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

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

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. Colin MacKinnon says:

    BIGGEST problem with CW is one of the smallest……

    Even in 7A on the 787 there is no place to put your specs when lying down.

    Sorry, just not good enough – I like reading and then falling asleep. No way do I get up and then lift up the “bed” to get a some little drawer on the floor and then remake the bed!

  2. Much prefer the herringbone and bar. Hope they keep it as to me it is the best biz class product offered by an Anglo/American airline

    • James A says:

      C’mon these days AA are far out in front among the TATL airlines. If the DL suites were more widespread then that would take it.

      Rob is right, it’s time to ditch the herringbone layout. It has had its day.

  3. Don’t really mind the choice of layout, but the bar defines Upper Class. Otherwise its just another biz class cabin (a bit like Delta One…).

  4. My money is on the Upper Class replacement being something similar to Deltas A350 Business product. Whether they decide to revolutionise it to make it more Virgin remains to be seen but I’d be very surprised for anything brand new when Delta (and 49% stake holder) have an amazing product fit for the job.

  5. Definitas says:

    I have always preferred the herringbone layout. The flip over bed is much more comfortable thanBA CW and there is better storage. I also like the bar. The second seatbelt on the stool so you can dine together also suits us. My last three flights in CW have all been abysmal due to a broken footstool making the bed useless. On one flight back on the upper deck of a 747 (for which I paid for seat bookings ) the stool was broken and a guy opposite said he had reported it the week before. We are 5’6 and 5’3 and climbing over for aisle access is just too awkward. The ability to choose seats with VA or Delta at the time of booking is also a massive plus as I have no BA Status and the VA clubhouse at LHR is also a bonus so the Herringbone definitely works for us over CW. The only one thing which keeps us on BA metal is the AMEX 2-4-1. Even a recent flight is Delta One on an aging 767 was better than being in the middle in CW. It may be OK for you guys with BA status but for us, whatever VA comes up with, it has to be better than CW

  6. Having flown 2016 and 2017 in UC, then 2018 in PE, for the day flight I prefered the PE cabin – purely as it’s more sociable. I was worried I may never return to UC again.
    This layout ‘love seats’ gives the best of both worlds – I’m looking forward to trying VA’s UC again now!

  7. Henry says:

    I flew a delta business class from Manchester last year to new York returning same route with virgin. I think it was in the last few days of delta flying that route. I don’t know how old or new the plane was but I much preferred the delta layout. It was a 1-2-1 with the seats staggered left and right. Felt so much more private than the virgin layout. I also much preferred the delta food. I can’t fault the service just that delta was fillet steak and virgin was a burger and that difference was right across the in-flight food.

    I have to confess I am not a massive fan of virgin though, right across the entire brand I don’t like the “hey you” language so that probably would lean me I favour of the delta flight anyway.

  8. I can’t believe my eyes – we went into the second page of comments without veering into OT a single time! Well don Rob – now you know the topic which concerns your readers most!

    • the real harry1 says:

      OTs are part of the free management training I give to inexperienced and lacking-in-confidence young (or not-so-young!) recruits here – how to cope with ambiguity – & indeed thrive on it 🙂

      Given that HFP attracts ‘a few’ ( 🙂 ) OCD/ ASD people, it’s never going to work lol

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