:10PM), though it ended up starting at 9PM, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Now that’s rare!

Virgin Atlantic departure gate Boston

Virgin Atlantic 12
Boston (BOS) – London (LHR)
Friday, January 24
Depart: 9:50PM
Arrive: 9:30AM (+1 day)
Duration: 6hr40min
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 11A (Upper Class Business Class)

I boarded through the second set of doors, and was pointed left into the Upper Class cabin by the flight manager. Right at that door was Virgin Atlantic’s signature onboard bar.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class bar 787

Virgin Atlantic has 31 Upper Class seats on the 787-9, all located between doors one and two. There’s no denying that the cabin looks incredibly swanky with the mood lighting. Though in many ways the mood lighting is just a distraction from what’s otherwise a subpar business class seat.

Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class cabin

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabin 787

The way the cabin is configured, there are 11 seats along the left windows. These seats tend to be booked the fastest, since the seats on the left have an aisle all to themselves.

Virgin Atlantic business class cabin 787

Then there are 21 seats facing the right aisle — this includes 10 seats in the center section, and 11 seats on the very right of the plane.

Virgin Atlantic 787 business class seat

In this configuration I’d choose the “A” seats (left) as my first choice, followed by the “K” seats (right), followed by the G seats (center).

I assigned myself seat 11A, the window seat on the left side in the last row. When I booked all of the seats on the left were taken except 10A and 11A, so I figured I’d take 11A.

These herringbone seats are definitely on the narrow side, and lack storage.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat 787

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat 787

Each seat had an ottoman, so at least your feet aren’t in a tight footwell, though at the same time your feet basically feel like they’re in the aisle.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class ottoman

These seats have literally no storage. To the side of the seat was a small tray that could be folded down, where there was a bottle of water.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat tray

The literature pocket, entertainment controller, and power outlet, were to the left of the seat as well.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat entertainment controller

The tray table also folded out from the left of the seat, and was a single large table that couldn’t be folded over in half, or anything.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class tray table

The seat controls were to the right of the seat, and were easy to use. Note that in order to extend the tray you have to push the button on the right, which is something that seems to confuse many.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat controls

Each seat had individual air nozzles, which is a useful feature.

Virgin Atlantic 787 air nozzles

Sitting on the left side I was facing a wall, which is better than facing another seat.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat view

The bad part of sitting in 11A is that you might as well be sitting at the bar, because it’s that close. There’s no curtain between the bar and the cabin, and the below picture was literally taken from my seat.

I’d highly recommend avoiding the last few rows on a daytime flight, though on a short redeye there wasn’t anyone using the bar.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat view

As far as the Upper Class amenities go, waiting at my seat was an amenity kit made mostly of recycled materials. The amenity kit had socks, eyeshades, earplugs, a pen, a dental kit, and some lotions.

Virgin Atlantic business class amenity kit

A few minutes after settling in I was offered pajamas. It’s impressive that Virgin Atlantic offers pajamas in business class on all redeyes, even these short sub-six hour flights.

Virgin Atlantic business class pajamas

Virgin Atlantic business class pajamas

There were also some headphones waiting at my seat, which weren’t particularly high quality.

Virgin Atlantic business class headphones

Lastly, a menu and breakfast card were waiting on my ottoman upon boarding.

Virgin Atlantic business class menu & breakfast card

A few minutes after settling in a flight attendant stopped by my seat to offer me a pre-departure drink, with the choice of water, orange juice, or champagne. I selected the champagne.

Virgin Atlantic business class pre-departure champagne

Every other time I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic the flight attendant has introduced themselves by name and asked if I was familiar with the seat, though they didn’t do that this time around. That wasn’t an issue, but just something that stood out to me.

By 9:30PM boarding was complete (a full 20 minutes before scheduled departure), and around this time the captain made his welcome aboard announcement. He said we had a light load, and that we’d be cruising at an altitude of 37,000 feet for our “rapid flight” of 5hr45min.

Also at 9:30PM the main cabin door closed, at which point the flight manager made his welcome aboard announcement. This announcement started with “on behalf of Richard Branson,” which I don’t recall hearing before on Virgin Atlantic.

