Britain’s two long-haul, full-service airlines – Virgin Atlantic and British Airways – have had many product innovations in the last few years. Both companies are updating their fleet with new aircraft and with those new aircraft come new Business Class cabins. BA has its Club Suite and Virgin has its Upper Class Suite. Incidentally, both are based on the same underlying product. You can read my review of the Virgin seat here and Chris’s review of the BA seat here.
The question I want to answer today is how do the “old” products compare to the new. It may sound like a silly comparison but it’s not. Both airlines now have a mixed fleet of products. You may fly the new seat or the old seat. Sometimes you won’t get a choice due to last-minute aircraft changes, or certain routes not having access to the new aircraft. After my experience with the Virgin A350 for example, I now optimise my plans for flying the 787.
Old Virgin Upper Class
I’ve written many trip reports covering this seat. For the purposes of this article, I’ll include some trip details from one of my recent transatlantic flights on the Virgin 787 which has this old seat fitted.
Despite being the last generation, I still think this seat is comfortable and the overall feeling of the Upper Class cabin on the 787 is spacious and airy. This is something Virgin got drastically wrong on the A350 where the cabin feels a lot more clinical than it does on the 787. The 787 and A330-300 have almost identical Upper Class cabins and both aircraft still have a bar.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Seat 787
When the seat is in its bed configuration, I think it excels. Yes, you have to flip the seat over to sleep, it’s not a fully recline into a flat bed type product, but this is good in my eyes. Once the seat is flipped, the bed surface is completely flat – something that is not true with the new product. I think the bed on the 787 is as comfortable as it looks in the picture!
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Seat in bed configuration
If you’re not using the seat to sleep, I find it to be quite comfortable to lounge in. It reclines a decent way back so you can put your feet up, read a book or watch a film. Even though the seats are ageing, the leather upholstery is standing up well and the overall structure of the seats is still good. I think this seat is much easier to get in and out of than the newer, more enclosed suite products.
Cost of upgrades
Business class is often out of reach for normal travellers from a cost point of view, unless there is a deal to be had. So if you can get a deal, even these older products are still worth it in my eyes.
For example, I regularly upgrade LHR-LAX Premium Economy tickets for 33,700 points + £230 one way. The cost of a cash upgrade on my last LAX flight was actually £499 from Premium to Upper Class which I thought was a bargain for an 11-hour flight. That’s actually the cheapest Virgin cash upgrade I’d ever seen for Premium to Upper Class.
If you’re flying overnight, the cost of that upgrade is worth it even for an older product. That’s because the benefit you’re really buying is a good night’s sleep. By getting that sleep, you’ll also accelerate your jet lag recovery after your trip.
Thoughts of a non-frequent flyer
My friend recently flew from Manchester to Johannesburg on a Virgin Atlantic 787. This isn’t a regular Virgin route, but rather a charter flight. She was lucky and got to sit in seat 6A for one leg of the journey. This was her verdict:
“I will never look at flying the same again. It genuinely made a huge difference to my experience on such a long flight. I didn’t even know you could turn the seat into a fully flat bed. Plus the fact the aircraft had a bar, that you can go and drink cocktails & eat your dinner at, is insane”. Laura L.
I honestly think that we frequent travellers are spoiled with all the new airline products on offer today. If you’re a semi-frequent traveller and you’re considering whether you should upgrade or not, if it’s a cheap upgrade or you can do so using points – do it. Even on an older aircraft, the experience should still be a step above what you’re used to. Plus, you will get to fly in a seat that will soon be confined to the history books. In Virgin’s case, I’ll miss the old Upper Class seat when it does finally go away.