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Is flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class worth it? Lo...

Is flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class worth it? London Heathrow to New York JFK Review (inc. the Clubhouse)

Our alarms had screeched at a respectable 6am warning us to get up and dressed within the next half hour, because our super exciting flight with Virgin Atlantic Upper Class was booked, ready and waiting with champagne on top. Leaving the warm comfort of our room at the ibis Styles, we stepped out into the cold December morning and got into our booked and waiting taxi, still beary-eyed. Our taxi driver – who seemingly was a professional at blatantly ignoring words – was a nightmare. He’d stopped at terminal two, waiting for us to leave.

No, no mate, we need the wing at terminal three. Like I’ve said. Four times. Four literal times I’ve told you.

Huffing and puffing as if his driving error was our fault, he’d then driven over to terminal three and tried to drop us off at the main entrance before we told him our documents were at the designated Virgin entrance, not the main one, as we’d already explained to him many, many times. Instead of turning back and giving it another circle, he then unsuccessfully tried to REVERSE on a ridiculously busy roundabout before driving around terminal three again.

We finally arrived at the specially designed check-in area only seen by Virgin Atlantic Upper Class guests. Premium economy? Back of the line you go.

It should have taken five minutes. Our hotel literally looked over the runway we would shortly be on.

It took twenty-five.

The Virgin Atlantic Upper Class wing

Arrival at the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class wing (at London’s Heathrow) was an experience in itself. One check-in desk and two lovely staff members wearing reindeer antlers await, with – if you call ahead – all your documents and luggage tags printed and ready to go.

With our taxi driver yelling at us (being almost held back by the wing’s lovely security man) for extra money – he was trying to rip us off for an extra tenner after seeing we were being dropped off here rather than the usual entrance because for some reason he thought he deserved extra for our unrequested 6am joyride of Heathrow – we tagged our bags and waved goodbye to the check in staff, heading through our own little security channel and gate.

virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk

The fact we paid the taxi driver still gives me rage. “Forget it, Laura,” David had said. I hate being called my actual name by family and close friends. Hate it. “First class. Champagne. Focus.”

But anyway. It’s the quickest check-in I’ve ever experienced. Using the secret entrance you bypass literally every other traveller. That’s right PEASANTS. You’ll not see anyone travelling Upper Class if you’re flying economy with Virgin as they’re swept through baggage and security without having to deal with the great unwashed (usually us, probably forevermore us, actually).

From us stepping foot in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class wing to getting settled with a glass of Lanson champers in the Clubhouse, it must have taken no more than fifteen minutes. That’s including going through security and the traditional ‘take off your shoes and your belts and everything you own while preparing your cavities’ rigamarole.

The Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse at Heathrow

Once all the hassle was done with and our belts were back on, we had nothing to do but settle down for a couple of hours until our flight was announced. Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Clubhouse, purely for the sheer size and ameneties on offer, deserves its own review, really, and as there are no time limits guests can stay for 40 minutes or four hours.

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With a snooker table and spa, jacuzzi, cinema area, relaxation lounge, and table service for those who prefer to dine upright, as well as reams of staff who’ll get you pretty much anything you like, it was such a great way to fly. Forget sitting on uncomfy chairs with a ‘spoonie’s breakfast and a flat pint of something-or-other, the pungent stench of Britney Spears’ latest fragrance mingled with Chanel No 5 wafting through Duty Free, we were treated to first class service.

The Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse: the spa

I opted to book in at the spa as soon as we set eyes on it. We’d arrived at 7am, a good two hours before we took off and just as the Clubhouse was opening, so were first in line for any treatments, which are first come first served btw. If you’re late booking, you don’t get anything which would be a flipping shame. I took the opportunity to book in to have my hair super glossy with a Bumble & Bumble hair conditioning treatment, David decided to go for a facial to get his skin prepped for the hazards of airplane-based air-con, too.

virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk
virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk

Try to ensure you book as soon as you arrive, spaces fill up so fast. I was booked with a fifteen-minute wait so we both headed back to our little lounging area while David ordered food.

virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk

Over to the spa I went at my allotted time (after sinking another glass of Lanson, of course) for my treatment. My hair was washed and I was given a heavenly back, neck and shoulder massage to boot. After that perfection was over my hair was conditioned and oiled, and blow dried straight ready for the trip and a glamorous entrance to NYC – please enjoy the selfies above. Both returning to our seats after our preenage, our eggs Benedict and a Cosmo (hey, NYC calls for them. Even if it’s 8am) had arrived, and we tucked in.

The Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse: the food

Now, we aren’t massively well-to-do people. I’m a flipping nursing student for Pete’s sake, we don’t even get a student loan. And having worked in Chelsea, I’ve seen how people who are naturally loaded act. The have an air of ‘oh, this again,’ about them most of the time as their butlers get their groceries, their security stops traffic so they can shop in peace, and their au pairs deal with the inconvenience of parenting the children. Because for some people, having champagne and Cosmos and breakfasting before the arduous journey across the pond is a chore. A waste of time. An inconvenience. For us, mate, we were practically squealing from the minute we arrived at Heathrow until reality sank in on the delayed NYC subway.

virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk

FREE FOOD!

FREE COCKTAILS!

FREE HAIR TREATMENTS!

FREE ORANGE JUICE!

FREE DAILY MAI… wait, we’re not that desperate for freebies.

How could ANYONE get tired of being pampered and preened? Madness, I tell ye. Madness.

The menu is incredible. Breakfast and brunch for early fliers, and full on meals and afternoon tea for those flying a little later. As well as the waited service, guests can help themselves to Virgin Atlantic Upper Class services such as the deli with fresh meats and stinky cheese, the self-serve buffet with cereals, popcorn, chips/crisps depending on which side you sit, and snack tables serving olives and nibbles. There is literally something for everyone.

virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk

Oh, and for those with a sweet tooth. Want dessert? Have one, have them all, they encourage it.

Boarding the Airbus A-something something

Alas, all free things come to an end and we were soon called to board our plane for the seven-hour flight. Picking up our hand luggage and a paper to while away the wait at the gate, we said goodbye to the lovely team of staff.

Flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class means airport gate staff and cabin crew generally tend to get you seated and comfy as soon as possible and as quickly as possible. So again, while everyone in Upper Class literally walked straight onto the plane to be greeted with yet more champagne, sleep suits and the like, economy flyers were seated on those mega uncomfy seats at the gate waiting to be called row by row. So tantalisingly close to boarding they were, but yet so far (and also prohibited by airport security).

Force of habit nearly made me turn right. But, like a willing sheepdog, I was herded into my seat, 2A, with David sat laterally next to me in 3A. A cheery crew dressed in festive jumpers welcomed us on board with champers, and we got settled in. Not before taking a million photos and generally acting like people who just don’t belong in Upper Class.

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There was no chill. But who cares? I’ll never see those people again, so what if we were excited?

The flight was half full, with four or five seats across from me empty. As some staff had their buddies aboard (buddies will get a free flight, paying just the taxes and fees) these were upgraded into the empty seats. One girl, Kelly, was a fellow student nurse! I saw her studying her anatomy and physiology and we had a good chat about life as a student. I’m sure we grossed out a few travellers with tales of bedpans and beta blockers.

A very unfestive guest causes trouble

After being sat on the tarmac waiting for economy to board, we hit our departure time. However, the captain was still walking up and down the aisles. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. Not that I cared, I was on my first coffee of the morning served in an actual mug by this point.

“Have a look at that!” David said. “There’s a police van on the runway!” Sure enough, a van was parked under the walkway ramp. Very unusual. We were being told a passenger was sick, but David guessed there was something else afoot. I was texting mum who by this point was sure there was going to be an explosive situation. It turns out a bloke had been drinking booze on some pretty strong meds and didn’t want to board. His gf, seeing her trip to NYC dissolving by the minute, tried to push him on board. He retaliated with a jolly good slap and bash, and was promptly escorted off the plane into the van, and then into a cell.