One other interesting thing about Virgin Atlantic is that they announce how many passengers are onboard — on this flight there were only 118 customers, with 19 of the 31 business class seats being occupied.

While we were boarded quickly, we only ended up pushing back at 9:55PM. Then at 10PM we began our taxi, and 10 minutes after that we were airborne. Our takeoff roll must have been the fastest I’ve ever experienced on a transatlantic flight, which I guess isn’t surprising given the light load and short flight time.

Five minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off. As we climbed out I browsed the entertainment selection. There were over 150 movies and over 40 TV shows to choose from.

Virgin Atlantic entertainment system

Virgin Atlantic entertainment system

I also checked out the airshow for our flight to London.

Map enroute to London

I decided to watch an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I had seen the episode before, but to me Curb Your Enthusiasm is one show where I can watch the same episodes over and over and never get bored.

Virgin Atlantic entertainment system

The entertainment screens can be extended from the side of the seat for better viewing. The major catch is that the TVs are really small, especially with some of the massive TVs we see nowadays on airlines.

Extending Virgin Atlantic entertainment system

Virgin Atlantic also has wifi on the 787-9.

Virgin Atlantic 787 wifi system

On the 787 Virgin Atlantic charges for wifi based on data, with the following costs:

  • $3.99 for 20MB
  • $16.99 for 150MB
  • $39.99 for 500MB

Virgin Atlantic wifi pricing

While the pricing is on the steep side, at least 500MB is a very big allowance, should you be on a daytime flight where you need to work. I only briefly used the wifi, and found the speeds to be decent, though not as good as Gogo 2Ku or Viasat.

Virgin Atlantic has short transatlantic flights down to a science, as you’d expect, given how many of them they operate.

For this flight the menu read as follows:

Then there was also a breakfast card, which the crew collected before people went to sleep. That read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

I find Virgin Atlantic’s menu design to be thoughtful. Rather than just having a full menu or even an express dining option, they have specific recommendations for people who just want a light snack or a nightcap.

While I wasn’t really hungry, I figured I had to order something for review purposes. Of the 19 business class passengers, only one other person didn’t go right to sleep. As you’d hope, service was very quick in light of that.

Just 10 minutes after takeoff I was asked if I wanted something, and was offered a warm towel.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class warm towel

As you can see above, the supper menu includes one starter, three main course choices, and then the choice of cheese or dessert. That’s more than sufficient, given that almost no one actually eats.

Just 20 minutes after takeoff my table was set, and I was brought the appetizer, which was a goat cheese and orange salad. I like that they serve the meal directly on the tray table, rather than bringing it out on a tray.

Virgin Atlantic business class dinner service — appetizer

Virgin Atlantic business class dinner service — appetizer

For the main course I ordered the cauliflower steak with sweet potato gnocchi, with herbed butter, garlic sautéed haricot beans, confit cherry tomato, and sauce vierge. This was really good, much better than I was expecting.

Virgin Atlantic business class dinner service — main course

Lastly for dessert I had the lemon and blackberry mascarpone cheesecake, which was excellent as well.

Virgin Atlantic business class dinner service — dessert

Not only was the food good, but my meal was done just over 45 minutes after takeoff. That’s incredible, and exactly how it should be (though all too often it’s not).

As far as service goes, I appreciated the efficiency of it all, though I’ve had more enthusiastic Virgin Atlantic crews. The flight attendant working my aisle wasn’t rude at all, but her priority seemed to be providing the service as quickly as possible, which I’m totally fine with on a flight like this.

Map enroute to London

Upon the conclusion of my meal I was asked if I wanted turndown service. While that was being done, I went to the lavatory, of which there are two behind business class.

Virgin Atlantic 787 lavatory

At this point the bar was set up with some snacks as well, though it was otherwise quiet.

Virgin Atlantic business class bar

Virgin Atlantic business class snacks

Virgin Atlantic has solid bedding, with a nice duvet and a large pillow. I’m usually someone who finds pillows to not be substantial enough, though Virgin Atlantic’s was almost too thick for me.

