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Great ground experience in London, lie-flat seat and solid amenity kit.
Lackluster onboard service, underwhelming food, uninspiring IFE.
In case you haven’t heard, The Points Guy is expanding across the pond and launching TPG UK in March. As the general manager of the UK office, I’ve been hopping between my home in London and TPG headquarters in New York City a lot. Naturally, all the transatlantic traveling that I’ve done in the last several months has led to great opportunities for flight reviews. I’m primarily a British Airways flyer, so when the opportunity came to fly its principal competitors on BA’s most important route, I jumped at the chance.
A few years ago, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic formed a joint-venture agreement that allows them to codeshare on each other’s flights across the Atlantic to better compete with a similar relationship between American Airlines and British Airways. Between the two carriers, there are up to eight daily flights between London (LHR) and New York-JFK or Newark (EWR).
Virgin operates several different aircraft, including Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and Airbus A330s and A340s. Delta used to operate Boeing 767s between the two cities, but fairly recently switched to all A330s on the route in order to better match Virgin’s business-class offering. It still has 767s operating other routes from Heathrow, however. Amsterdam (AMS) is the only European destination (so far) that sees Delta’s newest bird, the Airbus A350. It’s generally known that the A330 offers the airline’s second-best business product, so I was excited to see how it stacked up on a relatively quick transatlantic hop from LHR to JFK.
When looking for Delta awards, a good place to start is Virgin Atlantic’s website. Usually, Delta charges insane amounts of its own SkyMiles for flights, and mine was no different. On the day I needed to fly, Delta was charging a staggering 280,000 SkyMiles one-way for a business-class flight. I quickly checked Virgin’s website and was relieved to find that I could book the same flight for 47,500 miles one-way, plus $425 in taxes and fees. All award flights departing from Heathrow are subject to high taxes and fees, which is very unfortunate, but it’s worlds better than paying the $8,000-plus Delta and Virgin are currently charging for one-way business-class flights on the route.
If you’re looking to book a similar flight, Virgin Atlantic miles are easy to come by, since all three major transferable currencies partner with the airline, and there are often transfer bonuses with both Citi and American Express. And, if you’re traveling in the off-peak season, you could score a one-way business-class redemption with just one sign-up bonus from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards, both of which are offering 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Alternatively, consider the Platinum Card® from American Express, which is offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 within the first three months.
Since they joined forces, Delta and Virgin have consolidated their operations at Heathrow into Terminal 3. Their shared branding occupies the whole left side of the terminal.
I arrived a good two and a half hours before my 5pm flight, and the check-in area was pretty deserted. It was a big area, though, so I imagine it does get busy earlier in the day during rush hour for US-bound flights. An airport employee stopped me from taking pictures of the check-in area, telling me it was strictly forbidden for security reasons.
For Delta-operated flights, a brief interview with a security officer was required before check-in. No such interview was required (yet) for Virgin flights, even though the airline used the exact same check-in area and desks. To the right of the premium check-in area was an elevator taking Virgin Upper Class and Delta One passengers up a level to a separate security area (which required a boarding-pass scan to access). There was only one other passenger there, so I was through in seconds. The whole check-in and security process took less than 10 minutes.
Terminal 3 at LHR had a range of lounges, including the excellent Cathay Pacific lounge and the new Qantas lounge.
Those traveling in Delta One or Platinum and Diamond members traveling in any class of service on either Delta or Virgin were directed to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse.
I had heard many good things about this lounge and was pretty excited to try it. Though some have been critical of the number of seats that have been put into the space, overall it was a cool and funky place to spend a couple of hours waiting for a flight. Think Austin Powers or Palm Springs. This was definitely not your average airport lounge.
There were plenty of different areas with their own unique styles, including the roof terrace for great views of the parked planes, terminals and runways; the billiards table on the mezzanine; and, of course, the spa and salon, where you could get a haircut before boarding.
Certain areas felt like designated eating areas, while others were more casual or intended for working. The space could feel almost too eclectic and cluttered, though. With so many different areas and vibes, it was almost hard to make sense of it all and decide where to go first.
If you wanted to take a break from working, there was plenty to read.
Even if you were not on the roof deck, the views were pretty fantastic.
The lounge was fairly busy when I got there but got much quieter around 3:30pm, when a few other flights were boarding.
When I got hungry, I started with some of the very tasty salad and salmon from the counter, where food was served by a staff member.
Afterward, I ordered a burger from the a la carte menu.
The burger was better than most burgers I’ve had in an airport lounges — including in the BA First Class and Concorde Room lounges.
I left the Clubhouse around 4:15pm, and it took about 10 minutes to reach Gate 13. There was a small Virgin Atlantic lounge/premium waiting area right by the gate, but I was directed straight to the gate area as I entered. Preboarding commenced, and I was on board our 12-year-old Airbus A330-200, which was delivered new to Northwest Airlines, a few minutes later at 4:35pm.
We pushed back from the gate right on time at 5:10pm right on time and were airborne about 20 minutes later.
