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A Virgin Atlantic 787-9 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Photo: Colin Cook

On a recent trip to Europe, my girlfriend and I had the opportunity to fly in two different premium cabins to compare different products. The first story covered the British Airways First Class experience on a 747-400 from Seattle to London. This second part reviews the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (business class) product on a 787-9 from London back to Seattle.

The flight in BA First Class set an extremely high bar for any future flight to exceed. Simply put, it was the best flight I’ve ever experienced, both from a hard and soft product perspective. I was interested in comparing the premium cabin experiences on aircraft that are generations apart in technology. While the 747 will always be the Queen of the Skies and helped to open many international travel routes, the 787 is very much the future of air travel.

On the night prior to our flight, we discovered that Virgin Atlantic offers Upper Class passengers a premium car service from central London to Heathrow. Unfortunately, we were evidently not eligible for this perk, as we were traveling on an award ticket. We also discovered that when you are arriving by a car service (we took an Uber), there is a special airport entrance, the Upper Class Wing, for which you can register. Once I requested the Uber on the morning of our flight, I had our hotel call Virgin Atlantic to register the car’s license plate, which allowed us access to the private check-in area for Upper Class passengers. Now that’s classy. 

Norwegian flight DY 7131 taxiing after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Norwegian 787 taxiing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

High risk, high reward. That’s how I viewed my booking on Norwegian. They recently started serving Denver, Colorado (DEN) from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) using their ever-expanding fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.  The one-way, one-stop fare from my family vacation in Copenhagen was only $600 per person in their “Premium” cabin – a steal for holiday travel.

Why did I need a one-way fare? I had used United miles to book my family from Denver to Copenhagen (via SFO) on Christmas Day. 30,000 miles per person for a pretty convenient one-stop routing on United and SAS was too good to pass up. But it made getting home a challenge. That’s one of the things that drew me to Norwegian. Also, we’re not exactly rolling in international service here in Denver. Norwegian is a new player, and I wanted to try them out.

For some reason, international travel has not reached the same parity as domestic U.S. travel when it comes to one-way fares. Piecing together an itinerary in the states is pretty easy, but just try booking a one-way flight from London to Denver. Norwegian is disrupting that model with its a la carte approach to everything, as are its long-haul international competitors such as WOW and Icelandair.

Lovely weather in London right before boarding – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

So, why high risk, high reward? Norwegian only flies to Denver three times per week. They also don’t interline with other carriers. So, when things go bad (delayed/canceled flights) they go really bad. I knew not to expect to be booked on another carrier if things went wrong. I had a backup plan in case we got stuck in London (there are worse places to be stuck), but we were lucky that our travel was flexible.

So, how was the trip? Did I win the gamble? Read on…

Norwegian's inaugural flight to Seattle from London Gatwick, a Boeing 789, rolls up to the parking stand.

Norwegian’s inaugural flight to Seattle from London Gatwick, a Boeing 789, rolls up to the parking stand

It was a homecoming of sorts (at least for the Everett, Wash.-built 787-9) as Norwegian kicked off new 4x-weekly service from Gatwick to Seattle on Sunday, Sept. 17.

Norwegian flight DY 7131 taxiing after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Gotta love those red-headed jetliners.

Norwegian flight DY 7131 taxiing after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Gotta love those red-headed jetliners.

It was a lovely Seattle morning. The rain that had been forecast was late in arriving, and the plane landed early; everything came together nicely.

AF 787-9 Dreamliner - Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

AF 787-9 Dreamliner – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

As far as airline journalism gigs go, I hoped that this would be a beauty. And it did not disappoint. I missed an opportunity to visit the Air France (AF) CDG hub experience in November 2015 due to a lost passport. However, AF gave me a second, even juicier, bite of the cerise with an invitation to try its business class product on board the airline’s recently arrived Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. We would fly out from London Heathrow (LHR) to Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on 23 March 2017. You’d perhaps be forgiven for raising an eyebrow seeing a long-haul bird deployed for a painfully short 45-minute hop over La Manche.