Once in a while, you may feel like treating yourself, or perhaps have worked hard saving up your air miles, or like my husband, you have to fly a lot for work and one of the perks is having your company stump up the bill for a business class flight. Yes, he certainly gets a lot more premium flights than me! (For flying with kids on Delta see here.)
He recently flew from London Heathrow with Delta to Detroit and then returned on Virgin Atlantic via Atlanta. Both have a hybrid First/business service rather than the more traditional First and Business cabins and that can make a more premium flight experience more accessible. From his perspective, both airlines provided a great service. But if you’re going Stateside on a family holiday and have the fortunate opportunity to upgrade the flight, who should you choose?
Delta One B767-300 From London Heathrow to Detroit
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Check-in & Lounge
Flying with Delta in business means you have access to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow terminal 3. The lounge is just as hip and cool as you imagine it to be. In my opinion it is the best business class lounge offering vs. any international airline.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about arrival and check-in … because it’s not your run-of-the-mill experience! Firstly, you don’t enter the terminal by the front door, you enter via a private driveway that is jazzed up with mood lighting. Then you are greeted by a dedicated concierge who reviews your passport and completes check-in.
You’re fast-tracked through security – again this is a private experience. And within less than 10 mins you’re in Duty Free wondering what the hell happened. It’s slick; it’s professional; it’s the complete opposite of the standard economy process.
Now back to the lounge…
Similar to the check-in experience, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is difficult to describe. Yes, it has food and drink; newspapers and magazines from all over the world; big TV screens showing BBC News etc.
But it also has a hairdressing salon (book in advance!); a day spa, with really cool 30-min massages; a shoe-shine guy; and of course, the latest music playing. It’s part bar, part nightclub, clearly an airport lounge. It’s all done very well and certainly delivers the Virgin brand promise.
An all American crew (from NYC) were on-board. They were generally pleasant and attentive. I was offered champagne, juice, water etc. once seated. They initially forgot me and were apologetic when reminded.I was also offered a US newspaper … not a British one which was interesting. Everything else pretty standard.
The Delta One Seat
The seats are configured 1-2-1 and I was seated in 4C on the aisle, right-hand side. The middle seats are slightly misaligned with the window seats, which gives everyone a little more privacy.
Pillows and blankets (Westin Heavenly) were laid out before everyone boarded. A bottle of water, some LSTN headphones, and a Tumi amenity kit ( Kiehl’s lip balm & hand cream, hand sanitiser, mouthwash, ear plugs, eye mask, toothbrush, socks, pen etc) were also laid out.
The blanket was a good size and covered me adequately at 6″2′. I normally use my Bose headphones, but I gave these a try – I did struggle to hear some speech but liked the way they fitted. A good option if you forget your own.
The legroom was adequate for my size UK10 feet but the compartment narrowed. This was fine for when I was seated, but once the bed was laid out, there is no room for your feet to lay straight up, so if you like sleeping your back you will be uncomfortable. The seat cushion is leather and was fairly well padded….
There is an adjustable reading light in the seat area, along with a USB cable slot Ethernet slot, headphone socket, and a universal plug socket. I utilised the socket for charging my phone and it easily reached the table – it was also a pretty fast charge.
Storage is good with ample room above seat for a trolley bag or small case.
The TV screen is central and can be tilted to provide good viewing when lying down. There is no handheld control, but there is the option of touchscreen or using some of the hard keys at the bottom of the screen.
This was a bit fiddly but I do prefer touchscreen overall. There wasn’t a great deal of choice of movies, and nothing for toddlers unless they would sit through Moana or Beauty and the Beast. I think other airlines have more family-friendly amenities.
In-flight Wi-Fi is available but is chargeable. I used this and paid about $5 per hour.
After take-off, hot towels were offered and along with the bar service, a starter of pickled Beet with gravlax was presented. For the main course, I chose a chicken curry, where the portion size was huge! I subsequently skipped dessert.
I was genuinely surprised – in a good way as I had heard tales of woe about US carriers and on first observations I had concerns as the initial layout of the cabin is nothing special – for a second I thought it was Premium Economy!
But the small touches make it pretty good – the food is good quality and plenty of it, backed up by a nice Californian wine collection. The flat beds work overall and I managed to get comfortable and sleep for around 3hrs, which is generally what I average on a 8-10hr flight.
Be prepared to bring your own…
Downloaded movies or TV shows!
