Review: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Dream Suite put to the test

By John Walton, June 6 2012
Review: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Dream Suite put to the test

Virgin Atlantic's new Upper Class Dream Suite business class seat has been making waves among business travellers, with the ever-innovative airline going for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change for its existing Upper Class bed. 

Following our world-first review of Virgin Atlantic's new business class, we took you on an in-depth tour of the new Upper Class Dream Suite seat yesterday, but the real question is how it works both for daytime and night flights.

It'll be an especially pointed question when the new Dream Suite starts flying to Sydney on Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787 Dreamliners in a few years' time.

So how does it match up?

The seat in "daytime"

One of the critiques levelled at this "herringbone" style of seating -- particularly Virgin Atlantic's "fold-over" variant -- is that it sacrifices seated relaxation comfort, elbow room and adjustability to get a fully flat bed.

Here's what the older version looks like, and how it folds over:

In terms of width, Virgin Atlantic's older Upper Class suite is a couple of inches wider in the Boeing 747-400 than in the Airbus A340 we see on Australian flights.

Having tested out the older Upper Class between Sydney and Hong Kong just a couple of months ago, and having previously flown in the 747 Upper Class, I had the elbow room issue firmly in my mind when reviewing the Dream Suite.

I was very pleased with the improvement in elbow room that the sculpted, helix-shaped seat dividers give over the A340 Upper Class.

They're curved in useful places to give each seat more room where you need it, cutting a bit of the unused space from your seat for your neighbours and vice versa.

In terms of elbow room, there's also a small flat leather-topped plastic armrest that folds down from the TV monitor side of the seat wall. This was fairly useful but the springloaded catch kept failing to snag the armrest back into the locked position.

The table springs out in the same way that it used to in the old seats: a button to release it from its place in the side wall. But now it, too, is springloaded: push smartly down and it pops up so you can pull it up to vertical and then out to horizontal.

A new table feature is that it's also horizontally spring-loaded, so it pushes back towards you at all times (so that it's not sticking out in the aisle causing accidents).

I see why this is necessary -- longer seats, narrow plane -- and it's okay as a tradeoff, but it can be frustrating. And, again, the table mechanism didn't really fit flush to the wall.

Another critique of the herringbone style is that window seat fans dislike having to turn to look out the window.

As an aficionado of window seats myself, I'll say that I've rarely found this to be a problem, even when flying over the most fascinating parts of the world.

Sitting in the window seat, I frankly had no problem turning to see out the window without getting a crick in my neck. The "scoop" of the helix-shaped seats actually makes it quite comfortable to lean slightly sideways and peer out of the window.

In terms of recline, the new seat is advertised as having fifty percent more than the old seat. Well, fifty percent of not very much is still not very much. It loses out to many other airlines' business class seats for day flights or if you simply want to feel like you're having a nice sit-down on a recliner.

Overall, seat mode is an improvement on the narrower seats found on the A340s we see to Australia, but not much of a bonus compared with Virgin's 747s' wider seats.

The bed in "night-time"

The first change you'll notice is when you come to convert the seat into bed mode.

Gone is the motor to flip the seat over -- now you hit the release button and push it down flat. That might seem like a disadvantage until you remember that the motors were remarkably temperamental anyway. Assuming the locking mechanism works: it's more temperamental than the motors on this first plane.

The bed padding is really quite remarkable. It obviously wasn't like an actual sprung bed, but I've slept in much worse on the ground, let alone in the air. Here's our soon-to-be-patented "squish test":

However, the thinly quilted mattress pad could do with bulking up to be really plush. I did like the large pillow, though -- a good balance of size, squashiness and support.

The extra bed length in the outboard (window) seats is really noticeable. I could stretch all the way out in the bed -- and I'm 6'2", so at the upper edge of likely passengers.

Overall, bed mode is a resounding improvement in the outboard seats, and a modest one if you're sitting in the centre section.


The design of the seat, on balance, is an improvement, with more personal space all round and six inches' extra length in the window seats.

Hopefully, the manufacturing and seat fitting issues will be resolved in time, and the slight changes that would improve the mattress pads and service shouldn't be too hard to put in place.

At the end of the day, and if I'm in the outboard seats, I like it much better than the old A340 seat, and on balance it's a bit better than the old 747 seat. I'll be interested to see how it changes with the extra space that the Boeing 787 allows, too.

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John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

wow looks great

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