Virgin Atlantic Hong Kong to London Upper Class and Clubhouse
Virgin Atlantic predominantly now traverse the Atlantic, having axed Sydney and most of their Asian routes. So for someone frequently travelling between Asia, Australia and Europe the airline is now more a distant thought but I was looking forwarding to flying them, even if it was a slight throwback to earlier years of travel. In their ‘Upper Class’ they provided a genuinely quality service, providing strong competition on this saturated route. The lounge was a high standard with great catering. The seating on the A340 is now starting to age however I have always been a fan of the herringbone configuration. For its time it was very far ahead and today still retains some elements that some others have yet to meet. The late departure meant limited use of the onboard bar and other amenities but I was left with a high impression of the Virgin Upper Class product.
I had arrived Seoul via Beijing in good time to check-in. It is a quick transition from plane to land side at Hong Kong with e-channel immigration and efficient baggage processing. Heading back up to departures, I found the Virgin Atlantic check-in desks had opened and was able to drop bags and head back through immigration all very quickly.
Virgin Atlantic Hong Kong Clubhouse
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses are notably fashionable, like their service. It is part of their marketing to differentiate the brand from other carriers. In Hong Kong the lounge offers fantastic levels of service and food, making it highly inviting to eat in the lounge and sleep on the plane. Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members are provided invites at check-in.
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Hong Kong is located at the end of the central concourse where the two piers split off. Several lounges are located in this area, Cathay Pacific have The Bridge which spans the ground and lower levels however two promenades, one at the start of each pier, house several smaller lounges. Emirates among others sits on the southern side while Virgin Atlantic share the northern area with United Airline and a Plaza Premium Lounge.
Not lounges are created equally of course and often reflect the company’s level of design influence and willingness to throw money at the whole thing. Virgin Atlantic is certainly high in both categories with this furnished space and distinctly forward customer service. It wasn’t hard to find an empty seat and I perused the menu over a glass of red.
It is a waited service here with meals freshly cooked from the kitchen. The food choices may be slightly smaller than say the Cathay First Class lounges, but that is a high bar to compare too. It is always highly welcome to find lounges with ‘proper’ food, particularly a small lounge such as this, that caters for a single daily flight. On top of the main menu there is also a cocktail menu with a nice selection.
I picked the most dinner-ish meal of the lot, which was a perfectly cooked piece of duck.
While I was eating, a near by guest swung around with great precision smashed his full wine glass across both table and floor. There was a moment of time freezing as the wine stains set in. I was fortunate just to be out of it’s reach. The staff weren’t immediately present so I tried to help, until they realised. That aside it was relatively quiet yet opened to terminal, so you didn’t feel too far away from the liveliness of an airport. As our departure time was becoming closer I had a piece of torte cake before packing up to leave.
The lounge was good for what it was. Given the constraints of the rented airport space, the Hong Kong Clubhouse may be less stylised than their other lounges but Virgin Atlantic still has a very good product here with well attending staff and small but quality dining opportunities.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to London
With boarding underway the entire lounge emptied and descending upon the one flight. With some fleet renewal just starting, Virgin Atlantic’s fleet has been primarily a mix has long been B747 and A340 aircraft. Tonight it would be on an A340-600, which although old, was not bad at all, at least in Upper Class. Their business class seating is in their signature herringbone arrangement, with only three seats across, each with direct aisle access. Comparatively Cathay Pacific implemented this seating times years ago and abandoned it, but I was always a fan of it. The stretched A340-600 is one of the longest aircraft and you can tell, the business cabin is looooong. A divider/cupboard mid-way slightly breaks up the cabin. It is also where the middle seats switch direction, facing the opposite aisle. I had chosen a port-side window seat toward the back where middle seats open to the opposite aisle. In theory this would be a quiet area.
These seats offer plenty of legroom, pointing out into the aisle with the ottoman at the other end. These can be used to dine with another (there’s a seatbelt there) or becomes part of the bed when it’s down flat. There’s also some minor storage below, usually for your shoes. The main complaint about this seat type is it’s slightly narrow. I found it a bit exposed personally, more open than I expected but that did mean it wasn’t so claustrophobic. Storage options were also rather limited, that would be by far my main complaint. As you can see, I was stoically super happy.
