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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)

  • Stu R says:

    This is where we start to mourn the impending loss of MyFlights …. back to checking every booking manually every other day 🙁

  • Jake says:

    Damn it! I’ve got PE flights to Delhi in February, very special bucket list holiday for my mother to see the Taj Mahal, really hope we don’t get downgraded. Paid on points with Amex upgrade voucher so our options would be economy or cancel, neither of which appeal.

  • Susan says:

    Don’t buyers choose engines rather than boeing? Recall that from a Michael Chricton novel some years ago BTW NOT one to pack to read on the flight!

    • ChrisC says:

      Yes the airlines choose which engines they want to install just like the6mdomwith seats and other features.

      This engine issue is affecting a number of airlines and not just VS

    • Alex W says:

      You can only use the engines that Boeing has got certification for. Looks like the 787 has a choice of RR or GE engines.

    • Rob says:

      Yes but the engines are developed specifically for the plane in conjunction with the manufacturer.

      • Cassie says:

        And even more so, for the 787. There is always some synergy between engine and airframe, but the radical new ‘more electric’ architecture of the 787 hydraulics etc means a bespoke no-bleed engine system too.
        It’s probably the future. But at the moment, there are teething troubles, to put it mildly.

    • Barras says:

      And a great novel it is!

  • Jo says:

    I’ve been checking our booking daily for an equipment change for a few months now as so many 787’s seemed to be affected recently. It is still saying we are on a dreamliner to SFO in January. I do not mind at all if we are changed to a VS A340/A330/747 (but would love to keep our chosen window seats hence why I’ve been checking) . I would really hate to be changed to a non Virgin aircraft, I like the virgin UC seat/layout/IFE and it is a long flight to be offered an inferior option. I guess I need to quit complaining though as it is a day flight and it is still going to be better than being downgraded to economy, unless the replacement business class cabin is smaller………

  • Tom says:

    Let’s hope they don’t lease from HiFly like Norwegian does when their 787s are grounded. I had a shocking flight to NYC on one of those a couple of weeks back!

  • JamesB says:

    I guess you must be reading about premium cabins only, I doubt there has ever been a more criticised aircraft amongst economy passengers than the 787. If tge reliability is so poor why are airlines continuing to buy them big time? Their reliability must be fine or Boeing must be giving them discounts they cannot resist.

    • the real harry1 says:

      long range, lower capacity, can land in most airports (whereas the A380 can’t)

      • JamesB says:

        It doesn’t compete wi a380 though, the largest variants of the current and forthcoming u77 do. Still have not had the opportunity to fly a 787 myself so I’m curious.

        • Callum says:

          It felt more or less like any other plane, except a little quieter and with better air.

          Why people would specifically moan about it I have no idea. Perhaps they’ve been on high density layouts etc which is obviously down to the airline, not a problem with the plane.

    • Clive says:

      Don’t forget the airlines order years in advance and he 787 has a long order backlog – ie orders were placed long before problems were known, and switching to the A350 now would mean joining the back of another long queue.
      At this point, they don’t have much choice but to make the best of it. RR will be responsible for the engine costs – I wonder who is responsible for additional disruption costs? RR or some other insurance?

      • JamesB says:

        True, but there has also been a number of large 787 orders this year. The a350 has issues of its own through and it is not as if airlines have much choice. If the problems persist then the a330neo might get an unexpected boost. I understabd the airlines can buy the engines with service and rdplacement deals but I have no idea how many do that.

        • Clive says:

          Yes but the orders this year won’t be affected of course – the engine blade issue has been fixed on new engines and the problem is purely spare parts for those currently in service. RR can’t keep up with both new engine production and replacement (at present).

  • Boris says:

    The flights I was scouting for a March trip are impacted I believe IAD-LHR in PE no longer are offer PE

  • Cassie says:

    A350 orders are booming…
    Although Emirates surprisingly switched away from an A350 order to a mega-787 order just a few weeks ago. So 787 demand continues regardless.
    Virgin have 8 A350s on order, apparently. Though delivery is years away.

    • roberto says:

      2019 according to SRB..

    • Clive says:

      It’s a bit of a red herring that this is being painted as an aircraft issue when it is a turbine blade issue on a particular engine type, for which there aren’t yet enough replacement parts. It will be fixed in the medium term after short term mayhem.

    • Tom says:

      13, from early 2019