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Virgin Atlantic’s new £100 million Upper Class Suite

Business travel just got a whole lot exclusive with Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class Dream Suite, Adelto’s Assif Majid joins its maiden voyage to New York.

The long-haul airliner has officially unveiled its redesigned Upper Class cabin complete with new Upper Class Suite and Sky Bar. Virgin Atlantic has spent four years researching and has invested £100 million into its Upper Class Dream Suite product, which includes a futuristic new cabin, a new fine dining meal service, a new 10,000 sq ft Clubhouse at New York JKF plus an additional overseas Clubhouse that will open by the end of the year.

Suite dreams are made of this–right?

The posh new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Dream Suite is being rolled out first on the new Airbus A330-300 on the VS003 from London Heathrow to New York and the VS004 back to London before rolling out across all aircraft joining Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow fleet over the next three years.

The new seats or ‘suites’ I should say in the staggered herringbone cabin arrangement have got business folk talking and taking notice, so the guys at Virgin Atlantic invited Adelto Magazine to come and review its daily flight from London Heathrow to New York JKF.

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First impressions: contemporary, sexy and chic

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Boarding

We departed from Gate 13, which was about a five-minute walk to the aircraft. The first thing you notice about the new configuration when you board the A300 is the bar—and WOW! It’s the longest bar in the sky, according to Virgin—and it now sits parallel to the aircraft, cleverly optimising the full width of the boarding area. At 2.7 metres long, the futuristic bar features Virgin Atlantic’s new coupe glass—perfect for quaffing champagne at 36,000 ft!

The bar is designed to seat three people but can accommodate up to eight, there is also a leaning area with ‘perches’ where you can park yourself against the back wall and admire the resident mixologists, as they prepare your favourite tipple.

The bar also has over a 1000 Swarovski crystals adorned to its curtain area for that Virgin Atlantic sparkle. The inspiration for the bar comes from various international hotels and the current pop up bar concept, says Gareth Southall, senior designer—and the lighting is very Tron-esque.

As I boarded the plane I was greeted by an airhostess who took my coat and directed me to my seat and offered me a drink: “Would sir care for some champagne perhaps?”

After seeing the bar I turned left into the cabin area, you can’t fail to notice the distinctive ‘staggered herringbone’ layout—it was very impressive. There are a total of 33 seats in Upper Class in a 1-2-1 zig-zag configuration.

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So what’s the seat like you’re asking?

Virgin say: “The revolutionary Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class Suite features a new comfort system allowing a more luxurious and comfortable sleep than ever before. With a huge 87-inch bed surface, the seat is longer than any other airlines business bed.”

Couples may find the zig-zag seating plan annoying as you can’t really communicate between each other but then Virgin has its in-flight entertainment centre called JAM, but I’ll come onto this later.

The traditional Virgin colours have been banished, as the new seats are in ‘espresso’, the Virgin colours can instead be found in the innovative mood lighting, which has been designed alongside architectural lighting experts DHA, changing colour throughout the flight to help you relax, unwind, fall asleep and adjust to time zones—splendid—no more panda eyes!

Gareth Southall, senior designer at Virgin Atlantic, tells me that “a holistic approach” was used when designing the mood lighting. “All the lighting is bespoke,” he adds.

I was sat in seat 5A, a window seat but the simple pleasure of looking out was near impossible due to the slanted seats. On the return flight I was sat in seat 1K, another window seat. The Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class Suite has done with the overhead lockers for the centre seats meaning there is plenty of headroom giving a sense of openness and light.

The seats are ingeniously designed by Virgin Atlantic’s in-house design team in conjunction with Penegelly Design. There is one armrest, which folds away into the wall and there is also a small flip down cocktail table. A small ottoman at the end of the suite doubles up as a storage unit if you lift it up—it can also be used as a seat for face-to-face dining with one another—very clever! However, there is no seat belt for your guest if they choose to dine with you, during turbulence they would have to go back to their seat.  Virgin Atlantic’s designers tell us this is something they are looking into.

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The seat goes fully flat by folding it over revealing a softer side for sleeping on. You get your own ‘Snooze Pack’, which includes a sleep suit (pyjamas, t-shirt), socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and ear plugs. The bed was extremely comfy and the pillow was amazing. I slept like a baby on the return journey, a red eye flight.

The table, which comes out with a press of a button, is well designed you can bring it back and forth depending on your preference. And it’s huge so you will have no problem working from it with your laptop.

You are able to use your mobile phone to send/receive SMS, make phone calls and use the Internet through the Aeromobile system. I was alerted of this about 40 minutes into the journey with a text message when I switched my phone back on. The message also asked me to set my phone to vibrate. I made one call but the reception was quite poor. I didn’t get to use the Internet, apparently only six people at a time can use the Internet and each time I tried to connect it would not work.

The Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class Suite has a revamped in-flight entertainment system called JAM. This includes a 12.1 inch touchscreen monitor with a touchscreen handset, a bit like a PSP console.  There are more than 50 films, TV shows on offer and more than 200 music albums to choose from. I watched the ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and then had ‘MDNA’ on repeat. You can also create your own playlist, leave travel tips for other travelers and connect your smartphone, laptop, tablet or PC, through a sensibly located power socket between your legs.

The special in-flight drink of choice was Gin Kiss, a contemporary spin on the classic G&T, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, cranberry juice, lomonade, lime wedges and served with a flower and ‘Little Richards’—ice cubes moulded in the shape of Richard Branson’s face.

Ensconced in my own little booth I was handed a fragranced hot towel to freshen up before dinner and given a bottle of water.

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Menu

The following options were available on the London to New York flight:

Starters:

– Cream of pea soup with pea shoots
– Prawn cocktail with little gem lettuce, fresh lemon and Marie Rose sauce

Main Courses

– Grilled fillet of beef with Cabernet Sauvignon sauce, parsley mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and asparagus
– Thai red chicken curry served with egg noodles, red chilli and coriander
– Dolcelatte cheese and walnut tortellini. Pommery mustard sauce, Italian hard cheese and fresh rocket (V)

Warm breads

Dessert

– Lemon tart with berry compote
– Warm sticky toffee pudding served with fresh cream

Cheese and port

Barber’s Cheese, Shropshire Blue Cropwell Bishop, Ilchester Double Gloucester served with Car’ Table Water Crackers and stilton and walnut biscuits with red onion chutney.

In addition there was a Graze menu, which is for quick snacks:

– Mini beef burger with bacon, cheese and Bloody Mary relish.
– Chicken Caesar salad
– Vegetarian sushi selection: mixed vegetable California roll, sweetcorn in a Japanese mayonnaise and vegetable tempura (V)

Wine list

Champagne:

– Lanson Black Label

White:

– Berrys Mosel Riesling 2010 (Germany)
– No Stone Unturned Semillion / Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Australia)
– La Montagne Noire Viognier 2010 (France)

Red:

– Ribera del Duero, 5 Meses, Bodegas Monteabellon 2010 (Spain)
– The Trumpeter Malbec 2010 (Argentina)
– Cucao Merlot Riserva 2010 (Chile)

About 90 minutes before landing, we were served a very nice “High Tea”.

– A selection of freshly prepared sandwiches: Cheddar and Red Leicester with sun-dried tomato, hot chilli roasted salmon with lemon mayonnaise, bacon, lettuce and tomato.
– Warm sultana scone served with clotted cream and strawberry jam
– Your choice of cakes, brownie, Bakewell slice and profiterole

And on the return flight from New York to London the options were:

Starters

– Cream of leak soup with toasted croutons (V)
– Salmon rillette with fingerling potato salad, toasted crostini and fresh lemon

Main Courses

– Braised short rib of beef with potato confit, glazed vegetables and red wine sauce
– Pan-roasted free-range chicken breast stuffed with truffled mushrooms served with crushed red skin potatoes and broccoli with chilli and garlic
– Rolled lasagne topped with roasted pepper sauce, fresh rocket and shaved Italian hard cheese (V)

Warm Breads

Dessert

New York cheese cake with Chantilly cream

Cheese

Azores, Mild Farmhouse Cheddar and Wisconsin Blue served with Carr’s Table Water crackers.

In addition there was a “Rise and Shine” menu

– A selection of breakfast cereals (Cornflakes, Fruit ‘n Fibre, Rude Muesli and Special K
– Bacon butty a bacon roll made on soft brown bread with ketchup or brown sauce
– Bagel with cream cheese
– Orange juice

Before the plane begins to descend you are given hot towels again. Once you’ve passed the notorious US immigration system there is a chauffeur driven limo service, as there was so many of us, we had a special bus arranged to The Standard New York Hotel, which we will be reviewing next week.

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Editor’s Verdict

What a fabulous experience. I don’t think you will be disappointed. It is clear a lot of thought and effort has gone into the design and research of the Virgin Atlantic new Upper Class Suite and Virgin should be congratulated for this. They offer something unique from all the other luxury airliners and their service is second to none.

For further information or bookings visit: virginatlatic.com or call 1800 862 8621.

What’s your view on Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class Suite?  Reply in the comments area below or join the conversation on Twitter: we’re @Adelto

Later in the week we will be reviewing Virgin Atlantic’s new JKF New York Clubhouse. Click here for a review of  Virgin Atlantic’s London Heathrow Clubhouse.

About

Assif is a luxury travel and design aficionado currently working as a BBC content producer. He holds an MA in journalism from the University of Leeds. He is partial to tea and cake - Yorkshire Tea Gold Blend please. His favourite trips include island hopping in the Seychelles, a mountain escape in Kashmir and getting lost in Hong Kong.

Assif is the current editor of Adelto Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @journolista.

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May 23, 2012 | Travel Reviews | View comments

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