The TV screens are good … but the entertainment choice is a bit sparse vs. other airlines. Much of the movie selection was ‘classics’ vs. new releases.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class A340-600 Atlanta – London Heathrow
Check-in and Lounge
Much of my work trip this time was in Kansas – I used domestic airlines Jet Blue and Southwest to travel within the US. So my departure back to the UK was via Atlanta where Delta now steps in and “hosts” the pre-flight experience.
I have to say, arrival is average vs. the Virgin Atlantic Heathrow experience – no private entry, a cumbersome check-in, overall pretty hectic and no “wow” factor considering the premium price of the ticket. Feels pretty ‘old school’ The Delta Sky Club, however, is excellent. Again, I was surprised and impressed by the modern facility – good food, nicely laid out … there was even an outside bar area where you could chill on sofas and watch the planes take off (perfect if you need to entertain the kids pre-flight!).
I only had two small issues here – firstly, the selection of alcohol is good but a lot of it is considered ‘premium’ meaning a purchase surcharge; secondly, they ran out of hot food! As I said, the quality of the food is excellent but the lounge was full and without food – not great.
I was offered champagne and newspapers – a wider selection vs. Delta on my way out of Heathrow. Again, boarding was a pretty standard experience, nice and easy.
The Virgin Atlantic Seat
The configuration and layout is very different vs. Delta – essentially all seats facing the aisle, diagonal orientation. I like this better than Delta – it feels more private and contained. But it’s a smaller overall space. Notice the funky red mood lighting!
A nice touch pre-flight is being offered a sleepsuit (pyjamas) and some This Works lavender sleep spray to use on your bedding. A small bottle of water was also offered by the crew, rather than being at your seat pre-boarding.
Entertainment is much better than Delta – certainly more new release movies; more kids’ channels and games on a 10.4″ TV. But the system I had was old and relied on a handset vs. touchscreen. It just felt a bit dated and probably because the plane was a bit older vs. the service on newer Virgin aircraft.
Amenities are provided by Herschel – good quality, standard things like a pen, toothbrush/toothpaste, earplugs, socks, Rituals lip balm, eyeshade, rituals moisturiser; but not as good as what was provided by Tumi/Delta.
Like Delta, the seat has a power point, a table and also a laptop storage space. Interestingly, it is stated on the website that for safety reasons you can only use these points to power your devices, but not to charge them. The flatbed is adequate if not a bit of a hassle to set up – I needed to ask the flight attendant for help!! I also found the length a bit constrained for my height, with my feet hanging off the end and into the aisle (Delta’s felt a bit longer). Storage was ok, but more limited vs. Delta. I arrived late to the flight and had to put my small bag in the coat closet – not ideal. I expect better when paying so much for a premium flight -but could be that the flight was very busy!
I was travelling on a late night flight so chose not to have a heavy meal.
Nuts and pretzels were provided with a pre-dinner drink. The menu is excellent with lots of choices, including healthier options. I had the cheese and fruit plate which was adequate – portions are a lot smaller vs. Delta. The Virgin bar is, of course, worth a mention! There is literally a stand-up bar where you can hang out, drink, eat snacks and talk to other passengers. I didn’t utilise it, and ate before I took a photo (sorry!) – I was keen to get some rest before returning home to some excited kids!
It’s a small area but it’s great … and certainly provides an option to break up a long journey. If you like to drink!
However, breakfast was more substantial with bacon rolls, full English, cereal, fresh fruit and yoghurt. Again, lots of choice to cater for different needs.
Having travelled with Virgin on numerous occasions, a standout is the quality and differentiation of the flight attendants – they are all ‘on brand’ and clearly well trained. What do I mean here? They balance having fun with passengers, having a chat etc. with the usual focus on safety/service. Delta are perhaps more traditional/professional – what you expect to see. Virgin are more confident, personal, engaging – again delivering what you expect from the perception of the Virgin brand.
Be prepared to bring your own…
Headphones. The on-board ones are dreadful!
Overview – which would I choose again and why?
Definitely Virgin, taking into account the Heathrow Clubhouse and the overall flight experience.
Delta is good and certainly not a bad option – I’d fly with them again. But they don’t have the small touches that Virgin has that makes the overall experience that much more special.
That depends. It’s probably worth double the price of economy, maybe 3x … but certainly no more.
If given the choice, and with a limited budget, I’d always upgrade the hotel at the other end as you generally have more time on holiday to enjoy it!
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