BACKGROUND: March 2018 saw Virgin Atlantic announce that it was launching a second daily flight between London and Johannesburg from October. The new flight – also operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – was scheduled to depart Heathrow at 16h45 and land in Johannesburg at 05h40 local time. The return flight was scheduled to leave Johannesburg at 22h20, landing at Heathrow at 07h30.
CHECK-IN & SECURITY: I jumped off the tube and followed the signs to the correct terminal, where I found nothing in the way of a queue at check-in. Virgin Atlantic and Delta share a check-in area at Terminal 3 and Virgin has a dedicated desk for Upper Class passengers. I was early, but decided to use the self-service counters nearby, checked in, and printed my boarding pass. Thereafter, I was directed to the elevator next to the check-in desks which took me upstairs to Virgin Atlantic’s private security screening area. Just a warning that the Heathrow security processes are pretty stringent. Don’t leave this late!
LOUNGE: I then made my way to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which has many separate areas including an upstairs ‘den’ with a pool table, a quiet working area sectioned off by a glass wall, a kids’ section, spa, and various seating options on different levels. I did struggle to find a spot with a plug for a few minutes, but eventually did in a bar-type area where a waiter quickly appeared to take my order. I stuck to water ahead of my flight and gladly wolfed down a delicious hamburger from the à la carte menu. I had some time on my hands after that – and even though you’d usually struggle to get me to leave the Clubhouse – I popped out to do some duty-free shopping, having stored my bag with the lounge staff.
BOARDING: On return, the lounge staff said they’d call my 22h30 flight and they did at around 21H40. I made my way to Gate 13, where I had priority boarding, although I first went into a waiting room and waited about 10 minutes before priority boarding actually took place. So, there was a slight delay there. Once boarded, I was offered champagne, orange juice and water, had my coat taken, and I settled into my seat.
THE SEAT: The seat I found comfortable with fairly basic controls. To put the seat into the fully-flat position requires the help of a flight attendant – unless you’ve done it before – and you need to leave your seat. Otherwise, everything was fairly user-friendly, including a convenient plug point to charge my laptop and cellphone. I checked out the inflight entertainment and picked a movie, before doing a quick tour to see the bar area at the back of Upper Class. There was also a snack area where you can help yourself to a variety of drinks and snacks. Back in my seat, I explored the Herschel amenity kit and made myself comfortable.
SEAT PREFERENCE: The seat configuration in Upper Class is a herringbone configuration, in 1-1-1 layout. This means that the seats face away from the window. The seats on the left-hand side of the cabin are the more private, as the middle aisle backs onto you, so you are just looking at the wall to the rear of the seats. My preference would be for seats 1A to 11A, although 1 is closest to the galley and 11 closest to the bar. The middle seats are numbered 1G-9G and these look directly at 1K-11K, so bear that in mind, if picking a middle seat. Again, I would avoid 1K and 11K for the reasons already stated.
THE FLIGHT: There is wi-fi available onboard, but I opted not to try it out and instead went straight for a movie, whilst looking forward to a late dinner. This was in the form of the rump steak in rich braising sauce, with tomato and mozzarella tortellini and sautéed garlic kale. Delicious. I skipped desert, stayed hydrated with water, and settled into my movie, before passing out later. I woke about 90 minutes before landing, having enjoyed a great night’s sleep on the flat bed, and requested a cup of tea, which arrived promptly. The same could be said for our flight, which landed bang on time in Johannesburg.
VERDICT: Outstanding option for the London-Johannesburg route, particularly if you’ve got time to explore the Clubhouse!