Why Upper Class?
Flying to the US (MAN-ATL) after my most recent guided tour of Wales, I decided at the last minute to upgrade to Virgin Atlantic Upper Class service from my previously purchased Premium Economy (or Economy Comfort on Delta, which I bought through via code share). My justification? I needed space to work, wanted to complete a thorough review of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class service, and also needed a good kip (Br. slang for nap), since I’d be traveling to Italy with friend and colleague Susan Scarbrough, only 4 days later!
The upgrade price was really reasonable, especially given the popularity of the Manchester-Atlanta route——$700. Given that I had been in premium economy for the ATL-MAN flight and it was fine, I debated, but so be it. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made. And Virgin Atlantic is an impressive value for money compared to some of the older airlines. Newer, more stylish equipage, a crew that works overtime to make the travel experience great, and fabulous food and entertainment options, make it a good choice for transatlantic flights.
Check-In, Security and Boarding: Almost Painless
Having made the upgrade with no issues, I walked over from the Radisson Blu at Terminal 2, Manchester, to the Virgin counter in a matter of minutes. Check in was painless (although I did accidentally leave some Welsh artwork propped against the counter when I checked my bags! No one’s perfect, right?)
Security was the priority lane, although as often happens, slightly confusing signage and travelers with little kids (been there!) made it a bit slower.
Grabbing my bags, I still had plenty of time before the flight to explore the Escape lounge, membership to which is complimentary with Upper Class on Virgin, Delta, United, and others. Breakfast was still being served, but many people were already partaking of a beer or glass of Prosecco or champagne. I ordered a ‘bacon bap’ (a bap is a uniquely UK/Welsh/northern England oversized roll of very squishy soft white bread). It was tasty, but since I’d already had an abbreviated but lush breakfast in the Business Lounge at the Radisson Blu hotel, didn’t finish it. The bread was pillowy soft and light, with a floury finish. The bacon was what most Americans would consider ham, nice, warm, salty, with a hint of crusty crunch.
When the call came to head to the gate, I trotted down with everyone else and boarded at the end of the upper class boarding call. I scored seat 1G, in the middle aisle, but a nice, bright spot. Even though we’d just eaten breakfast, the attendants quickly came through with a welcome glass of juice, champagne, or mimosa. This is the life, right? After loading completed, we viewed the trippy and very welcome Virgin safety video, which keeps attention by mimicking different film styles from Spaghetti Western to James Bond.
Food Glorious Food
About an hour into the flight, we were offered snacks – this time a small bowl of crisps (Tyrell’s black pepper brand) – and a preprandial drink. I chose a Gentleman Jack and Coca Cola, in memory of Daddy.
After time to linger over the snack, attendants came by with a perfumed hot cloth – mint is especially welcome given the congestion difficulties at altitude. Virgin’s meal experience designers have outdone themselves with the dining setup in every class – in Upper Class, from the layered and curved bamboo bread plate to the sweet, cartoonish salt-n-pepper shakers to the wide striped placemat, the setting is serene and quirky. And the food? Divine.
The meal choices were diverse – for starters, tomato, mozarella and micro basil salad (known as caprese where I’m from) with sweet pepper berries, chicken satay with cashew nut dipping sauce (fresh chilli, coriander and lime in the sauce), and spicy butternut soup, all accompanied with a selection of artisan breads.
I chose the satay as a starter – two bamboo skewers of grilled chicken in a velvety cashew sauce, with just the right amount of sweetness and heat, with cilantro stalks and thin slices of red pepper as garnish. The satay sauce was complex with a hint of spice, encouraged by the red chillis.
This was accompanied by 2014/15 Alana Estate Savignon, Martinborough, New Zealand. Light and summery with green highlights, the wine provided a welcome counterpoint to the fiery taste of the chilis, as well as the complexity of the satay sauce. Billed as “full of fresh grapefruit and bright citrus aromas”, it did not disappoint.
The selection of mains included: seafood linguine with seared salmon, scallops, and king prawns, served with roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh pea shoots (wonderfully light, according to the attendant); lemon and thyme chicken on a potato cake with spinach, Girolle mushrooms and vegetable pearls; Keralan curry (the vegetarian selection) creamy coconut milk veggie curry with coriander rice and tadka dhal; and weeping tiger salad, the cold selection of strips of tender beef fillet on crisp salad, sweet mango salsa with coriander, red chilli and weeping tiger dressing.
I chose the linguine and it arrived with gorgeous cherry tomatoes perfectly roasted to provide maximal flavour at altitude. The small, perfectly sized piece of salmon was prepared to showcase the flavour without excess salt – a rare feat on airlines. The scallops were surprisingly sweet for size. The prawns were a bit overcooked, but completely forgivable.
The cream sauce was, as the attendant promised, light indeed, and a lovely counterpoint to the robust flavour of the tomato, delicate hint of pea shoots, and briny-sweet taste of the fruiti di mare.
Seriously though, the tomatoes win a prize for taste. This was accompanied by a 2015 De Martino Reserva Legado Limari Chardonnay from Chile, boasting of “crisp green apple, tropical fruit notes and the delicate creaminess that comes from using French oak”, it was a welcome anchor for ethereal, unearthly light sauce for the linguine.
Pudding (dessert) was an option of two: warm chocolate salted caramel pudding with double cream, or apple blackberry crisp complete with crunchy topping, creme anglaise and berry compote. How could I resist the chocolate pudding? It arrived with berry compote as well as double cream. Perfectly warmed, the pudding was a symphony of sweet and salt, with the autumnal spice of berries as well as comforting heft of cream thrown in. I, however, threw in the towel before I could finish my pudding.
After a good while, the final course was offered – cheese, biscuits (crackers), and port. A selection of brie, gouda, and cornish blue awaited, with a variety of biscuits, grapes, and Stokely’s red onion marmalade offered. I accepted the blue and brie, a couple crackers, grapes, marmalade, and port. Lush, indeed, though the port had an odd scent.
In-flight Entertainment and Relaxation
After dining, I watched Alice Through the Looking Glass, and then the attendants quickly converted my seat to flat bed, for that nap I’d been looking forward to. I napped under the luxe duvet, soooo enjoying the ability to stretch out flat and rest!
About 2 hours before the end of the flight, attendants came around once more with the offer of food – this time, tea (or coffee) with an assortment of sandwiches (ham, fish, and veg/cheese), three tiny cakes (chocolate-caramel, ginger, and lemon meringue), and a scone with Rhondda clotted cream and strawberry jam. A nice treat with the surreal Chinese action comedy I was watching (From Vegas to Macau III – Chow-Yun Fat & Jackey Cheung). Speaking of films, Virgin has an impressively extensive film and TV catalogue to entertain during flights.
Seat chat is available to text with others sitting on the plane – helpful if you’re traveling with others in different places on the plane. The system also offers tips on meditation (from Headspace) as well as healthy travel tips.
In sum, when you pay the extra cash for an Upper Class seat on Virgin Atlantic, you receive expedited security line service, access to the airport lounge (whose amenities vary by airport, but typically include free foods, non-alcoholic drinks, newspapers and magazines, and can include free massages, showers, and more), priority boarding, a much larger seat, an amazing food experience, upgraded toiletries package, and the ability to have a flat bed to sleep in (which can be critical on particularly long-haul flights).
What about you? What’s been your airline upgrade experience? I’d love to hear from fellow travelers!
Feature photo source: Virgin Atlantic Airlines
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