Part 2: Will the A330-200 encourage Virgin to abandon the Upper Class herringbone seat?

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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.

Conclusion

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.

How to earn Virgin Atlantic miles from UK credit cards

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Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Flying Club miles.  That page is regularly updated with the latest special offers and will still be accurate even if you are reading this article months after publication.

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Part 1: My review of Virgin Upper Class on the ex-airberlin A330-200 fleet
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Comments

  1. Froggitt says:

    ‘feet in a cubby hole, everyone facing forward’

    I had this on Delta some years ago, was like flying in a coffin.

    • It is the future. It allows a lot of extra personal space. Qsuite has the same density as the derided old 777 seat.

      • If the cubby is small though it’s horribly claustrophobic, esp if you want to turn over when lying flat.

      • Benedict says:

        I flew Qsuite this week on the brand new A7-BEU, and found it a claustrophobic experience (in a J window seat). Particularly disliked the foot cubby which narrows at the end forcing my feet together. Much prefer the open beds on Qatar’s 787 and a350 with their wide foot shelves.

    • One problem I found with the cubby-hole approach (I flew on MH’s new A330 seat, which I believe is much the same as the Aer Lingus one pictured in the article), is that the TV screen is too close – maybe it was because I’m slightly long-sighted but it all felt a bit ‘in your face’ and I struggled to focus on the movie I was trying to watch. That aside, the seat was nice enough, although a little more foot-space would have been good.

      • I found the same when I last flew Iberia. The new A350 has an even bigger screen so lets see how that works out.

      • I’m not a fan of the cubby-hole either, but it’s what creates the accessible storage space for the seat in front. It’s generally not possible to have it both ways without the level of seating density that you only get in F.

  2. Rob Cox says:

    What a sensible and accurate review! I have flown Virgin A330 and A340-600 herringbone (the latter on the sadly discontinued Tokyo service) and indeed it has had its day. The A330 seat is dire, especially if you are tall…your feet get knocked, banged, and brushed against.
    The Emirates and Swiss systems of alternating solo/duo work well.

  3. @mkcol says:

    I’d take current BA Club World over current Virgin Upper herringbone.

  4. flyoff says:

    I flew VA Upper Class for the first time in their herringbone design and I hated it. The seats are claustrophobic especially when lying down and i don’t like not being able to look out of a window easily. Trying to get a bottle of water during the night was difficult as there is no table you can easily use when lying down. I sat at the bar to eat my evening meal as I disliked the seat.
    It was the worst business seat I have ever flown in and won’t chose to fly VA again until they change it.

  5. Agree the current VS UC product isn’t that great – in particular when lying flat it feels really quite cramped around head/shoulders – BA CW is far more open and to my mind preferable in that respect.

    I don’t agree though re a ‘cubby hole’ approach unless there are very spacious – some of them (eg SWISS) are dreadful, will the passenger (assuming size 11+ or so feet) unable to turn over in bed – I found this very uncomfortable and almost claustrophobic.

    I really liked the AA setup and would be very please if VS opted for them.

  6. Will Avery says:

    I agree.

    I recall one of those Virgin documentaries with the product design team waxing lyrical about the new seat on the 787. I thought it was one of the worst seats I have experienced (including CW). I hate facing the aisle and the width is too narrow.

    • Will Avery says:

      Sometimes you “innovate” for the sake of it. But how many airlines are copying? Classic Virgin branding fail.

  7. Rabbit says:

    I hope Virgin don’t change from the herringbone, I absolutely love it. Been flying Virgin UC for 11 years now. Had experiences of United and BA and it just doesn’t compare. I love the privacy these seats offer, I don’t fly to stare out of a window, talk to strangers nor have the need to spend time in flight with my husband (if travelling with me), we spend enough time together at home and at the destination, thanks! Perhaps this is my introverted nature, but I found having to stare directly at a stranger on a BA flight most uncomfortable and on United I had to sit next to someone with little/no divider and have them climb over me mid-flight – not cool. The way food and drink are served in CW also sucks.

  8. Graham Temple says:

    I can’t stand the VA herringbone seats. Horrible if travelling with your wife/partner, too narrow (narrower than my admittedly broad shoulders). I flew in them once and never booked VA since as a result.

  9. Kevin says:

    It will be a shame if Virgin lose the bar. Upper is an aspirational product and sitting at a bar in the air is a big part of that. I still miss the really long one on the old version of the 747.

    • It is basically an afterthought on the 330 and 787 though.

      • Kevin says:

        Yes it is. But I think it will be tough for them to lose it completely. It’s an important part of their identity. Even James Bond had a drink at one (not that it looked anything like the real thing).

      • Catalan says:

        The bean counters wanted rid of the UC bar but a certain Sir Richard insisted they install it on the B787. Now that he will be a minority shareholder he may not have that much clout in future cabin design features.

  10. Doug M says:

    It’s easy to see how impossible it is to please everyone with the seat choice/layout. I still find the good seats in CW better than the AA, AY and IB long haul business seats. Rob, you dismiss CW very easily, and whilst I usually find you very balanced, I think you’re unfair about CW, the choice seats without the climbing over are very good.

    • …. which is a teeny tiny handful! And I never get to use them as I’m usually with the gang. That’s like recommending SWISS or Aer Lingus with the caveat that you need one of the 2-3 ‘throne’ seats.

      • Whatever you do, don’t go for a SWISS throne seat unless you want your feet in a coffin!

        I rarely need to get up during a long haul flight, perhaps once to go for a pee? As such I’m perfectly happy in a BA CW window seat. Sure 64K, emergency exit or bulkhead seats even better but still a large number of seats I’m happy with. Just wish the fees weren’t so swingeing on a redemption!

  11. I see VS dropping Dubai from 31/3 next year. Not an issue for me (only go there if connecting on EK) but know many in the SE like it for holidays so may be worth bearing in mind.

    https://www.arabianbusiness.com/travel-hospitality/399580-virgin-atlantic-set-to-stop-dubai-london-heathrow-flights

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