Unfortunately the bed as such is hard, and the mattress sheet doesn’t do much to help. I also don’t like these herringbone seats because they have to flipped over to turn into beds, and this also means that you can’t slightly incline your bed, which I otherwise like to do.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class turndown service

I managed to fall asleep pretty quickly, and woke up about 90 minutes before landing in London.

Map enroute to London

About an hour before landing I was brought my breakfast, based on the card that I had filled out before departure. I decided to order some fresh fruit and yogurt, some bircher muesli, and a “cookie bake.”

Virgin Atlantic 787 breakfast service

Virgin Atlantic does even offer hot breakfast, which many airlines don’t on such a short flight.

At around 8:15AM London time the captain announced that we’d be landing at 9AM, and about 15 minutes after that we began our descent. There was a lovely sunrise as we approached London.

Sunrise approaching London

Virgin Atlantic 787 wing view

About 20 minutes before landing the crew passed out fast track cards, though those aren’t worth much to many of us, thanks to the e-gates.

Heathrow fast track card

By the way, it’s amazing how much of a difference mood lighting makes. The Upper Class cabin looks super swanky in the dark, but much less so during the day.

Virgin Atlantic 787 cabin view

While the sunrise was beautiful, unfortunately it was a significantly less nice day under the clouds.

View approaching Heathrow

We ended up landing at 9AM, and had just a five minute taxi to Terminal 3. Because we were arriving early, unfortunately we were assigned a remote stand, which I think might be a first for me at Terminal 3.

Virgin Atlantic 787 at remote stand

Getting such a close-up view of the 787 was cool. The rest of the experience wasn’t, though. Somehow the bus ride to the terminal took 15 minutes, and even from where we were dropped off it was still a long walk to immigration.

Upon arrival I headed to the Virgin Atlantic arrivals lounge, which I’ll be reviewing in the next installment.

Virgin Atlantic Business Class Bottom Line

Virgin Atlantic has their transatlantic soft product down to a science, especially for these painfully short East Coast to London flights.

The amenities were top notch (amenity kits, pajamas, etc.), and the menu was extensive, with the option to have light snacks, hot dinner, and/or hot breakfast. On top of that, service was quick, which is important on these flights.

That being said, these herringbone seats barely cut it anymore as far as business class seats go — they have no storage, they’re hard as a rock in bed mode, and the TVs are small. I still can’t fully rationalize how Virgin Atlantic was taking delivery of brand new planes in 2018 with herringbone seats.

Virgin Atlantic’s new A350 business class is a huge improvement, though it’s quite disappointing that the airline doesn’t have any immediate plans to install these seats on 787s.

If you’ve flown Virgin Atlantic’s 787 business class, what was your experience like?

  1. I was on the inaugural flight a few years ago from LHR to Bos on this plane . Had a great time but not a fan of the seats .

  2. Last September, Hubby and I took a VA flight from Las Vegas to London on a 787 with the exact seat configuration. Sometime during the flight while I slept, my purse stowed under the footwell was ransacked and I lost around $4500 in cash. The theft was discovered before we landed and the theft reported to the main stewards. Long story short, VA says it’s not responsible for our loss. I will never take another VA flight with this seat configuration where there is no place to safely stow valuables. Shame on VA. To all female travelers: be aware and guard your purse!

  3. To all female [and male, and X gender] travelers: be aware and guard your purse! and be SANE and don’t carry $4500 cash in you purse/waller/pocket. OMG! You’re not an Albanian mobster boss to carry $4500 cash in a purse.

  4. 1. WTH carrying $4500 cash. That was your foolish decision to leave in your purse. I would have put that in my bra …. and I’m a man who doesn’t wear a bra!

    2. I would have demanded that the police meet the flight at the gate. I’m not sure how you could’ve proved you had that much money with you. I’m not sure how the police could imply that another passenger or crewmember with that much money didn’t bring it on board. But I would’ve raised holy hell!

    3. The description of the seats is the reason I won’t fly Virgin!

  5. Ben

    I know you like the last (or near to last row) but you should know that in VA Upper you should be nowhere near the bar. A frequent commenter here (thenicepaul) has said many, many times on this site how much he hates proximity to the bar. You mention only 10A and 11A were free, but you don’t mention the availability on the K side. I know the A side is best but surely given the choice between 11A and 5K, row 5 has to be the winner?

