Flight Check: Virgin Atlantic

A380 Premium Economy London – Johannesburg


Background: Virgin Atlantic launched its premium economy product as far back as 1992 and has arguably been one of the market leaders in this space. The airline currently flies to Johannesburg and Lagos in Africa, and in October celebrated 20 years of flying the London-Johannesburg route.

Check-in: I was fortunate to be able to use the Virgin Atlantic drive-through check-in system. The process involved providing one name of the party I was with through an intercom system situated within the Heathrow complex, after which a short drive delivered us to a private, quiet and secluded check-in entry. There we were welcomed, our bags were taken, and a few steps later we were through check-in and on to security. Anyone who has been through Heathrow security will tell you that it’s fairly stringent. Make sure you remove any liquids and place in the provided plastic bags, whilst liquids of 100ml and more are prohibited.

Lounge & Boarding: The Virgin Clubhouse is nothing short of impressive. A vast expanse opens up in front of you once you enter, with a host of different seating options available all around the lounge. The food offering is also extensive, whilst a long bar is right in front of you, when you enter. There’s also a library and other glassed-off secluded areas for those who fancy some quiet, including a small space upstairs and an open-air area above that looks onto the tarmac. Back downstairs you have the option of playing pool, grabbing a massage (comes highly recommended) or haircut, or seating yourself down in front of two enormous TV screens with individual audio headsets. As one would expect, there are a host of newspapers and magazines available at the entrance, along with numerous UK plug points – make sure you have an adaptor! We were so enamoured with the lounge, we didn’t hear our flight being called to Gate 21. A short, brisk walk later we were delivered to the plane via a short bus ride, after which we boarded, were greeted and shown to our seats.

The Seat: I was in seat 23H, which was an aisle set in the third row in premium economy. So, far enough from the bathroom to not always be in the firing line and constantly jostled! There were five rows with a configuration of 2-3-2, making for a total of 35 premium economy seats. Of course there’s the additional leg-room, which for a tall person like myself is a godsend, and then the other convenient touches, such as in-seat power, whilst the inflight entertainment offering was endless.

The Flight: We were scheduled to take off at 18h55, but we only pushed back at that time, before taking off around 19h15. Drinks were served fairly promptly and dinner arrived about 90 minutes into the flight. I opted for the braised pork belly with glazed apple, cider gravy and crackling. It was delicious with the pork incredibly tender. I made sure I started my movie soon after take-off, to ensure I could finish it early enough for a decent amount of sleep. After dinner I grabbed a small chocolate from the self-service galley area (‘Wander Wall’), before pushing my seat back and grabbing some shut-eye. Even though I traditionally struggle to sleep in any airline seat other than a lie-flat option, I managed to get a decent amount on this occasion and woke as breakfast was being served, about two hours prior to landing. I decided not to eat, squeezed in another movie before landing, and even had time to brush my teeth before we started our descent.

Arrival: Despite the late take-off, we landed around 07H40, about 15 minutes early. There was a short wait before disembarking, and as I was situated close to the front of premium economy, I was quickly off the plane and on my way to immigration. Fortunately, there was no queue and I was through in minutes.
Verdict: There’s no substitute for a lie-flat bed, but if the business class fare is too rich for your blood and you want something a notch above economy, then you won’t go wrong with this product.

Dylan Rogers


Previous articleRiding the Wave
Next articleHotel Check: The Maslow