A Double Take (off)
Having settled with into the seat and after a long taxi we sat in relative darkness, waiting to take off. The small but numerous engines on the aircraft roared from idle as we started to head off, but only seconds in the noise died as we came to a breaking halt. I waited a few seconds wondering when the heads would pop-up and nearly on cue people did start to look around, with that passing glance for whether to be concerned mostly deafened out by a British ‘no need for concern’. The captain was quick to reassure and announce it was an ATC clearance issue. We stayed where we were and within a couple minutes proceeded to take off, a second time, successfully.
Wining and Dining
The airline provides one long fold up menu in addition to an advance breakfast order sheet.
On my third flight today, I had already been overfed to say the least. However I ordered the pasta dish which was quite light, perfect for my predicament. Finally the small dessert was a great way to end a day full of flying.
I’d later get a small snack at the bar (below) but otherwise skip breakfast and opt for the cooked breakfast at the arrivals lounge.
The Onboard Bar
The ‘thing’ if there is a ‘thing’ on Virgin Atlantic flights was always the onboard bar. Something from yesteryear, it is slowly making a return with many airlines now featuring at least small self-serve options. The grand-daddy of them all would today be the Emirates A380 which has a very large communal space for business (and first) class. Virgin Atlantic’s is at the back of business class but not separated. So on an evening flight it’s kept very dark so it doesn’t have the huge communal area for conversation that I appreciate on the larger aircraft.
Somewhere during the flight I woke up and found myself the only person at the bar. The cabin crew member had little to do so was happy to converse a bit as I ordered a drink. I later ordered a snack from the bar (described below) and decided to eat it at my seat. The dumplings were average but filling for their size.
Other Amenities and Entertainment
In typical style I mostly avoided the entertainment system. I have my own gear and frankly TV/films just don’t interest me, I haven’t owned a TV myself in, well, forever. This is what would be aged the most however, as they’re related to the technology of the time. Obviously there is no wifi onboard and few to no airlines offer it in this part of the world (the Middle Eastern carriers are the exception). Importantly, because of the older equipment the seats off in-seat power using the now rather rare, EmPower socket. I don’t think many or any travellers carry these any more, but the crew have adaptors onboard if required.
Finally the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Amenity Kit provides just the basics. It is a practical kit with no ‘posh’ moisturisers or skin care products but rather eye shades, ear plugs, a dental kit, lip balm, tissues and a pen. So it feels tightly budgeted but to be fair, they’re actually probably the items most used, so it is hard to be critical.
We landed into the cold early morning of London. I still wasn’t sure where I was heading, which made things difficult. Virgin Atlantic offer a chauffeur service for their Upper Class customers and also a valet at Heathrow. They also offer an arrivals lounge, a service also offered by American Airlines and British Airways. Alternatively domestic connections on their Little Red service (economy only) to Manchester/Edinburgh/Aberdeen are provided lounge access. Their domestic connection services will be terminated later in 2015. Having a few days up my sleeve before heading to Sweden, I was considered taking a domestic connection, but still was completely unsure. As such I headed straight for the Virgin revivals lounge to work on my plans.
So this product is old, yet clearly good for it’s age. Flat beds, all-aisle access, ottomans which can support dining with a partner, onboard bar, heavy use of LED lighting, the list goes on. Virgin Atlantic at least for sometime provided a fantastic product, in my view it has aged well and this aircraft’s cabin was maintained. Yet others have now caught up at many overtaken them. But at least on this route I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. They’re a major non-aligned/alliance carrier and given their routes now focus primarily between North America and the UK there’s little chance to fly them again. I feel a bit disappointed, they seem to be making themselves irrelevant (from an eastern perspective). My only explanation is that the outdated product (economy is apparently very poor) is more competitive trans-Atlantic, a market that suffers from the averageness of US and many European carriers. Regardless I’d suggest a second look on their new aircraft once they start taking over major routes.