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Look out for Virgin Atlantic downgrades (and no Premium Economy) as 787 problems mount

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Lots of people have written a lot of nice things about the Boeing 787.  It has big windows, it is fairly quiet and – for airlines – it is amazingly fuel efficient.

Unfortunately there is a downside that few people are writing about.  The planes are often dogs.  A BA insider told me recently that, taken across the industry, he believes it is the least reliable aircraft currently in service.

This is hitting Virgin Atlantic harder than most.  As this article by Seth Miller points out, a number of its Boeing 787 aircraft are currently out of service awaiting a full replacement of their Rolls-Royce engines.  At $50m each, this is going to be expensive surgery.

With no spare engines apparently available (ANA also reportedly has grounded 787 aircraft awaiting new engines), Virgin Atlantic has written to travel agents warning them of changes to come.  It is going to lease a couple of long-haul planes in order to keep the schedule going.

The problems will be:

these planes are unlikely to have a business class product on a par with Upper Class

these planes are unlikely to have Premium Economy at all, since there are few 3-class aircraft available for charter

At least, if you are travelling in Premium Economy, you would have the opportunity to cancel if it turned out that you were booked on an aircraft with no PE cabin.  Upper Class passengers would not have a legal right to cancel, as they would still be sat in a business class seat even if it was a substandard, possibly not even fully flat, one.

Virgin’s problems are compounded by the well publicised incident in New York last week when an A330 damaged a wing in a ground collision with an Egyptair plane.

If you have a Virgin Atlantic booking for the next few months, I recommend keeping an eye on the Virgin website to check for any changes to the plane type or your allocated seating.

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Comments (65)

  • David Walsh says:

    787 gets my award for the least comfortable long haul aircraft in economy ever in the history of aviation. Rubbing shoulders with passengers on both sides so you cannot sleep and arm rests so narrow they hurt your elbows. A generally sweaty and uncomfortable experience. Exception is JAL only who have wider seats and arm rests in their 787’s than every other airline I avoid the 787 like the plague but unfortunately I have had to fly it many times because there has been no other alternative that fits my schedule.

  • Texan78730 says:

    Rolls Royce also manufactured the Trent engine that exploded on QF SIN/SYD in 2010.

    • Woody says:

      Every engine manufacturer has its ‘issues’.

      If there’s one thing people in the aviation industries learn early, it’s not to take glee in the misfortune of your competitors; your misfortune is usually just around the corner.

  • FredM says:

    BA opted for British built RR engines. Airlines which opted for the American GE engines aren’t having the problems.