Virgin Atlantic – premium economy class

Aircraft Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600

Route Los Angeles International Airport LAX to London Heathrow LHR

Class premium economy, seat 21D

Seat pitch and seat width 40 inches and 20 inches seat pitch, but the clunky arm rest design meant it intruded 1½ inches into your space at the top, at waist height

Seat configuration two-three-two

Luggage allowance two bags, each no more than 23kg checked in luggage and one piece of hand luggage also no more than 23kg plus a laptop bag or briefcase

Airport and lounge access LAX Terminal 3 is catastrophic disappointment. Given how other major international airports have grown and developed, offer travellers a wide range of choices or shops, bars, cafés, restaurants and diners – and even many other features, like observation decks, kids areas and business centres. Once past security, there’s a couple of coffee shops, a small offering of two restaurants and a token souvenir shop here and there…and that’s about it. Thankfully, there is free Wi-Fi now – because there didn’t used to be. It’s not great and you’re constantly prompted to upgrade to a premium rate full day pass, but it’s better than nothing.

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have a dedicated lounge at Terminal 3, instead it shares a lounge with Air New Zealand on the first floor. Only passengers flying Upper Class (first class) and gold status loyalty card members have access to this. You can pay $60 for a day pass, but only if the lounge isn’t full.

Scheduled flight time 9 hours 55 minutes

Punctuality The aircraft was about 10 minutes late leaving the departure gate and it made up over 45 minutes during the flight, but because of our early arrival at London Heathrow the aircraft had to fly in a stack for 20 minutes. So all in all we were about 15 minutes early in landing.

Condition of the aircraft Actually, it was quite clean and the toilets – aside from being possibly the smallest airline toilet I have ever seen – were kept reasonably clean throughout the flight. However, the interior design, seats and the IFE are all looking dated now.

In-flight entertainment Virgin’s IFE called Vera offers audio visual on demand (often referred to as AVOD), even though the system isn’t activated until the aircraft is well and truly on its way, unlike some airlines like Emirates. The 9-inch display suffered in bright light and when the seat in front was reclined. The choice of movies wasn’t bad despite there being little in the way of classics, instead the majority comprised of recent offerings including Thor 2, Rush, Kick Ass 2 and so on. However, it did stay on as we circled in a stack over London Heathrow, which went a long way to relieve the monotony as we round and round.

The handheld controller looked pretty dated and the controls weren’t very responsive.

The entertainment guide is called Vera magazine and has quite a badly laid out film section with descriptions of films that aren’t on your IFE or very generic descriptions of TV programs that tell you nothing about which particular episode it is. There’s no inflight magazine with editorial content as such, just this and the inflight shopping catalogue called Retail Therapy.

Comfort The fact that Virgin calls this ‘premium economy’ still confuses most passengers. Virgin only offers three types of class, Economy, Premium Economy and Upper Class. So, most equate this to what everyone else calls ‘business class’, but this isn’t a strictly accurate reflection. It’s certainly more than a standard economy class, but it’s far from what other airlines offer in business class, say Etihad for example. It’s more comparable to what British Airways offers in its premium economy, although BA offers a small selection of premium economy in addition to regular economy, business class and first class on most flights.

Consequently, anyone expecting a full, flat bed is going to be sorely disappointed. There’s a little more legroom with Virgin Atlantic premium economy than with British Airways  – five inches more, but unlike most other business class seats these only recline about 40 degrees. My seat was also broken as it it rocked back and forth every time I got up and sat down, much to the annoyance I’m sure of the gentleman behind me. The fold-out table was fitted into the arm rest and was heavy and difficult to get out. I cut my hand on my first attempt to get it out, but once it was out, it was a little low and meant you couldn’t exhale much or undo your belt buckle and let it all hang out. However, it was far enough away from the seat in front to be able to have a laptop out and not have to worry about a damaged screen should the person in front recline suddenly and without warning.

The 3.5mm headphone socket was located in the side of the seat – so that if you chose to use your own headphones and the jack was one that wasn’t at a right angle, you ran the risk of accidentally knocking it and bending or even breaking it. There are powerpoints, but you need to request a specific adapter from the cabin crew as the port is one of those ones that’s like a cigarette lighter charger in a car, plus you need to have a UK plug on your power cable. The cabin crew also insist that you use them to power a device, not charge it. Basically, this means you can’t simply plug a device in and leave it, you actually have to be using it.

If you do happen to be on this type of aircraft in Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy, I strongly recommend that you avoid row 23 at all costs. This was right next to the toilet door and I mean if it had been any closer you could’ve chatted away as you sat on the karzy. So, God knows what it must have been like to sit in that premium economy seat after having shelled out for it only to have a new waft of bottom smells every single time someone used the bathroom. Eeeuw.

Service The cabin crew were for the most part pretty helpful. One steward in particular, Gareth, was very chatty and very helpful, going out of his way to make me a filter coffee on more than one occasion. That said, dinner was really rushed. We’d only just been given our trays when the cabin crew started coming around again collecting them. You had to either wolf everything down and give yourself indigestion or be prepared to suffer with a tray on your fold-out table for ages ’cause you missed the ‘pick up’ but savoured the meal.

Food and beverages Upon settling down in our seats, we were offered a choice of either sparkling white wine – not champagne – and orange juice. This was the only time these were offered, aside from the one time the drinks trolley came around. The menu is identical to that served in standard economy, the only difference is this is served on a tray with a mini white table cloth of sorts, the food is served in china and comes with metal cutlery. The starter was a Mesclun salad, which was a mix of small leaves and tomatoes and came with a vinaigrette dressing. The main course consisted of a choice of either braised beef in red wine wine sauce or chicken Marsala. There was also a vegetarian option of Fusilli pasta with an aubergine and courgette ragoût.

Opting for the latter, the Italian herbed chicken was served in a sweet Marsala sauce and came with mashed potatoes, green beans and sautéed mushrooms. According to the menu it’s “simply delicious” and actually it wasn’t terrible. The chunk of chicken breast was larger than I was expecting and it was still very moist and succulent.  The green beans had a hint of garlic, which was nice and the mashed potato was thick and creamy. Desert was a cookies and cream cheesecake with a chocolatey biscuit crunch, which on the whole was pretty good, although it could have done with being chilled for a bit longer.

There was no choice of wine with dinner, if you asked for red you were given a mini bottle of French Les Marin Merlot, which for a Merlot wasn’t too bad, but that was it.

Breakfast was actually a nice surprise, instead of a token joke-of-a-sandwich we got a half-decent cooked breakfast made up of light, fluffy scrambled eggs with chopped chives mixed in, a very small strip of bacon,  a generous helping of rösti potatoes and one or two baked beans. So aside from being a little heavy on the eggs and potato and a little slim on the beans and bacon, it was still better than a half-hearted snack. There was also a vegetarian option made if scrambled eggs, button mushrooms, rösti potatoes and baked beans. Both were served with either tea of coffee.

Flight frequency twice daily in both directions

Cost of ticket $3,380 (£2,030) one way from Los Angeles International Airport LAX to London Heathrow LHR


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