Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1000 Economy Review

Since Virgin Atlantic launched their new Airbus A350 there has been a lot of talk surrounding the new Suite product. In fact, there has been so much talk about it that I forgot there was even an economy product onboard. On a recent trip to New York, however, I found myself without a flight home and without hesitation was on Virgin Atlantic’s website looking at prices.

Booking

Usually, my flights with Virgin Atlantic are paid using points seeing as I am a big fan of their mileage plan. Points are transferable to Virgin from American Express at a 1:1 ratio and you’ll only need 10,000 points to book this trip in off-peak season. Seeing as this plane has just been launched, however, there were absolutely no points seats available in any class and an Upper Class ticket would have set me back a lot more than I could afford. With this in mind, I opted for an economy class ticket which carried a cost of around £180 one way. This isn’t a bad price one way from New York to London and I jumped on it.

I booked this ticket using my American Express Gold Card because of the 3x point multiplier on transactions directly with airlines. Booking this ticket therefore earned me just under 600 American Express Membership Rewards Points.

Ground Experience

Virgin Atlantic use Terminal 4 at New York JFK and I arrived on the air train from Jamaica station. Seeing as I wasn’t checking in a bag, I headed straight through security which had a waiting time of around 20 minutes and down to the gate area. Economy passengers are not eligible to use the Virgin Atlantic lounge unless they are Flying Club Gold members with Virgin Atlantic in which case lounge access is complimentary. I was able to visit the lounge so headed upstairs by gate A5 where I entered and enjoyed a complimentary ‘unwind’ body massage, a full a la carte dinner, complimentary drinks and a game of pool before heading back to the gate area. You can read my review of that lounge here.

Once I reached the gate I was amazed at how busy it was. Every single queue was bustling with life and staff were loudly announcing that only Sky Priority could board the plane. Seeing as I was Sky Priority, I headed into the premium queue and within 5 minutes was walking down the jetbridge onto the new Airbus A350.

The Flight

Once onboard, I was directed to my seat by the cabin crew who were instantly less welcoming than I expected. I had been lucky enough to secure one of the seats at the front of the economy cabin and once I reached it I realised it was a bulkhead window seat! Beaming with happiness I checked online expertflyer.com to see if I had fellow passengers in this row and found that I didn’t, another score.

The legroom in this bulkhead row is significantly better than that in the rows behind me and before anybody else got onboard I had a chance to sample the legroom they had. For passengers not in the bulkhead, I found it to be super tight around the legs and would not want to find myself in a middle seat in economy on this plane. Having flown in on TAP Portugal’s A330NEO, I was surprised at the lack of space on these seats and not impressed at all.

Before long, I realised that expertflyer had done me dirty and I did in fact have two fellow passengers in seats B and C. With fixed armrests, however, I’m not sure how much of a difference having a free row would have been.

The Seat

I have to say upon arriving on the aircraft I was a little disappointed with both the width and pitch of Virgin’s seat. My bulkhead seat had reduced width which is standard on all airlines and aircraft because of the need to squeeze a table and screen into the arm rest but legroom was greatly enhanced.

Behind me, however, legroom was incredibly tight, and I would not have wanted to spend my 7 hours in those seats.

Each seat features two USB plugs, a tray table, a personal monitor and movable headrest. My seat had the same features but they were just located in different places from the seats behind me. Above each seat is a personal air conditioning nozzle, a light and a screen displaying the usual seat belt and smoking signs.

The inflight entertainment systems were really impressive on this plane. I’m not aware if they are new for this aircraft but if so, Virgin have done really well. There was an excellent selection of films and TV alongside a moving, controllable map and tail cameras. I was really disappointed to see British Airways didn’t add tailcams on their A350 so when I saw Virgin opted for that option, I was very impressed.

The screen was very responsive and acted quickly on my touch. I didn’t manage to watch any films because of the amount of work I had to do on this overnight flight but with the quality of the headphones, I’m not sure I would have wanted to. Luckily, I still had my headphones from the day before’s flight on TAP Portugal so used them when I did start a film towards the end of the flight.

I was lucky enough to be sat in the front economy cabin which had a cosy 8 rows of 9 seats. The rear cabin houses a further 19 rows of 9 seats and felt far less private.

In front of each seat is a literature pocket which was filled with two inflight magazines, a safety card for the new plane, a sick bag and supplied a perfect place to store your menu and passport.

