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UK-based airlines have long offered premium cabin experiences behind the competition. Virgin Atlantic, for one, is hoping to change that with the introduction of its first-ever Upper Class suite, which will beinstalled on its soon-to-be-delivered Airbus A350s.
On Monday, Virgin Atlantic unveiled the Upper Class suite at its London Gatwick headquarters. Outfitted on a mockup of the A350, the seat is unlike anything you’ll currently find on Virgin’s fleet.
Cabin and Seat
The Upper Class suite features a first-of-its-kind Safran bespoke seat in a 1-2-1 configuration, granting each passenger direct aisle access. The cabin is bright and light, featuring predominantly white and red colors with Claret leather upholstery. Passengers seated against the cabin wall will be especially pleased to hear that the new seats face toward the window instead of against. No more craning of one’s neck to see outside.
While the Upper Class suite is called just that, a suite, it doesn’t technically fit that category — at least by current standards. Other premium cabins feature fully closed suites, such as the Delta One Suite, Qatar Qsuite or British Airways’ upcoming Club Suite, but Virgin’s new Upper Class suite features a privacy divider facing the aisle, which closes a bit less than one foot.
Virgin says that the partial closure fits well into the carrier’s social-friendly stance. Without closing off passengers completely to the crew and interactions with other flyers, the airline says that the partial closure is sufficient to give passengers enough privacy — especially when compared to its current product. In the two center seats, there is a small privacy divider, which can be extended if you’re not traveling next to someone you know.
In the Upper Class cabin on the A350, passengers can expect a total of 44 seats across a single cabin. Each of the seats feature 44 inches of pitch and 20 inches of width — rather narrow compared to the existing Upper Class product on the A340-600s, 747s and 787-9s, which offer 22 inches. When in lie-flat position, each of the beds measure 82 inches or 6’10”. The bulkhead seats are ideal for taller travelers, as they have a wider footwell.
Storage has long been a complaint on the older Upper Class product. Virgin’s done quite a bit to resolve that issue, but it’s still lacking a major storage compartment. It did choose to install both a cocktail table and shelving areas, however, a place to store a personal bag is missing. Instead of being able to place it in the footwell, passengers will have to store it in the overhead compartments.
Each of the Upper Class suite seats is also equipped with an 18.5-inch inflight entertainment screen. The display is entirely touchscreen and is almost double the size of that on the current product. The new IFE system can be connected via Bluetooth to a passenger’s mobile device, allowing control either from the screen itself or from a phone. Each of the A350s to be delivered will come with Wi-Fi.
Like the current IFE system, the one on the Upper Class suite will pop out of the seatback in front. Unfortunately, this means that the IFE screen is required to be stowed during taxi, takeoff and landing. Passengers can also watch while in the locked position, but it could result in a sore neck.
A big upgrade to the hard product experience that passengers will be happy to hear about is that each of the Upper Class suite seats will feature two USB ports and one full outlet.
The tray table also pops out from the seatback in front, requiring it to be stowed during taxi, takeoff and landing. However, when it’s popped out, it can swivel to two positions, allowing passengers to exit the seat for a bathroom break during meal service.
Doing Away With the Bar
You read that right, Virgin’s completely doing away with the bar that’s featured on some of its long-haul aircraft. Instead, it’s introducing “The Loft.” At most airports, all passengers — regardless of class — will enter through door two and be greeted by the bright and open Loft space, which is accessible in flight only by Upper Class passengers.
The Loft is meant to bring the Clubhouse experience to the skies. It features two red couch-like seating areas, which are meant to offer a social setting on the plane. It has the capacity to fit eight customers — five seated and three standing. The Loft comes equipped with seatbelts, so passengers won’t have to return to their seats if the plane encounters turbulence. Additionally, The Loft is equipped with both USB and power ports so you can charge your devices away from your seat.
Above one of the couches in The Loft, there’s also a 32-inch TV screen. Virgin will offer bespoke content on the screen, but exactly what that is has yet to be decided. Passengers will be able to connect their headphones to the TV via Bluetooth, so the sound of the content doesn’t disturb the rest of the cabin.
Virgin hasn’t yet determined if The Loft will feature a self-serve bar, but it says that there will be a small self-serve area. Additionally, cabin crew will serve passengers snacks and drinks — including tea service — to passengers seated in The Loft.
New Premium and Economy Cabins
On the A350, passengers can expect new Premium and economy products. The Premium cabin will feature 56 seats, arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration. Each of the seats will feature 7 inches of recline, 18.5 inches of width and 38 inches of pitch.
If you’re planning on flying the Premium product, you’ll want to choose a seat in the bulkhead row, as it features both a leg and footrest.
The rest of the seats in the Premium cabin feature a footrest in the form of a pedal, with no leg rest.
Each of the seats features a rich red Claret leather seat with a four-way adjustable headrest. The inflight entertainment system has a 13.3-inch touchscreen device, which can also be operated by a passenger’s phone. And, for the tray table, Premium passengers can expect a bi-fold design. Each of the seats will also offer two USB ports and one standard power outlet.
Farther back in the aircraft, in the economy cabin, there are 235 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. Each seat features up to 17.4 inches of width and 5 inches of recline, however how much legroom you’ll have depends on the economy product you choose to purchase.
For Economy Classic and Economy Light flyers, each of the seats will have 31 inches of pitch. Meanwhile, for Economy Delight flyers, there will be 34 inches of pitch, on seats located at the front of the cabin. Other than the location of the seat and amount of pitch, the offering for economy passengers will be the same.
Economy passengers across all offerings can expect an 11.6-inch touchscreen entertainment system, which can also be controlled by a passenger’s personal device. There are USB ports in every seat, however, there are no power ports in the economy cabin.
When and Where Will the New Product Fly?
The A350 is set to replace the airline’s aging fleet of Boeing 747-400 aircraft, which will be completely retired by 2021. Virgin is set to take delivery of a total of 12 A350-1000s between 2019 and 2021, and by the end of the year, it’ll have four operating in its fleet. And, AvGeeks, rejoice: the IFE system will feature a live tailcam video.
While an exact date has yet to be set for the delivery of Virgin’s first A350, the airline says that it’ll sometime in “late summer 2019.” The first of the A350s will operate on Virgin’s flagship route between London Heathrow and New York JFK. Following the introduction of the LHR-JFK route, it’ll also operate between LHR and Atlanta.
Virgin’s not yet saying if its existing fleet of aircraft will get the new product. However, considering that the airline is set to retire its fleet of 747s and A340s in the not-too-distant future, it’s safe to say those aircraft will not see the new product. However, Virgin may install the new product on its yet-to-be-delivered aircraft, depending on how it’s received with the A350.
The airline’s also not yet saying if it’s introducing a new soft product, but it’s leaving that option open.
Featured image by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy.
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