- MailOnline Travel’s Ted Thornhill flew upper class from Heathrow to Johannesburg and back
- He was whisked to the upper class wing at Heathrow in a limo first then quaffed champagne in the lounge
- On board he enjoyed the gourmet food, cocktail bar and comfy leather seat, and the chirpy service
- However, it wasn’t perfection at 38,000ft – there was a peculiar problem with the duvet
As the plane drops violently in the turbulence I grab the side of my pod and my heart leaps.
I’m flying ‘upper class’ with Virgin Atlantic from Johannesburg to London on a Dreamliner. But turning left doesn’t mean that turbulence is turned off. It just means the quality of the drinks being spilled is much higher.
The jolt is so severe that the captain is motivated to apologise to those on board shortly afterwards. ‘Sorry about that ladies and gentlemen,’ he says smoothly. ‘We just caught the edge of a storm back there. I do apologise.’
MailOnline’s Ted Thornhill flew upper class from London to Johannesburg and back
There are 31 ‘espresso leather’ seats in the Virgin Atlantic upper class cabin, arranged in a 1-1-1 formation
I relax and sip my stonkingly good Churton pinot noir, from New Zealand – chosen for the upper class wine list by elite London wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd – and gaze around.
My ‘espresso leather’ seat is one of 31 arranged in a 1-1-1 formation and is supremely comfortably with lots of support. Plus, it has a little footrest that doubles as a seat for a friend, which even has its own seatbelt.
I feel nicely cocooned with leather-trimmed arched dividers on either side preventing those next to me from spying which guilty-pleasure movie I’m watching (OK, fine, it’s Transformers!).
The screen is 11 inches across, which isn’t industry leading, but a definite step-up from an economy screen. It’s manoeuvrable, too – it can be tilted up and down and pushed back and forth with ease.
The seat is highly manoeuvrable as well, with buttons to my right that alter the recline angle.
Back I go while I lap up the Virgin Atlantic service.
The airline has a good reputation in this area and the crew on the trip out to Johannesburg and on this return leg don’t disappoint – they’re friendly, chatty, upbeat and efficient (it takes a matter of seconds to be offered champagne upon boarding).
The food served in upper class is excellent, with choices on Ted’s journey including fillet steak in a caramelised garlic sauce with dauphinoise potatoes and mozzarella carpaccio. And the restaurant-standard tablecloth is a nice touch
The salt and pepper pots are very cool and highly coveted – they are stamped with the message ‘pinched from Virgin Atlantic’
Illuminating: Upper class seats can be reclined at the touch of a button (left). But passengers must stand up and fold the seat over before using the lie-flat switch (right)
The bar is surely the piece de resistance of the upper class experience. Ted highly recommends gathering here for a few snifters with one’s travelling companions
And the fodder and food they bring to my seat is pretty gourmet.
On the way out I tuck into a tender fillet steak in a caramelised garlic sauce with dauphinoise potatoes with a refreshing tomato and mozzarella carpaccio for starters. Tonight I opt for a mushroom risotto and a panna cotta for dessert.
Notable nod-of-approval touches include two very cool salt and pepper pots shaped like little propeller planes with the message ‘pinched from Virgin Atlantic’ on the bottom and a proper linen table cloth.
Dinner over, it’s time for a drink at the bar, surely the piece de resistance of the cabin.
It’s while having a chinwag around this with my travelling companions and a few cheeky snifters that the upper class experience really takes off.
But it isn’t perfection.
I like the feeling of being cocooned in Virgin’s pods – but I’ve experienced business class seats with more storage space – on Finnair’s A330, for instance.
And while the seat folds down at the touch of a button into a very comfy flatbed, it has to be done in two stages. To go from reclining club-style seat to bed you need to stand up, fold the seat over, then hold down a button to flatten it.
A seat that flattens in one movement would be ideal.
And peculiarly, on the return journey, my duvet emerges from its bag feeling cold and damp. Clean, but wet.
A stewardess informs me that one other person has flagged a similar issue.
My guess is that it hasn’t been dried properly by the laundry team.
It doesn’t put too much of a dampener on things, though. I’ve got a (dry) pillow and mattress and once the Virgin Atlantic pyjamas are on (yes, they hand them out mid-flight) I get a solid four or five hours sleep under some blankets fetched by the stewardess.
And I wake up to a tasty full English with a croissant and coffee.
The upper class experience isn’t over yet though.
I head to the stylish ‘revivals lounge’ at Heathrow for a pick-me-up coffee and a banana.
Virgin Atlantic has a good reputation for service – and Ted couldn’t fault the staff on both legs of his long-haul journey
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow is rightly a legend among lounges. It features a 14-metre cocktail bar, a spa and the staff distribute decent champagne without hesitation
Ted was allowed to sit in the captain’s seat at Heathrow before take-off. Here the captain reassured him that ‘yes, I do know what all the buttons do’
The lounge offers a lot more though – showers, full breakfasts and even a shirt pressing service, so that anyone going straight to work can arrive looking pin sharp.
It’s impressive, but not as impressive as the Virgin Clubhouse we hang out in before our outward flight from Heathrow. This is so good it poses a threat to boarding the aircraft on time.
It boasts a 14-metre cocktail bar, power showers and a spa that offers everything from haircuts to manicures.
No wonder it’s a legend among lounges.
And I arrive there having been chauffeured in a flash Merc to a private check-in area by Virgin’s limo service. There I’m in a queue of zero and a member of staff even takes my bag from the boot of the car to the luggage conveyor belt for me, before I negotiate the private security area.
Here one other solitary traveller has the effrontery to delay me by a handful of seconds.
Virgin Atlantic upper class? The odd damp duvet aside, it’s sheer class.
Upper class fares to Johannesburg from London vary but cost from around £4,500 to £6,000 return. For more information visit www.virginatlantic.com.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online