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Part 2: Will the A330-200 encourage Virgin Atlantic to dump Upper Class herringbone seats?

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This is part two of my review of Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic’s A330-200 fleet.  Part 1 is here.  These aircraft were inherited from airberlin to replace Virgin’s faulty Boeing 787-9 fleet and are about to receive a refurbishment.

In this part, I want to consider what Virgin Atlantic can learn from the airberlin fleet as it decides on a seat for its brand new A350 fleet.  This is a ‘once in 10 years’ opportunity to make a radical change.

Virgin Atlantic A350

The conundrum for Virgin Atlantic – what to do with the A350?

I think that Virgin Atlantic is at a crossroads in terms of seat design.  The airline genuinely thinks that the airberlin seating layout is a step down from Upper Class, albeit a step up from British Airways Club World.  I don’t necessarily agree.

From my discussions with the cabin crew, other passengers don’t agree either.  Whilst the airberlin interiors are, to put it politely, a bit knackered, feedback is apparently very good.  People like facing forward and they like the easy aisle access.  Apparently the lack of an Upper Class bar hasn’t caused any concern either, with only a handful of passengers mentioning it.

What is on the way from November – see below – looks good.  We’re not talking Qatar Airways Qsuite or Etihad Business Class Studio but it will be more than decent.

Virgin Atlantic A330-200 refurbishment

I think this puts Virgin Atlantic in a dilemma.  They need to make a call soon on the business class product for the new A350 fleet.  My personal view – and I will talk about the A330-300 Upper Class seat later this week – is that the current herringbone Upper Class layout as shown below has had its day.

Virgin Atlantic A330-300 Upper Class

The way forward should be some sort of ‘feet in a cubby hole, everyone facing forward’ seat.  It doesn’t need to be Qsuite but something along the lines of the Etihad product would be great.

There are better layouts which have a very similar seat density to the current Upper Class seat.  Let’s run some numbers:

On the A330-300, pictured above, Virgin Atlantic has 31 Upper Class seats between the centre doors and the bulkhead.

On an identical aircraft, Aer Lingus has 30 Business Class seats.  These are in a 1-2-1 or 1-2-2 configuration depending on row.  It is a great seat as you can see here, which I would happily take over Upper Class.  The 10 solo seats are especially impressive.

Aer Lingus A330-300 business class

With virtually no loss of density, Virgin Atlantic could move to a layout like this which is, to me, far more appealing.

Let’s look at Iberia.  On their A330-300 aircraft, they have 28 Business Class seats between the bulkhead and the centre doors.  This is a pure 1-2-1 layout.  There are actually 36 Business Class seats in total because there are a further two rows behind the galley:

Iberia A330-300 business class

Again, I think you would struggle to find many people who prefer the Virgin Atlantic A330-300 Upper Class layout to what Iberia is offering.  It is also worth remembering that Iberia and Aer Lingus have not, historically, had the greatest of reputations for their business class seats, but arguably both now tower above both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

It may also be time to say goodbye to the onboard bar.  Compared to what Emirates and Qatar Airways (on the A380 fleet) offer, the Virgin Atlantic bars do not compete and few people use them.  ‘Go big or go home’ is probably the answer here.  Freeing up the space to allow for an even better seat could be worth it.


For now, if you find yourself on one of the ex-airberlin planes in Upper Class (marked A330-200 in the timetable) then you shouldn’t be concerned.  You get the typically good Virgin Atlantic food and service and, especially if travelling alone and in one of the solo seats directly next to the windows, you will have a good flight.

From November, when the fully refurbished planes come into operation, it should be even better.  We will hopefully get a chance to try one out.

It remains to be seen what sort of seat Virgin Atlantic will choose for its new A350 fleet.  I hope that feedback from the airberlin aircraft will persuade them that an Iberia or Aer Lingus layout is the way to go.

You can find out more about the A330-200 fleet on the Virgin website here.

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Comments (64)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • BJ says:

    I expect that in the short to medium term Virgin and most other airlines will continue to make improvements to business class seating. However, having squeezed every last penny out of economy passengers in the current effort to maximise revenues, I believe it is inevitable that airlines will subsequently turn their revenue growing exploits to premium cabins. Ultimately, I expect this will lead to the high density seating such as CW becoming the norm. Today may be the golden age of business travel so we best enjoy it while it lasts.

    • Bob says:

      Neoliberalism is the only solution for everyone in his mind in this current world.

      So I do not see today to be the golden age of business travel.

      I see rich people becoming more rich and travelling more in enhanced business classes.
      And poor people becoming more poor…

      • Rob says:

        It has been shown many times that the public will not pay for better quality Economy seating unfortunately. Charge £10 more but offer 9-across and not 10-across and the public take the £10 saving in return for 10 hours of reduced space.

        • @mkcol says:

          I was working in the travel trade when AA launched their More Room in Economy – such a flop. Not a single one of my customers was swayed by another ~4″ of legroom.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          But they’ll all complain it’s cramped

        • BJ says:

          @mkcol, that was pretty much in the final days of my longhaul economy travels. Backs up Rob’s point because really, those AA cabins were as nice as economy got, way better than UA economh plus. It is hard to believe it flopped but there you go.

