My journey began with the gleeful and smug ability to walk past the queues of the proletariat and enter the upper-class line. I’d heard the stories from friends about the joys of flying business or first class, but until this point, it had only been a dream. With my boarding pass firmly in hand, confirming that I was in fact travelling Upper Class (Virgin Atlantic’s equivalent of first class), off I went through security.

Next, the ticket grants you access to Virgin Atlantic’s exclusive Clubhouse – where I discovered a table-side service with a menu of mouth-watering options (the corn-flake crumbed chicken burger is something else!) Then came the comprehensive bar service matched with quick-shaking mixologist hands. Making sure to leave some space to dine on the aircraft, it was time to board.

Then for the royal experience: clutching tightly onto the offered glass of champagne I did the proud walk to my seat – or rather my sanctuary. A string of illuminated buttons marked the side of the leather seat – enough to put a Range Rover Autograph to shame. With outstretched legs, I had to sit forward to reach the 17” touch screen – but then smiled realizing I could also control it with my phone.

And yes. There is French champagne. In a glass. Then a bespoke wine and spirits list is available on request. As good as the luxury tipples, was the ability to ask for pyjamas on request. I slipped into the bathroom and out again in my reusable jammies which were both comfy and classy.

When it comes to meals, this is hardly your chicken or beef affair. My mains options included grilled salmon, lamb and pepperoni skewers, and then chickpea and aubergine tagine. After the starter, I found myself with the same excitement at a restaurant, waiting to see what would come next. This is a far cry from the usual crowded cattle-class tray laden with plastic containers. With the cutlery and crockery, I couldn’t have imagined that airline food could be so enticing.  And that had nothing to do with the glass (or was it three glasses) of champagne that proceeded the entree.

In between meal service, there are snacks and drinks, and a variety of entertainment options. The earphones cover your ears fully, cancelling out any surrounding sound. While I made every attempt to stay awake and take in every moment of it, sleep finally beckoned at 02h30. Flying high somewhere over Northern Africa, my seat reclined to a 6”4 flat bed, and a duvet and pillow were provided for a good night’s sleep.

After touchdown, there’s one last welcomed treat. Arriving in London, Upper Class guests have full access to the Revivals lounge, where I had a very well-appreciated shower, and table-side breakfast. Feeling like a million pounds, I was revived and ready to greet the capital city.

But what of the brave post-pandemic staff who, despite facing staff shortages and several other challenges? On my journey Flight Service Manager Tom expressed the challenge. There are reduced crews because of Covid – as a result of both ill staff and the length of time it takes to train up new staff.

I couldn’t help noticing on my flight, that even though the crew was short-staffed, their dedication to the brand and earnest desire to provide the same service that guests are familiar with – and come to expect from Virgin Atlantic – was unwavering. We can only but salute the hospitality workers who are tirelessly holding out for a return to normality, and while still doing their utmost to provide the best possible service.

While I may not have many other first-class flying experiences to compare it to, with one of the only options for flying directly from Johannesburg (and from the 5th November Cape Town) to London, it’s an enticing option. Make no mistake, it’s a hard hitter on the budget, but remember there is the opportunity to trade in those hard-earned miles and treat yourself to an upgrade.

[divider]The newest member of the family[/divider]

While in London I also had the opportunity to attend the launch party for the newest member of the Virgin Atlantic fleet – the A330neo. The aircraft boasts 11% less fuel consumption and therefore the same reduction in emissions. There’s an impressive 50% less noise contour.

The new aircraft features upgrade across all classes, with a particular emphasis on connectivity and comfort. The communal “Loft” area has received an upgrade, including a self-service fridge and drinks dispenser. The crowned jewel, however, is the new ‘Retreat Suites’ – these two suites feature 6”7 seat-to-fully-flat-beds, but also with an extra seat, meaning two people can meet and dine in each – or four if the central screen is lowered.

Corneel Koster, Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Customer and Operating Officer said, “The A330neo plays a significant role in our multi-billion dollar fleet transformation, demonstrating our commitment to the planet. We know the most impactful thing we can do as an airline is to fly the cleanest, greenest, youngest fleet possible and the A330neo is integral to achieving this goal. It’s truly a plane for the future.”  The aircraft will make its debut in November on the London to Boston route.