Transport : Airlines

Which is the best transatlantic airline? British Airways offers First, Business or Club World, Premium Economy and Economy. Virgin Atlantic Offers Upper Class along with Premium Economy and Economy. When booking a flight, it is important to know what you get for your ticket and which is best, if the prices are comparable.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are the two main British airlines that fly transatlantic between London and New York along with a number of other American cities. Both airlines feature in my top 10 best airlines for longhaul Business Class. I have written about the best transatlantic airline in Premium Economy separately.

If you are planning to book a flight, don’t book through the airline’s website direct, our flight experts will quote you cheaper for Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First Class long-haul flights.

British Airways Vs Virgin Atlantic First Class Cabin – Which Is Best?

For this one, British Airways wins. Virgin Atlantic offers “Upper Class”, which is equivalent to the British Airways Business Class product (outlined below). British Airways is the only British Airline that offers true transatlantic First Class and you can read my recent review of the new British Airways First on the Dreamliner to find out what you get.

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For me, the advantages of travelling in First are:
1. Access to the Concorde Room lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5,
2. Exclusivity – For example, on the Dreamliner there are just 8 seats spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 herringbone configuration, all of them having direct aisle access,
3. Seat space – With a generous pitch of 73 inches (185 cm) and width of 22 inches (56 cm),
4. Privacy – Contrary to the enclosed First Class suites with sliding doors that you find in the Emirates and Etihad First Class Suites, the BA First Class seat features an open design, although it’s located within its own cocoon and feels totally private (no other passengers can see you, thanks to the herringbone layout and high seat walls).
5. Amenity Kit – This is an improved version of the Business Class kit. The men’s one contains shave gel, revitaliser moisturiser, lip balm, deodorant stick, and eye gel from London based, grooming emporium for men, in addition to essentials such as such as a pen, eyeshades, socks, earplugs, hairbrush and razor. See which airlines offer better amenity kits see my top 10 best airline amenity kits.
6. Pyjamas – Even on medium-haul day flights, British Airways supply pyjamas. This is a very nice gesture bearing in mind that Qatar Airways and Emirates – both famous for their onboard luxury and service – do not provide pyjamas on this length of day flight. The lightweight, British Airways dark green pyjamas are presented with a ribbon bow, and feature the BA First Class logo on the chest.
7. Food – The menu in First is extensive, usually with a starter, soup, main and dessert. All is usually tasty, well executed, visually appealing and with more choice than in Club World. An afternoon tea is also usually offered with sandwiches, scones and a pastry.

This is not the best First Class seat or suite in the sky. This accolade goes to the First Class suites offered by Emirates & Etihad. But for transatlantic routes, British Airways in First is about as luxury as it comes.

British Airways Vs Virgin Atlantic Airport Lounges – Which Is Best?
If the layover is important to you, you might want to choose your British carrier by the lounge on offer at its respective airport hub.

The British Airways lounges are the Galleries First (exclusively for First customers and Gold Executive Club members) and the Concorde Room (First Customers only) in London Heathrow Terminal 5. These are excellent First Class only lounges. In particular, the bar in the Concorde Room is iconic and harks back to the heydays of luxury travel making it one of the best First lounges in the world. Business or Club World passengers only get access to the two Galleries Club Lounges in Heathrow Terminal 5 or the Galleries Club Lounge in Terminal 3. These lounges are huge and pleasant with decent buffet food. They have everything you need but are not noteworthy and can be busy with entire fleets worth of Club World and Club Europe passengers coming and going.

Virgin Atlantic Offers The Clubhouse at London Heathrow. The Clubhouse also has outposts in LAX, Newark, JFK, San Francisco, Boston, Washington Hong Kong, Johannesburg and Gatwick. These lounges are fun, well designed and offer better food than the BA Galleries lounges.

British Airways therefore wins when travelling in First for its exclusive Concorde Room and Galleries First lounge for First Class passengers. But the Club House knocks the socks off the British Airways Galleries lounges for those travelling in Upper Class or Club World.

British Airways Club World Vs Virgin Atlantic Upper Class – Which Is Best?

I have published several trip reports from my recent flights on Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class and on British Airways, in Business or Club World. You can read these reviews below:
Review: British Airways Business Class London to Vancouver, A380
Review: British Airway’s Business Class, Calgary to Heathrow, 787-8 Dreamliner
Review: British Airway’s Club World, Los Angeles to London Heathrow, A380
Review: British Airways Business Class London to Tehran, B777-200
Review: British Airways Club World London to Los Angeles, A380
Review: Club World on the Dreamliner B787-9,
Review: British Airways Club World Tokyo to London, B777
Review: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
Review: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class London To San Francisco, A340

I have outlined below which aspects each airline wins.

Why Is British Airways Club World Better Than Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?

1. Ambiance – The British Airways cabin offers an air of sophisticated and contemporary wellbeing. I prefer the look to the mildly gaudy Virgin cabin so British Airways wins.

2. Seats – Both Virgin AND British Airways win this category depending on your personal preference. The British Airways seats are arranged in the so-called “ying/yang” layout, where the seat next to you faces the opposite direction affording more privacy and space. This also means that some seats face backwards which I am not keen on. In fact, all the window seats face backwards. Virgin Atlantic goes with the herringbone layout where seats are angled, (see photo above), which feels odd, with window seats facing towards the centre of the cabin.

Virgin’s seats offer more privacy, but for couples, the Virgin seat can prove problematic. With young kids the problem is even more accentuated because you cannot see what anyone else is doing. The middle seats in BA Club World are a perfect playground for a pair of children, with the parents sat on either side to keep them in check!

