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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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As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, one has a bonus of 15,000 Points):

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Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

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(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (65)

  • Jason Hindle says:

    I would have thought it should be possible for an Upper Class passenger to cancel. After all, Virgin advertise these seats; the advertising sets certain expectations. Trading Standards?

  • mark2 says:

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    I believe the answer is 160ft#RewardPoints

  • mark2 says:

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  • David plain says:

    Ah I wondered why there were a few 787s parked by the virgin hanger at lhr with engines missing. Anyone departing off 27right will be able to see them out of the right side of their aircraft

  • James A says:

    Lots of people have written nice things about the 787…none of them from the economy cabins 😛

    • the real harry1 says:

      if you’re asking if I would vote for that rascal Corbyn if he said he’d reverse Brexit: yes, I would

  • Martin says:

    Virgin have always had issues with inadequate backup for planes with problems. BA usually has spare planes just lying around – when our 747 had a technical problem at T5 a few months ago, another 747 was conjured up and left within 2 hours. Considering we had to disembark and reboard the new aircraft, that’s pretty good.

    BA also often have a spare plane at JFK “just in case”

    Virgin fully utilise and so have less scope fr recovery

    • Rob says:

      Not only does BA have a plane, there is a full crew for that plane sat in a hotel rooms somewhere on the Heathrow periphery.

      • Richard says:

        And with EU261 rules as is, it probably doesn’t cost them any more than it would to not have them there.

  • Steve says:

    One flight from LHR to JFK on 14 Nov was cancelled due to lack of aircraft. Moved to LHR to ATL, which was OK as we were on our way to FLL. However, the LHR to ATL flight was a Delta flight, business class not as good as Virgin Upper Class.

  • Botham says:

    When BA had their IT problems, I had to rebook my extended family on to a Virgin 787 from LHR to MIA and they all reported a very enjoyable flight in economy.