        • Bob says:


          There is that addittionnal saving buyers wanting to make in economy. So indeed the 10 across.

          I believe also business seats will keep improving a little more constantly. I guess there are more and more buyers for business class seats.

        • Jon says:

          If all the public “will not pay for better quality economy seating” then Premium Economy wouldn’t exist. Virgin’s higher categories in economy wouldn’t exist. Far too simplistic.

          If you have 3 (or even 4) seat categories at different price levels, then the cheapest one (which let’s not forget is labelled economy) will attract the most price sensitive customers. What would be silly is looking at a product that is named “economy” and expecting anything other than price to be the main factor for most customers. There are other product levels – including those beneath Business Class for those not choosing purely on price.

  • Es163 says:

    I travelled from Manchester on a business trip to Atlanta on a Virgin ex Air Berlin plane in April and it was one of the worst business class flying experiences that I’ve ever had (I fly business/first monthly). As it was booked at short notice the only seats available were the centre “love suites”. As a female travelling with a male partner this was far from ideal (but generated a lot of office banter!). The seats were unbelievably cramped and uncomfortable to the point that I had to ask for blankets to sit on just to make it bearable, although producing more blankets seemed to be a struggle. Many of the ife screens in the cabin were broken, including my colleague’s. The crew had no idea as to how the features on the plane actually worked and the level of service was very poor throughout. I could write a lot more about how bad the experience was. It was so bad that I changed my return flight and flew to London instead (which was very inconvenient when trying to get to Leeds) in one of Virgin’s herringbone seats. That experience was slightly better but not better enough to make me want to fly with Virgin ever again.

  • Omar says:

    Cant they just use their seats that they offer on the A330’s used by Virgin Australia? Surely those would be the best seats.

  • Leo says:

    It’s all subjective. I like the usual UC seat and product very much. On-board bars however seem largely a gimmick, and I include the QR a380. On night flights they are empty.

  • Capecam says:

    Rob – I completely agree with your view on the herringbone layout – To me it looks and feels like an impersonal row of flying coffins. I avoid VA because of this- in all other ways they offer a great product out of LHR and Joburg. But this layout is enough to stop me flying them .If you remember , the onboard bar and the onboard masseuse were VA’s USP. The masseuse are long gone, and with other carriers having onboard bars, they could lose it with minimal impact. I hope the A350 follow the design set by QR and Finnair.

  • John G says:

    For the A350s they should use the same seats as DL has on their A350s and make a real sratement. They need to be ahead if the curve if they are investing in a seat for the next 10 years, not copying the current midrange offerings.

    • @mkcol says:

      Funny that you’re the first to suggest they use the same seat as their owner DL – blindingly obvious now you say so!

      • Rob says:

        Not really, I believe DL wants VS to be different to attract a different client.

  • anon says:

    I seem to have missed the point… why do Virgin need to change the current layout? They are fitting the same or more number of seats as other airlines and it seems the 1-1-1 layout is more private than 1-2-1 or 1-2-2?

    • Lumma says:

      It’s not more private when 67% of passengers are looking at other passengers. Hard to see out the window too.

      If there’s as many seats in a 1-1-1 layout as a 1-2-1 in the same space, then there’s clearly an issue with the size of the seat too.

      The two seats that alternate with the throne seats on Aer Lingus look terrible in my opinion, even if the rest of the cabin is good. There does seem to be numerous off the shelf solutions that Virgin could install though which are superior to their current seat

      • Mark says:

        Whether it’s 3, 4 or more seats abreast says nothing about the seating density since it doesn’t reflect the extent to which the seats are angled (i.e. consume more width and less pitch as is the case with Virgin) or the rows overlap. A case in point being that BA is seen as 7 or 8 abreast whilst Etihad Business Studio claims 4 abreast – in fact the layout isn’t all that different (even though the Etihad seat is vastly superior).

        The big issue with the Virgin seat compared to the better competition this days is lack of anywhere easily accessible to put stuff. And whilst all seats do have direct aisle access, anyone who prefers a window seat because they actually want to be able to look out of it is going to be disappointed. The fact you have to get up to turn the seat into a bed, and have limited recline in seat mode also isn’t great. I’ve never flown Virgin Upper Class (though I have flown virtually the same seat with Air NZ) – the hard product simply isn’t good enough to entice me away from BA Club World (and that is saying something these days!).

    • Rob says:

      Because it is crap.

  • Neil says:

    My wife and I travelled on AB from Tegel to JFK in the love suites – whilst she enjoyed the experience (she only travels once a year on holiday) I hated it..I found the seat narrow, uncomfortable and the oddest bit is that whilst I am no thin rake, I found it a squeeze to get past the narrow entrance/exit into the middle seats themselves. Didn’t enjoy it one bit. I sighed when I saw those aircraft arriving at Manchester.

    • Mzungu says:

      That’s the first time (as far as I can remember) that anyone has mentioned the narrow entrance to the middle pair. I found the same with IB on MAD-HAV (booked thanks to HFP). At the time I wondered how anyone whose BMI is more than my 26 would get in!

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