Finally, waiting on each seat was a standard uncomfortable economy pillow, a nice red blanket and a pair of appallingly quiet headphones which I asked to change. Once the headset was replaced, I realised the problem wasn’t just apparent in the first pair but standard across all pairs and opted to use my buds instead.

The A350 is fitted with WiFi throughout which was quiet reasonably priced. You could purchase a full flight messaging package for £2.99 which I assume allowed WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, a further £6.99 got you access to WiFi for an hour and for £20.99 you could watch crazy cat videos for the whole flight. As usual, I opted for the relaxing option at £0.00 which allowed me to not check my phone every second and actually relax for once.

Service

Something that really impressed me about this flight was the speed of the service. It only took the crew 10 minutes to start the first drinks service from which I asked for a white wine. The wine was ok and tasted slightly bitter but I find that with almost every white wine on offer in economy. It was nice to see that I was given a little bottle instead of being poured a glass like the day before on TAP. The wine was served with a bag of pretzels which went down a treat.

Something I always love about Virgin Atlantic crew is how energetic and bubbly they are and seeing as I had never flown them in economy before, I was eager to find out if this was the same across all cabins. Unfortunately, I found the crew to be less engaging than on previous occasions which I understand is to be expected in economy where they have to cater for hundreds of passengers. I am a big believer in crew making or breaking a flight and on this flight I think they played a key roll in making me identify the negatives of the product. They seemed annoyed to be working in economy overnight which I totally understand but shouldn’t be shown to passengers.

Around 1 hour and 30 minutes after taking off, the crew were around with meals and a choice of gnocchi, barbecued pulled pork and chicken curry. I opted for chicken curry and my tray was promptly delivered. The first things I noticed were all negative. Firstly, there was no bread roll which I expect to see in most longhaul economy meals. Secondly, there was only two real bits of food to eat with the chicken curry sitting next to a bowl of cheese and crackers. I would have liked to see a salad or other side dish accompanying the curry.

After tucking in, however, I did start to see the positives. Firstly, a bottle of water was given which is so much better than the terrible plastic cups of water I still see on other airlines. I never understand why airlines give them but that is a rant for another time. Secondly, I found the chicken curry to actually be quiet nice and not as dry as I initially thought it would be. The crackers were, well crackers, and were a nice way to finish the meal. I opted for another white wine to wash the meal down with which was as bitter as the first but my neighbour went for the red which she concluded was ‘not bad, pretty average’.

Overall, I thought the meal service was rather weak and nothing to be too proud of. I thought more work could have gone into the presentation of the meal and portion sizes and I would have liked to see another dish alongside. If I hadn’t eaten already in the lounge, I would have been very disappointed and a tad hungry after that meal service.

After dinner, I was expecting the lights to be dimmed so that passengers could use the final 4.5 hours to sleep but the lights stayed quite bright which meant had I wanted to sleep, I would have found it relatively hard. Around 20 minutes after collecting my dinner tray, the crew were back around asking if anybody would like a tea or coffee. I decided against both and worked away on my laptop which just about fitted on the wobbly tray table.

Around an hour after this, I began to feel very drowsy and opted to hit the hay. This wasn’t quite as easy as on other flights, however. I found the seat to be quite hard and the temperature onboard too cold to instantly nod off. Nonetheless, after 30 minutes or so, I fell asleep for the next 2 hours to be woken up (on request) for the breakfast service.

The breakfast service consisted of a small box with a yogurt and some fruit inside it and an option of a drink. I chose orange juice which went down really well.

As far as the breakfast was concerned, I was again left disappointed and would have loved to see Virgin serving up something hot like an omelette. I also think it could have been served a little later as I had at least another 30 minutes sleeping time in me but I understand that the crew have a lot to do towards the end of the flight and can’t be faffing around with clearing up our breakfast.

Before long, we begun our descent into London over Ireland and I was able to watch the descent on my IFE screen which was really magical.

Conclusion

I was expecting quite a lot from Virgin Atlantic’s A350, maybe because there had been such a hype over the new Upper Class product being launched. When I got on board, however, I realised that the seats were really quite tight around the legs, the food was pretty shoddy and the crew were nothing like what I had experienced on previous flights. I also found the headphones to be rubbish, the seat quite hard and the temperature far too cold.

With all that being said, I thought the inflight entertainment was excellent and much better than that provided by many other transatlantic airlines and I really lucked out having the bulkhead seat.

Overall, however, I was left relatively disappointed by my economy flight with Virgin Atlantic.