3. Consistency of product – On the whole, British Airways Club World offers a fairly consistent Business Class offering across their fleets so you know what to expect. Virgin does not. Virgin offers its newest seat (pictured above) on its Boeing 787 service, but it is hard to predict which Upper Class seat you will experience, which makes booking on Virgin Atlantic more of a gamble.

It is worth noting that British Airways is launching a new seat in Club World which will have direct aisle access. This may make the actual Business Class seat more appealing overall on this transatlantic route.

Why is Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Better Than British Airways Club World?

1. Airport Lounges – While the British Airways First lounges are excellent, the Galleries Club lounges are good but lack character. Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses are more unique, offer better food and overall are a more fun experience, so Virgin wins here.

2. Sleep – For this category Virgin wins. The BA seat simply glides flat, the Virgin seats flips to a bed more like Singapore Airlines. This means that you do not sleep on the seat surface which makes it a more comfortable and restful sleep experience than Club World.

3. Seats – Both Virgin AND British Airways win this category depending on your personal preference. The British Airways seats are arranged in the so-called “ying/yang” layout, where the seat next to you faces the opposite direction affording more privacy and space. This also means that some seats face backwards which I am not keen on. In fact, all the window seats face backwards. Virgin Atlantic goes with the herringbone layout where seats are angled, (see photo above), which feels odd with window seats facing towards the centre of the cabin.

The advantages of the Virgin layout are the privacy, as you face a wall rather than another passenger. If you fly on British Airways Club World you run the risk of being in the middle pair of seats. Every Virgin seat also has direct aisle access, unlike BA, so no-one is going to jump over your feet in the middle of the night. The downside of this is that the booths are so private that you will have difficulty sharing the flight with your partner or children as you can’t see anyone else!

4. Onboard Bar – On Virgin Atlantic A380, there is an iconic onboard bar with a real-life bartender which is a great place to mingle with other flyers. On Virgin’s B787s the bar is less impressive but remains a place to grab a stool. British Airways offers a walk-up “Club Kitchen” onboard, where Business and First Class fliers can graze between meals. The Club kitchen in no way compares to the funky bar on Virgin Atlantic so Virgin wins here.

5. Food – Virgin wins again as British Airways seems to be insistent on constantly cutting the quantity and quality of its offering – most recently removing the choice of starter in Club World and forcing everyone to eat the mozzarella salad starter.

On Virgin, the food is good and there is plenty of choice, from prawns and caviar starters to chicken, beef and salmon mains. Examples of puddings include lemon curd sponge, which is very good, and strawberry panna cotta. To finish Virgin push a traditional cheese and port trolley around the cabin which is a classy touch. Later in the flight you can eat a choice of sandwiches, cakes, jam and clotted cream scones or a burger. In comparison, BA offer a specific selection of sandwiches with no choice.

6. Amenity Kits – Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Relax Packs have been developed by Canadian lifestyle brand Herschel and come in two innovative designs. On outbound flights from the UK, it’s a hangable wash bag. On inbound flights to the UK, they offer a bag inspired by the famous Herschel Network Pouch. I like the different bag supplied each way. Both packs include: A Rituals hand cream, lip balm and face cream. A toothbrush, a new larger, branded tube of toothpaste, earplugs, eyeshade, socks and a Virgin Atlantic pen. BA offers a more bog standard Elemis amenity kit in Business which is the same both ways so Virgin wins.

7. Wilbur and Orville, the Virgin salt and pepper characters, returned in 2013. Possibly the coolest salt and pepper pots in the world, you can ‘borrow’ them and take them home with you – it is almost worth flying Upper Class to take home these lovelies.

8. WiFi – British Airways currently does not offer WiFi on its planes so Virgin wins here.. for now.

9. Pyjamas – Virgin Upper Class supplies passengers on overnight flights with a black jersey sleep suit, a simple, cozy pyjama set. On British Airways you only get PJs in First.

Other features such as entertainment and staff tend to be comparative between the two airlines with no clear winner.

Conclusion – Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Beats British Airways Club Class

When comparing Virgin’s Upper Class to British Airways Club Class, Upper Class wins in almost every respect. The Clubhouse lounge is fun and has better food than BA’s Galleries lounges. If you want privacy, direct aisle access, Virgin also wins. Although it is worth re-highlighting that if you are travelling in a couple or as a family, you will probably prefer the layout in British Airways, assuming you want to see your family or other half! Virgin’s onboard food offering is more generous, the seat is more comfortable for sleeping and it has an onboard bar. Of course, the Middle East Airlines; Emirates, Etihad and Qatar offer a better Business Class product altogether but they don’t yet cover transatlantic routes. American Airlines, Delta and United also offer Business Class on these routes and should be considered.

British Airways Vs Virgin Atlantic Air Mile Redemption – Which Is Best?

Upper Class return to New York on Virgin Atlantic costs 95,000 Flying Club miles (35,000 in Premium Economy & 20,000 in Economy). This compares to 100,000 Avios (off peak) or 120,000 Avios (peak). Both airlines add around £500 in taxes. Unless you have a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher. Virgin works out cheaper.

I have also outlined the cheapest transatlantic airlines flying to Europe. BA and Virgin are not included in this list but as you can not fly to Europe for as little as $99, this is worth a read.

It is also worth mentioning that there will be a game changer launching around 2020 with the introduction of Concorde like transatlantic Supersonic travel. The major players in this market are Boom, backed by Richard Branson, Spike Aerospace, Airbus and Aerion Corp. With prices expected to be around $5,000 a ticket, these will offer an exciting and faster alternative to First and Business when travelling transatlantic.