This year Virgin Atlantic turns 40. What’s it like to fly to Hollywood in Upper Class aboard a new A350 aircraft? Lotte Jeffs finds out.

As a habitual short-hauler it always surprises me just how much more seamless transatlantic travel is. Compared to the usual early morning throng for an Easyjet flight, there were just three people in front of me in the Virgin Atlantic premium economy queue (I later got an upgrade to Upper Class) to check in at London Heathrow’s T3 on March 20, 2024. It moved fast and I was soon greeted by a friendly woman with a “she/her” pin on her lanyard. As a queer person, this nod to inclusion instantly put me at ease.

I cleared security in 25 minutes. I would have moved faster but it was amateur hour at the X-rays and three separate people in front of me were having to have their toiletries redistributed into small plastic bags by the security team. I smugly whipped my see-through bag of 100ml or less in-flight beauty essentials out of my handbag and into a tray, slid my laptop out of my bag at lightning speed, removed my jacket and watch and smiled at the officer in the hope of some recognition for my jet-set excellence. Alas, no gold star for me when my gold chains set off the alarm and I was sent for an ignominious pat down.

It’s amazing how much faster I can traverse an airport without my five-year-old in tow. I powered through T3’s duty-free hall, eyes down, not needing to stop to investigate every Squishmallow or giant bag of M&Ms I encountered. Within four minutes I was at the “H” lounges where I ascended the staircase to the always glamorous environs of the Virgin Clubhouse.


There is no better way to start a trip, whether for business or pleasure. The Clubhouse just gets it right and is the perfect mix of efficiency and fun. It doesn’t feel like an airport lounge, more, as the name suggests, an exclusive members club.

What is it that I find so compelling about Virgin customer service? The people who work here are just so charming, confident and good at their job that I feel like they’re celebrities who have deigned to talk to me. On arrival a woman in a rainbow lanyard (ally-tick!) tells me that there are unisex toilets at one end of the space, male/female bathrooms at the other. I don’t know if she says this to everyone or clocked my queerness but it was a lovely welcoming touch.

I hadn’t been to the Clubhouse for over a year and in that time, she tells me, Peloton bikes have been installed where the hair salon used to be. Perhaps unsurprisingly the bikes didn’t prove that popular. When there are champagne bottles popping around you it takes a special kind of dedication to choose spinning over relaxing. The spa was also removed during Covid, which is a shame I think because a little pre-flight massage or mani was always welcomed.Virgin Atlantic ClubhouseNow there is a swinging basket chair in its place with a wall of silk flowers behind it. “Instagram” – my guide says wearily. There is also a relaxation area that comprises four of five private pods with comfy leather chairs and House of Hackney palm print wallpaper.


At 1200 my flight was called. I was off to Gate 20. Having been lucky enough to be upgraded to Upper Class I boarded first and found my seat at 8D in the centre left of the aircraft. The welcome was relaxed and cheery. Crew extended a friendly hello to passengers as if greeting old friends and within minutes a tray of champagne and orange juice was brought along.

Low level pinky/purple lighting created a timeless feel – it was about to be morning, noon and night all at once and for the next ten hours and 27 minutes I would be coccooned in this luxury liminality.

The captain made an announcement at 1255, apologising for the late running of the plane (it was due to late incoming from JFK and then the mandatory safety checks) and informing us that extra fuel had been loaded so they could fly a little faster. Ohhh so that’s how it works! I thought.


The A350 features Virgin Atlantic’s newest itineration of Upper Class, which has a suite that converts into a 6ft 7in-long bed. (As this was a day flight I only had a nap but crew made up the bed with a sheet, pillow and coverlet and it was extremely comfortable.) The seats are enclosed in semi-private suites but don’t have doors that close completely. (Below is a photo of the very similar A330NEO Upper Class seat, reviewed here.)

This was the first time I had experienced a cross body seatbelt – akin to those you find in cars. It was a little uncomfortable at first but I got used to it and later figured out how to adjust it to just go over my waist.

An hour later than departure time we taxied to Heathrow’s westerly runway for wheels up. After a smooth takeoff I familiarised myself with my seat. Firstly, I located the “Goodie bag”. Now I must say I was a little disappointed with this recycled paper black bag filled with sustainable “treats”.

It wasn’t the quality I’d expect from an Upper Class experience and it felt quite throw-away – although the REN products were lovely. In fairness to Virgin Atlantic a recyclable amenity kit is the way to go, however, were it of a better quality or more appealing design I may be tempted to keep it rather than leave it on the plane. Anyway – points to the airline for being sustainable where it can.Virgin Atlantic A330NEO Upper Class


Next to checkout was the entertainment. There weren’t a huge number of new films, Wonka and Barbie being the most obvious blockbusters. The TV selection didn’t excite me much either – where was Below Deck or another mindless reality show I could binge? Luckily I had brought a good book with me.

The wifi cost £3.99 for messaging only, £7.99 for one hour of surfing and £23 for full access the whole flight. It was very patchy but worked long enough to keep in touch with family at home and bid good night to my daughter.

It was fun to watch the plane land via the tail cam option on the IFE screen. As an occasionally nervous flyer, this illusion of control suited me and made me feel less anxious than not being able to see out of the window due to my middle aisle seat.


About an hour after take-off the starters were served. You can see what was on offer in the picture below. I can happily report that all were delicious, particularly the spinach and ricotta tortellini and the warm apricot and almond cake.

A few hours later I enjoyed a cheese board and glass of Port and then made up my flat bed for a snooze. It was surprisingly comfortable and I listened to a meditation to drown out the sound of people stomping up and down the aisle next to me.

With two hours and 22 minutes left of the flight a final meal was served. I had a scone, which felt like the right sort of thing to eat at 9pm GMT.Virgin Atlantic Upper Class


There was no bar on this A350 aircraft (there is on Virgin Atlantic’s B787s), instead a multifunctional space called the Booth (pictured above, this is on two of the airline’s A350s – on the other seven, there is the more spacious Loft, pictured below). Virgin Atlantic has done a good job of sexing up this small communal seating area by offering “experiences” such as Game Time, wine or cocktail tasting or as a coworking space.

I stretched my legs with a visit to the Booth and ended up having a chat about contemporary art, James Bond and the rarity of my name with two strangers. It was a nice moment of connection on what can be quite a lonely journey if travelling solo.Virgin Atlantic A330NEO - the Loft


Also on hand to make sure passengers feel looked after was flight service manager, Sue Gallen, who has worked for Virgin 33 years. She leaned in for a chat from time to time and I felt in good hands given her experience and enjoyed the breezy familiarity she extended.


The plane landed at LAX on the west runway 45 minutes behind schedule. It was the most enjoyable flight I’ve ever experienced and is the one thing I’m looking forward to about going home (as well as seeing my family of course).


A return Upper Class flight from London to Los Angeles in April 2024 costs from £4,898.