After that unpleasantness, we took to the skies, and could fully enjoy all Upper Class had to offer.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class: The Food

Served on genuine crockery with metal knives and forks, the menu was – of course – the traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings (and more sprouts that are necessary when enclosed in a glorified tin can). I opted for a salted caramel and chocolate brownie, served with a cosmo of course. David went for the Christmas cake and decided he also fancied the cheese and port, enjoying a festive meal.

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It was lovely, it really was. I was stuffed after my eggs not a few hours earlier, but there was a willing David to be my dustbin.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class: The beds

With dinner out of the way and a huge array of films on offer, the crew offered another round of drinks before taking our afternoon tea orders. Once everyone was full to the brim, it was time for turndown. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seats, unlike other first class fares, recline fully flat, meaning you basically get a bed – if a slightly narrow one – to have a good kip. A padded topper is placed on the seat, and a duvet covers the space fully enough to wrap yourself into a burrito of warmth and snugness. Flight socks and sleep suits are provided (though this means getting changed in the lavs) as well as earplugs, eye masks, and lavender pillow mist for full relaxation.

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Saying night-night to David, I settled into my bed for the trip and fell into a slightly-less-than-deep sleep for the duration. David headed over to the bar, located towards the middle of the plane, and ended up chatting with a couple also heading to NYC for New Years. I’m sure he got some sleep at some point but honestly, I had no idea.

Wake up calls, afternoon tea, and champagne for landing

An hour before we were due to land, we were given afternoon tea of cakes and small sarnies, as well as the last brew we’d have for the week. The seats are designed so that two people can sit opposite, one on the actual seat, and the other on the footstool/ottoman which has its own seatbelt. So we decided to make the most of it and have tea with style.

virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk virgin atlantic upper class review: london heathrow to new york jfk

With the captain giving orders to crew to prepare for landing, the crew magically turned our beds into seats while we slipped out of our sleepsuits and back into our clothes. Another round of drinks was passed through the cabin for all Virgin Atlantic Upper Class guests and buddies, so of course we accepted. We stared out the frosty windows at Long Island as the plane descended, genuinely sad it all had to end.

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Immigration at JFK

Here’s where it all fell wrong. On the US side. I genuinely can’t imagine how much of a ballache immigration will be when the orange-faced one takes the throne of America, but it’s just a massive shambles over there. Join this queue, join that queue, use the way-too-sensitive scanners that actually take far longer than a human would, then join another line so a human can check what the computer just did. After a good 20 minute wait, we finally left JFK’s immigration hall, only to have another wait for our bags.

Our luggage should have been last on first off. I can only imagine the moron who battered his girlfriend had his bags removed which messed everything up. So we waited. Oh, is that it? No. We waited more. And more. Half an hour later our bags started to arrive, and thus end of our journey.

Would we recommend Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?

In one word – yes. The crew aren’t stuffy in any sense. They’re there to have fun and make sure you do too. Want a glass of champagne? No problem. Fancy an Earl Grey? No worries! Cake? Stuff your face! The lay-flat beds are narrow, but they’re way better than trying to sleep in a barely-reclining chair. The only issue was the air conditioning which somehow was blowing directly on my face.  Trust me, it was nothing a duvet burrito couldn’t fix. And the Clubhouse took the stress of the departure away totally. I mean, what better way to start a trip than with a luxe little spa session beforehand?

Tickets aren’t cheap, by any means. But squirrelling air miles away, finding sale prices, and picking the right time to fly, it’s possible to bag seats cheaper than flying economy. You just have to be at the right place at the right time.

I wouldn’t hesitate at all to book again. In fact, we’re pretty sure it’s the only way we’ll try to fly from now on.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flights start from roughtly £1,700 return.

Homepage image via Shutterstock


I'm Laura. I write most of the stuff on six out of ten magazine, as well as other places all over the web and in printed words. I'm a fan of travel (clearly), good cocktails, and anything sweet.

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