Cabin and Seat
My flight was on an Airbus A330-200, which had 34 seats in Delta One that converted into a flat bed, 32 Delta Comfort+ seats and 168 standard economy seats. Though many marketing materials show off Delta’s newest product — the Delta One Suite found on the A350 and some Boeing 777s — the Delta One seat on the A330 was a reverse-herringbone product installed back in the days of Delta Business Elite and then refitted when the product became known as Delta One.
The Delta One cabin featured a 1-2-1 layout spread across two cabins at the front of the aircraft.
I was in the larger cabin at the front, in 4J. All seats had a pitch of 80 inches, a width of 21 inches and direct aisle access. There were two toilets at the front for both business-class cabins, and the galley was between the two cabins.
In general, the cabin and seat still looked clean and fresh, mainly thanks to the blue-and-white color scheme — though I could tell that this was an older product.
Like all reverse-herringbone configurations, window seats were angled toward the windows, while the middle seats were angled toward each other.
Though it wasn’t Delta’s latest and greatest, the seat had all the basics one would expect from a business-class product, including a USB charging port and international power outlet.
The personal reading light was in addition to the overhead light and was adjustable.
The table that slid out from the armrest was sufficient for both reading and working.
The footwell wasn’t the largest I’ve had in business class, but it was better than a lot of products on other airlines.
Even though it was technically a daylight flight, pretty much the entire flight occurred in darkness, given the later takeoff from London. The cabin lights were turned off after the first meal service, and I struggled to get comfortable for no obvious reason. Also, I found it strange that I couldn’t turn off the small light that was likely meant to aid ingress and egress, which meant the seat wasn’t as dark as I would have liked.
Storage space above the seat was surprisingly small — I don’t think a normal rollaboard would have easily fit into the bins above the window seats, though those above the middle section were slightly larger.
Both business-class lavs were in the front of the cabin and were pretty standard, with no premium amenities to speak of.
Amenities and IFE
I didn’t receive one of Delta’s signature hard-case Tumi amenity kits. Instead, I got a soft-sided bag. Inside, though, it was all the same and contained an eye mask, ear plugs and basic toiletries. The noise-canceling headset had a sleek-looking wooden finish.
The IFE system was adequate, though I found the film selection somewhat uninspiring.
I did, however, like the flight tracker and aircraft-details feature.
Wi-Fi on board worked moderately well throughout the flight and cost $30 for the duration.
As is typical for Delta, the bedding was provided by Westin Heavenly products. Each seat had a duvet and one pillow.
I don’t love the feeling of sleeping on the leather elements of the seat and would have preferred some sort of mattress pad or seat cover. Despite a few attempts, I didn’t really manage to sleep.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Cabin service began shortly after I got situated at my seat. There was a choice of orange juice or sparkling wine prior to takeoff. I asked for water, and the crew member suggested I could drink from the bottle that was at every seat. He eventually brought me a glass of iced water when I told him I preferred a glass (and to save that bottle for later in the flight).
Shortly after takeoff, menus were distributed and orders taken.
I opted for the shrimp starter, which came with soup and salad. The shrimp was bland but fresh, and the Thai coconut soup was excellent — for sure the best part of the meal, and one of the better airline dishes I’d had. This wasn’t surprising to me, though. I often find that airlines do soups very well, and British Airways usually serves a very good soup in first.
I asked the crew member if the beef was decent and would be anything but typical airline beef — overdone — and she told me it would be good. I am realistic about beef on planes, but I’ve had great beef on AA and BA when the crew really knows how to not overcook it. I’ve also had some very honest crew members who have told me that the beef wouldn’t have been their first choice.
Well, this beef was in the overcooked, should-have-gone-for-pasta category.
It also felt that there was a carb side missing from the dish. The beef, cauliflower and beans could have done with a potato side of sorts.
For dessert, I had ice cream, which was tasty, and I loved the heart-shaped spoon.
The second meal was served just over an hour before arrival into JFK. I chose the Cuban sandwich, which was good and filled me up nicely.
The crew member working on my side was efficient enough but she addressed me twice with the wrong name. Combine that with the water bottle interaction I had earlier with another FA, and I couldn’t help but feel like the experience wasn’t all that premium or service oriented. I felt satisfied in terms of food and drink, but it didn’t necessarily feel like I was a valued customer on that flight. This could all be a fluke, of course, so I look forward to trying the product again in the future to see if there’s any difference.
Business class has evolved so much in recent years. It ranges from some airlines still offering angled-seats where you have to climb over your neighbors to other airlines offering business-class suites with sliding doors, on-demand dining and great ground service. Sometimes you get the whole gamut in a single airline.
Delta is one of those airlines that has a very good modern product with the Delta One Suites on its A350s and some 777s but also has a much older product on its 767s. The business-class offering on the A330 falls between the two: It’s solid enough but doesn’t wow with its hard product. Similarly, the service and food offerings were strictly average: The food was edible but not amazing overall, and service was ho-hum but not disastrous. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at LHR and the associated ground experience was the highlight of the flight for me, and perhaps reason enough to fly Delta/Virgin across the Atlantic again — though I think I’ll try Virgin Atlantic next time.
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