Earlier this year Virgin Atlantic announced that the airline was going to lease four ex-Air Berlin A330-200 planes to replace Boeing 787 aircraft which need a full replacement of their Rolls-Royce engines.
Whilst Virgin will be receiving a fleet of new A350 aircraft very soon, the plan is to keep the Air Berlin planes – potentially beyond the initial four year lease, and definitely beyond the anticipated return of the 787s – and use them to expand capacity.
These A330-200s are currently receiving a makeover to fit in with the rest of the fleet. The Economy cabin will be freshened up, a Premium cabin will be added and a new seat layout introduced to Upper Class.
To showcase their £10 million investment, Virgin Atlantic hosted a small press event last Friday giving us the chance to experience the new layout through VR glasses – and it did look great.
Virgin Atlantic did not have a lot of options for these A330-200 aircraft. Developing a new aircraft seat takes, literally, years. This is because a huge amount of testing and certification is required before the authorities will declare a seat to be safe in all possible emergency scenarios. Virgin does not have the luxury of time here.
Virgin Atlantic is introducing a new Upper Class seat on the A330-200 aircraft. This is, for certification reasons, based on the current Air Berlin design and layout, but the seats will be brand new with a number of improvements.
There are a total of 19 seats featuring ‘love suites’ for couples as well as corner and ‘freedom’ suites for solo travellers. At present, these aircraft are being used primarily on Caribbean routes (Manchester to Atlanta is the exception) which attract a higher number of couples and family groups in Upper Class and the ‘cosy’ middle seat pairs are apparently not proving a problem.
The ‘pair’ seats also make up for the one missing feature on these aircraft which will remain missing – the on-board bar. Virgin is hoping that couples who would sit at the bar in order to be able to chat (the traditional Upper Class layout makes it difficult to talk to your neighbour) will be happy to chat and drink at their seats.
All seats have direct aisle access and enhanced surface spaces. The entertainment screens will be slightly larger than in other aircraft. Click to enlarge this schematic showing the changes:
The new seat fabric has been fully upholstered with natural and soft espresso leather:
One new feature is that the armrests will drop down to become part of the bed, effectively creating a wider space than is currently the case. Storage space has also been increased.
As the Air Berlin planes didn’t have Premium Economy, Virgin Atlantic has chosen to rip out a few rows of Economy seats to make space for a Premium cabin.
The seats will be the same 38″ pitch seats that Singapore Airlines has in its aircraft. By coincidence, Rob and I had a tour of a brand new Singapore Airlines A380 yesterday (report to follow) and the Premium Economy seats looked very good.
In the Economy cabin, passengers will find the existing Air Berlin seats with new covers and added power sockets.
To accommodate Economy Delight seats with the bigger 34″ pitch, some rows will be moved slightly.
From November this year the plan is to have the new cabin on flights out of Manchester to Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as from Gatwick to some Caribbean destinations. They should be easy to spot in the timetable as they will be shown as flights operated by an A330-200 but with a Premium Economy cabin.
If you are interested in what these aircraft are like at the moment, before the refit, Rob is due to be flying one next week and will report back ….
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