There is mystique surrounding Virgin Atlantic, which I attribute to its superb advertising and marketing – including sexy tv spots, red uniforms, branding business class “Upper Class” and decking out its premium cabins with sparkling gold and classy walk-up bars.
Virgin Atlantic Check-In
We arrived at Cape Town a couple hours before flight, finding the check-in line deserted. It turned out the flight was lightly filled and Virgin has since suspended its Cape Town – London service. Nevertheless, the hard product and soft product on Virgin have not changed so this review will give you a current idea of what you can expect today.
A charming new hire checked us in, who was incredibly friendly and kind, but not very competent. Heidi was continuing to Basel and I was flying to LA, both on separate tickets, and so we had to interline our checked bags (and we each had two). She had no idea how to accomplish that and her supervisor was called over to walk her through it.
After 15 minutes of trial and error, bag tags finally emerged with the proper connecting flights. I wish I had checked my baggage receipt, though, because my connecting United flight to LA was not indicated there. Heidi’s bag made it, but mine never did. In fact, it was six days before I was re-united with my bag.
Virgin Atlantic Lounge
My wife was soon in a foul mood because her canned tuna was confiscated as a prohibited carry-on item. I told her there would be food in the lounge and a wide selection of onboard food, but she had her heart sent on her tuna. Truthfully, as one who cannot stand the smell of tuna, I was relieved I would not have to smell it wafting through the Upper Class cabin. But she apparently slipped one past security because she pulled one can out in the lounge…
Virgin Atlantic uses the Bidvest Premier Lounge which you can read more about here.
Sadly, it was no Heathrow Club House…
Virgin Atlantic 604
Cape Town (CPT) – London (LHR)
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Depart: 09:10 PM
Arrive: 07:30 AM+1
Duration: 11hr, 20min
Seat: 5A (Business “Upper” Class)
Boarding was called and we made our way onboard, surprised that though scheduled departure was 40 minutes away, we were among the last to board. My wife was oblivious to the fact we were flying in business class and was startled when we made a left turn upon boarding. Still perturbed by her missing tuna, she became indignant that I would spend extra miles for business class. I just smiled and said that after the month we just had, I was not about to fly 11 hours in economy class.
To jump ahead, Heidi fell asleep immediately after takeoff and slept without stirring for the next ten hours. I sure felt like gloating when she woke up refreshed, but I held my tongue and she apologized for complaining.
Virgin Atlantic uses herringbone-style lie-flat seats in Upper Class in a configuration in which each seat is fairly private. It is not great for traveling as couples, but quite comfortable for sleeping. Some complain the seat feels too narrow, like sleeping in a coffin, but I did not experience that.
Upon boarding, a very cheerful Margot greeted us and showed us to our seats, delivering pajamas, an amenity kit, and a copy of world’s greatest tabloid, The Daily Mail. A pre-departure beverage was offered in a glass and a supper menu and breakfast card were also distributed.
Virgin Atlantic, like Qantas and British Airways, uses a breakfast card on overnight services in which you can select items a la carte from the breakfast menu.
Virgin Atlantic Supper
After takeoff, drink orders were taken. The menu features a wide selection of cocktails and I ordered a Moscow Mule, which was promptly served with potato chips/crisps rather than mixed nuts. Without the copper cup, the Moscow Mule just wasn’t the same, but still acceptable. FAs also offered a hot towel.
In looking over the dinner menu, I went with the meatball dish – a favorite late-night snack of mine. Served with grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes, it was a very typical South African meal and tasty as well, but not too heavy. I began the meal with a bowl of split pea soup and an appetizer that featured a bit of eggplant, lobster, crab, and chicken, both of which were tasty.
The meal was fairly light so I had both a cheese plate and cake for dessert with a cup of hot chocolate.
Service throughout the meal was very friendly and attentive, with Margot and Rob keeping drinks refilled and making small talk. Virgin is much more laid back than British Airways and while I must admit I prefer the more formal service of BA, I got the sense that the service here onboard was very genuine. The crew enjoyed their jobs and it showed.
Virgin Atlantic Bar
After dinner, I checked out the onboard bar while my bed was being prepared. Note that on an A340, the bar is much smaller than the 747, with only three seats.
Still, pretty fancy for an airplane! And cool lights above as well–
Sorry for the blurry picture — incredibly hard to capture this in low light since it had to expose for a few seconds on a shaky plane…
Virgin Atlantic Lavatory
In short, the lavatories were clean and featured Cowshed amenities.
Virgin Atlantic Bed
Virgin Atlantic offers a mattress pad and duvet, adding to the comfort of the bed and I may not have slept as well as my wife, but was out for the next nine hours. Awake about an hour before landing, I saw Heidi stirring and suggested that we have breakfast together. It is a little snug in business class, but certainly possible.
Virgin Atlantic Breakfast
By this time I was quite hungry again and was glad I had ordered a full English Breakfast with a side off waffles and fruit with yogurt. The breakfast was a bit of a disappointment – the eggs were lukewarm and the waffles were soft. Still, the waffles had an amazing berry compote and the other components of the English breakfast were quite satisfactory. Heidi ordered eggs with salmon and mushroom and said that her breakfast was good. Fresh squeezed orange juice and my cappuccino were also good.
We landed in the fog of London on time and well-rested.
How I Booked It
The one-way ticket cost me 50K Virgin Atlantic miles, but the price is now 57.5K (for JNB-LHR). Virgin is an American Express and Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1 Transfer partner. Taxes/fees totaled $378 per ticket.
Booking was completed on Virgin’s website, though remember that you can hold space over the phone before transferring points if you are concerned about losing the space. I would have done it had the flight not shown seven business class award seats available just prior to the transfer.
An Upper Class booking does give you access to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow, which I was unable to check out because I was continuing on to Los Angeles on United.
It was great to experience Virgin Atlantic and I would not hesitate to choose them again.
Read More of My Month in Africa Trip Report
Introduction: A Month in Africa
Review: Houston to Lagos in United Airlines 787 Business
Transit in Lagos: Bribing My Way Out
Review: Oasis Lounge Lagos (LOS)
Review: Gabfol Lounge Lagos (LOS)
Lagos to Johannesburg in South African Airways Economy Class
Setting Up Shop in Pretoria
How to Obtain a South African Police Report
A Safari in Kruger National Park
Review: Nkambeni Safari Camp
Driving Through Swaziland
Review: Mountain Inn Mbabane, Swaziland
Review: Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia in British Airways Comair Economy Class
Our Humble Abode in Zambia
Victoria Falls from the Zambian Side
From Hate to Great: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
The Old House Guest Lodge – Kasane, Botswana
A Visit to Impalila Island, Namibia
Kasane, Botswana to Johannesburg on South African Airways (Airlink)
Review: Hyatt Regency Johannesburg (Suite)
Road Trip from Johannesburg to Lesotho
Review: South African Airways Domestic Voyager Lounge – JNB
The Cruel Poverty of Cape Town
The Robben Island Experience
A Photo Finish in Cape Town
Review: Bidvest Premier Lounge in Cape Town Airport