British Airways versus Virgin Atlantic: Which is better for families?

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British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are the top two U.K.-based airlines for long-haul flights. As their pricing tends to be very similar, how are you meant to choose between the two British airlines as a family?

This comparison between the two focuses on long-haul economy. On British Airways, you can either choose Economy Basic (hand luggage) or Economy Standard (one checked bag). On Virgin Atlantic, there is Economy Light (hand luggage), Economy Classic (seat choice and one checked bag) and Economy Delight (seat choice, one checked bag and more legroom).

(Photo by Daniel Ross / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross / The Points Guy)

Pre-flight

Booking seats

Families with an Economy Standard British Airways ticket will be allocated seats at check-in and can pay to change them or pay for seat selection at the time of booking. Those booking Economy Basic tickets will be assigned seats at check-in, or you can pay for a seat with Economy Basic tickets once your booking is complete.

Many families like that the majority of Virgin Atlantic fares include seat selection except Economy Light. With an Economy Classic ticket, you can choose that your family sits together from the time of booking, which would require an additional cost on BA.

When searching for tickets from London to Boston, the Economy Standard/Classic (with one checked bag) fares were the same on Virgin Atlantic or British Airways. However, British Airways still required a minimum charge of £26 per person each way to select a seat at the time of booking while Virgin Atlantic included the seat choice. Virgin can offer a savings of at least £200 on a return itinerary for a family of four who wants to sit together in economy.

British Airways still requires a fee for your seat with Economy Standard

Winner: Virgin Atlantic

Booking the bassinet

When booking a bassinet, there is a clear difference between the two carriers. On British Airways, you can book the bassinet online from the time of booking for free. With Virgin, after booking, you need to ring an agent who will add a ‘request’ for a bassinet to your booking. Your request is confirmed or denied by the airport team within 24 hours of travel. On both airlines, you can request the bassinet even on basic economy tickets.

Winner: British Airways

Fares for a lap infant

If travelling on an award ticket and you want to bring a lap infant, Virgin charges a fixed redemption of 1,000 Flying Club miles each way for economy, 2,000 miles for Premium and 5,000 for Upper Class plus 10% of taxes. British Airways charges 10% of the adult ticket’s points plus taxes and fees no matter the cabin. For cash fares, both carriers charge 10% of the adult fare plus taxes and fees.

Winner: Draw

Checked luggage allowance

For most long-haul flights, the luggage allowance on a standard economy ticket is the same between the airlines — one bag weighing in at 23kg/50lbs. Virgin Atlantic allows you to book up to seven extra bags online after check-in opens 24 hours before the flight and charges £45 for your first extra bag and £65 for a second — whether online or at the airport. The infant checked luggage policy is the same between the two airlines.

British Airways charges £45 at the airport for an extra bag or £40 online for your first extra bag from the time of booking. British Airways charges £60 for a second bag when travelling on a hand luggage ticket, but my recent searches found that the £40 online pricing also applied to our October half term basic economy tickets.

Winner: Draw

On board

Seats

Virgin Atlantic A340 economy seats (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
Virgin Atlantic A340 economy seats. (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

The seats in economy are nearly identical between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways in economy — including pitch and width. You can pay for extra legroom seats on each airline. The layouts vary between the aircraft based on route, so it’s worth checking sites like SeatGuru to see how your family fits.

Winner: Draw

Bassinet for lap infants

Virgin Atlantic’s bassinet varies depending on the plane. The 747 has the older box-style skycots, while the A330 and 787 have newer skycots with straps. British Airways’ bassinet and Britax child seat are the same on all aircraft. Virgin states that its bassinet goes up to 9kg/19lbs in weight while on British Airways babies can weigh up to 12.5 kilogrammes (27.5 pounds).

British Airways Child Seat (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)
British Airways child seat. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Winner: British Airways

Amenities

Virgin Atlantic and British Airways do not provide amenity kits in economy class. Families report that the Virgin and British Airways nylon kids backpack are very similar. Whether or not the crew hands out the bags depends on the flight. British Airways has earbuds for economy headphones, while the Virgin Atlantic headphones lay over the ear, which is preferable for children.

While many parents download their programming on devices before a trip or rely on inflight entertainment, it’s nice to have an option of Wi-Fi. Virgin offers Wifi on all planes (except for one A340), while British Airways has it on select aircraft.

Winner: Virgin Atlantic

Food service

When TPG UK reached out to families to discuss the differences between the two major UK airlines, Virgin’s food stood out. With both airlines, you need to book a child’s meal after booking.

A kids’ meal on British Airways (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Winner: Virgin Atlantic

Bottom line

There is not a clear winner for all families, as certain factors can make one airline much more valuable than another for your family’s travelling preferences. Both airlines are a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express UK Membership Rewards if you have a card like The Platinum Card from American Express UK. Using your Tesco Clubcard spend, you can start saving up your miles with the Executive Club and the Flying Club to test them both out yourself.

Featured image by The Points Guy.

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