    The “on behalf of Richard Branson” comment was odd. Was he doing it to be self-important I wonder? As in, “Richard personally asked me to say this.” I don’t think this should become a thing…”On behalf of Alex Cruz…”

    Whenever I fly VA, and they announce the number of passengers onboard, it’s never that many. They should really keep a low load to themselves.

    And finally, I hate this seat so much. But I’m keen to try the VA A350 on my next transatlantic out of LHR.

  6. I took the LHR to SFO route and loved it. The flight attendants were personable and the cabin was great. The bar is nice for socializing with your other passengers. All in all a great flight. My only reservations is that I find SWISS to have better food and larger restroom.

  7. While the cabin is woefully outdated, you cannot deny it’s an extremely classy cabin! One of the most beautiful.

  8. “Virgin Atlantic does even offer hot breakfast, which many airlines don’t on such a short flight.”

    I am pretty sure that the ‘bacon butty’ shown on the Breakfast Menu will be hot Lucky. It’s once again showing the different terms in the transatlantic English languages.

  9. @ Frederik — To be clear, I was saying that they *do* offer hot breakfast, unlike some other airlines. Unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying?

  10. Looks like a fun flight for under 6 hours. They EVEN serve Aberfeldy Scotch which I’ve never seen on a plane or in a lounge. While not super premium, I like it a lot.

    @Frederik @Lucky The wording of that sentence is odd. How ’bout: Virgin Atlantic EVEN offers hot breakfast?

  11. I just flew this product (albeit on the A330-300, same exact seat otherwise), and I would agree with you about the seat. It’s really a shame because Virgin does a fantastic job with the end to end experience otherwise. My typical intl business goes to UA but based on routing we flew Virgin and the airport experience at LHR, flight attendant professionalism and friendliness, quality of the soft products including food, on board bar experience all exceed any US carrier.

    I am 6’1 and my biggest issue with these seats is that they don’t allow you to fully lie down without bending your legs- they’re quite short. As you said, storage is extremely limited which is a bit challenging, but I find the overall privacy and direct aisle access is great— I also like the openness of the cabin vs. reverse herringbone or other 1x2x1 configs.

  12. RE: Fast track cards when landing in London, Stansted Airport has introduced a fast track lane to the E-Gates, I’m guessing this is to allow the Emirates 1st and Business passengers to jump the queue if they land around the same time as 10 full Ryanair planes.

    It will be interesting to see if it gets added at any other London airports.

  13. @ Ben — It is remarkable that they have these horrible seats on this beautiful aircraft. AM’s 787-9 has the same seat as AA’s 777-200, which makes for an awesome experience. Now, if AM would just improve their food (and tear down MEX and start over).

  14. Was that lighting that horrible in person? It looks like you were eating under a blacklight. Somewhat lurid. Not sure I could handle that seating. It’s not like their fares are discounted for the bad seats or anything. BA seats At 7 across in Club World look better than this.

  15. @Lucky not to turn this into a grammar blog, but to Frederick’s comment, the more efficient sentence would’ve been “Virgin Atlantic even offers hot breakfast…” – the “does” is unnecessary 😉

    That aside, I enjoyed the review, thanks!

  16. Can’t stand those seats pointing away from the windows. Is the lighting like the inside of a brothel during the whole flight?

  17. So there’s an episode of Murder, She Wrote (The Corpse Flew First Class) where Jessica is flying BOS-LHR in first on the “Champagne Supper Flight” and of course, someone gets killed. It’s actually one of the best MSW episodes.

  18. @Lucky
    Yes sorry my mistake. And it is good they do on a short flight, BA I got a full meal after takeoff but then only soggy roll, fruit and yoghurt/muesli thing for breakfast returning from New York early last year. Although I understand that they are improving Club and First catering and return from Miami 8 weeks ago it was a much better full hot breakfast.
    I just wish Virgin would become a full SkyTeam member, although with the new Flying Blue CodeShare they are almost de facto.

