Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 Upper Class Suite



I skirted Gatwick check-in having originated my flight in Johannesburg on Virgin Atlantic to London the night before; so pre-armed with an Orlando flight boarding pass I caught a National Express coach at Heathrow and transferred across to Gatwick with my luggage easily and in under an hour.  Owing to the change of airport I had to check my baggage in (done in less than five minutes) before being whisked into the comfort of the brand new Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which opened earlier this year.

I had elected to self-travel, but there is an available chauffeur drive service which will take you through Virgins unique Drive-Thru Check-In which enables you to bypass the terminal and head straight for the Clubhouse, if you so feel inclined, for a little extra on your ticket price. Virgin’s Clubhouses are renowned for quirkiness, funkiness and a little fun. I love the meal selections which allow me to eat (and well) before the flight and thus avoid the finicky table service when on-board.  There’re the usual spa treatments from the Cowshed Spa and a good bar service too.

This lounge is a little less business-focused than its famous sister at Heathrow; probably because Virgin flies to a lot of holiday destinations out of Gatwick – Orlando being no exception. I had picked a flight over the English half-term school holidays and the airport had been teeming with families and over-excited children. The lounge itself was an oasis of calm (there was a sound-proofed playroom stuffed with electronics just in case the well-heeled travel with their children).


While other airlines offer a business class seat, Virgin boasts an Upper Class Suite. All of its aircraft have been fitted with one of the longest flattest bed/seats in the air.  In the seat mode, you sit snugly in a personal cocoon-like compartment complete with its own ottoman footrest which doubles as a guest seat should you wish to converse with a fellow traveller. At 56cm wide it’s amply proportioned and offers a wrap-over generously sized table or workstation, a personalised 23cm TV screen with noise-cancelling headphones and assorted armrest and drink stations along with additional seat-back lumbar support. The inflight entertainment system is a lot older and seemingly ‘clunkier’ than newer Airbus offerings on this older Boeing 747, but still offers a good movie, audio and TV selection. Interestingly, whilst laptop charger plugs are built into each seat, the necessary connector cables are no longer supplied free of charge, but are on sale in the inflight magazine.  “Not worth it though” said my attentive crew member, “as they’re too expensive for what they are”.

Folded into a fully flat bed by the on-board crew, at the touch of a button your seat transforms into a 202cm long bed, complete with an under sheet and a duvet.  At the shoulder it reaches across some 84 cm of space.  You can even have the famous Virgin breakfast in bed if you wish. Two bacon rolls with HP sauce and a mug of steaming coffee for me every time! It’s all very private – although it took me a while to get used to looking across the cabin at my fellow travellers all carefully cocooned and wrapped away in individual comfort.  At least everyone has an aisle of their own though; and with no more than four suites per cabin section the seat suites are all positioned diagonally forwards. Shades of a spaceship in a sci-fi movie perhaps?

Virgin’s famous complimentary Sleeper Suits are still provided along with an Upper Class Snooze Pack which sensibly configures itself into a shoe bag after disgorging the essential eyeshades, earplugs, toothbrush and paste. There was a full bar on-board to sit at and engage with other passengers; but as on every other Virgin flight I have ever made – no-one made use of it at all.  Overall; a great experience – and especially as I was on the ground in Orlando for only one meeting; flying Virgin ensured a great sleep and rest on the journey in and out the following day


An Upper Class Return journey on this route is around R39 500 at the time of going to press.


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