  19. @ William

    Yes, if I recall it’s first class without direct aisle access from every seat and not a flatbed- that’s the real horror here, not the corpse.

  20. @anna tseng. BS. you were travelling with someone else and yet somehow another person was able to rummage at that location for your bag , remove a large amount of cash and put it back again In the same position. If you are going to lie it should be more plausible. Airlines aren’t liable for cabin bags. You should have a money bag you can strap round your torso

    Otherwise it looks pretty pretty good. On my recent flight to Hong Kong , strangely I didn’t notice anyone use the bar.

  21. “For the main course I ordered the cauliflower steak”

    Basically, grilled cauliflower 😉 But that bowl does look good…

  22. Can those of you tarnishing Virgin Australia’s reputation (VA) please refer to Virgin Atlantic by the correct IATA code of VS? I was beggining to think VAs fleet had expanded and product gone done hill. PS, Lucky any plane on heading back to Australia any time soon?

  23. I will be travelling to Africa soon and will be going Upper class, so I shall surely feedback on my experience. Thanks for your tips, sure helps.

  24. many people prefer a firmer bed to sleep on and that is why the VS bed was designed to flip over in this way – softer for sitting and firmer for sleeping.

    Yes some people prefer a softer sleeping surface but you can’t please everyone – they went with the needs of the majority.

    iIRC the beds in the A350 are full recline with no need to flip?

    Do we really need 3 pictures of the moving map? You said a few weeks ago formatting the pics took a long time so you could have saved some time by not including 2 of them!

    Comments re lighting – photos make it appear worse than it is with the natural eye – especially if just using a phone or normal day to day camera.

    @Anna – so did you report it to the police? Insist the VS cabin crew have the police meet the plane? How did this thief know you had that amount of cash on you? We’re you flashing it? Talking loudly to your hubby about it? Why didn’t you have a lockable bag to put it in? What did your insurance company say when you claimed off the ? But basically why were you carrying such a large amount of cash in the first place?

  25. @ Nick

    Sorry! Had a poor week of sleep due to watching the Australian Open tennis all night. I’ll be shaper next week.

  26. I wonder how much food is wasted? They should have a full menu with dining in the club and no on-board dinner for any flight leaving after 9 p.m. That’s crazy there was all that food for a flight of under 6 hours.

  27. I was on a short 4.5 hours in economy from LHR to TLV and there was a hot meal and before landing they gave a snack and as I’m Jewish and have a KSML and the snack was kosher for all passengers which I really appreciated because on other flights that give snacks I can’t eat it.

    And no other airline that I was on this route gives snacks.

  28. Like NZ these seats are just not good enough in 2020,heck they weren’t even good when they first introduced them – it’s like a dormitory and at biz fares it’s just not on – they obviously know how bad they are and try to excel in other areas so that’s great but when there’s a choice – NO!!!

  29. To me, the seats just look like the love child of a Japanese capsule hotel and a shop window in Amsterdam’s red light district.
    And how unappetising that lighting makes the food look….
    So tacky. Style (?) over substance.

  30. Same wacky seat as Air New Zealand. No privacy whatsoever! “Mood lighting” doesn’t fix this major Business Class flaw.

  31. Used to fly VS once or twice a week between NYC-LON. Got so tired of travels, just made them a quick overnight trip…arrive in the AM, do my meetings, and leave on the PM departure.

    VS always great.

    I flew also very often on BA services, and they were also good, but VS always was special.

    Both VS and BA had to fly me whenever I needed/wanted. Those were the days.

    Re Richard Branson, he likes a beer. That’s all I can say. Nice guy.

  32. Looks like a great flight with Virgin. My wife and I flew out of JFK Terminal 4 back in September 2017 to LHR with Delta, and while at JFK, we were able to spend sometime in the Virgin lounge and really enjoyed our time. I would love to try them sometime, even though their J cabin looks very cramped. Food looks good and plentiful for such a short flight across the ocean.

  33. What are the best seats for a couple on the 787 in Upper Class? First time flying Virgin Atlantic, next summer to London.

  34. My way of checking seats: With flight number check seat map on seatguru, and once I got an idea of the layout, find a clip or a few on YouTube.

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