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Virgin’s first ex-Air Berlin A332 with the brand new Upper Class and Premium seats is now flying

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The first of the refurbished Virgin Atlantic A330-200 aircraft is now in operation.

I was meant to see this aircraft at 7.30am yesterday morning at Gatwick.  Unfortunately (or not, because I got an extra few hours in bed!) problems with another aircraft meant that it was pressed into service the night before.  This means that you will have to rely on these publicity pictures.

A quick reminder of the background to this saga:  Virgin Atlantic is one of the airlines hardest hit by the engine problems which have befallen the Rolls-Royce powered Boeing 787-9 fleet.  When Air Berlin went bankrupt late last year, its A330-200 long-haul fleet was suddenly available for lease.

Virgin Atlantic jumped in and signed a four year deal on four aircraft.  This has allowed it to maintain its flying programme and, once the 787-9 issues are over, will even give it some interesting options for expansion.

We have flown the Air Berlin aircraft a couple of times in Business – here is a review It is a seat layout I like – all seats face forward (unlike the traditional Virgin Atlantic angled layout) with your feet slotting into a cubby hole under the seat in front.

The seats have alternate positions.  One row has the seat by the window with a table to the right, the next row has the table by the window and the seat to the right.  In the centre block, one row has two seats side-by-side – which Virgin is selling as ‘Love Seats’ – whilst in the next row the seats are a long way apart.

This seat map makes it clear (click to enlarge):

Virgin A330-200 seat map

I tried it, and I liked it

Back in June, I flew this seat from Manchester to Atlanta with Virgin AtlanticHere is my review.  Whilst the seat was, frankly, a bit knackered after years of Air Berlin service, I preferred it to the standard Upper Class seat.

Virgin Atlantic had committed £10m to a full refurbishment of these four aircraft.  Six months on, the first plane entered service earlier this week and the rest will follow over the next few weeks.

This is what you will get (these are Virgin PR pictures but I hope to take a look myself soon):

In Upper Class, in seat mode:

Virgin Atlantic A330-200 business class seat

In Upper Class, in bed mode:

Virgin Atlantic A330-200 business class seat

In PR speak:

“All suites feature direct aisle access and enhanced surface area for additional personal space.   All trim and finishes, including the seat fabric with natural and soft Espresso leather, were selected by Virgin’s in house design team to underline the cabin’s distinctive Virgin Atlantic flair. Customers can continue to choose the perfect suite – including Love Suites, Corner Suites and Freedom Suites, which have been a huge hit with our customers since being introduced earlier this year.”

The seat layout is identical to the old Air Berlin seats.  Virgin Atlantic had no choice here.  A new seat would have required new safety certification which would have taken over a year.  By simply taking the existing footprint and seat mechanics and building an entirely new seat on top of this, it has been able to move quickly.

The new Premium seat

The Air Berlin aircraft did not have Premium Economy (simply called Premium by Virgin Atlantic) so this is an entirely new product.

There will be 35 seats in a separate cabin.  Seat pitch will be 38 inches.  This is how it looks:

Virgin Atlantic A330-200 Premium seat

In Economy, Virgin Atlantic has retained the original seat frames but given them a full makeover.

Irrespective of cabin, all seats have power sockets and access to wi-fi.

Where can I find these new seats?

The plan is that the refurbished Virgin Atlantic A332 fleet will fly the Caribbean routes and, from Manchester, on the US routes.  The logic seems to be that these flights have fewer Upper Class passengers and are more likely to have couples who will be happy with the ‘Love Seat’ centre pairs.

All four planes are due for completion by the end of January.

I am positive about this development.  My personal view is that the traditional Virgin Atlantic Upper Class layout has had its day.  It was trailblazing when it was launched, but the fact that no other airline except Air New Zealand copied it tells the story.

Whilst I genuinely have no idea what is going on, I am also given constant hints that the new A350 aircraft being delivered next year will see something different.  I was at a lunch with Virgin’s CEO, Craig Kreeger, yesterday and he repeated this line.  It may all be hype but I do think that Virgin Atlantic is on the cusp of a major step-change in their Upper Class product.

Whilst we wait for that, I think anyone who ends up on the ex-Air Berlin fleet with these new Upper Class seats will be perfectly happy.  Hopefully I can take a look in person before too long.

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Comments

  1. …”but the fact that no other airline except Air New Zealand copied it tells the story.’

    Also Air Canada and Delta (pre-JV) a few years ago

  2. Catalan says:

    Lunch with Virgin’s CEO Craig Kreeger? Hmmm, that explains a lot.

  3. Should we expect more very positive Virgin Atlantic news than we are used to?

  4. Never liked the sideways coffin style UC seats, this is a good sign from VA.

    • Yep, found the seats rather small and feel the new layout will be much better and offer a bit more privacy

      • I was once in UC flying to LA. Sir Peter O’Toole and his assistant were also in the cabin… I was shamefully watching jackass when he came over to ask what I was watching. “Oh, some documentary…”

        “These seats are like coffins, aren’t they?” he said…. Quite.

  5. Rob – great to hear good news for a change…it always seems to be bad news when we talk about BA and the race to the bottom. Virgin always seems to be going in positive direction and i am delighted to hear of them sponsoring the HFP party.

    • Scallder says:

      OT slightly but there was an amusing article in The Times yesterday about Tatler releasing their new list of what’s in and out for Tatler’s target market. BA was deemed to be no longer in fashion, however Easyjet was added in its place. Have to say I found it rather amusing…

      • Scallder says:

        oops didn’t mean to hit submit – found it amusing that for all BA saying that they’re a premium airline, that for a magazine like Tatler, which i’ve never read in my life, to say Easyjet is more in than BA has got to be a massive kick in the teeth

        • There’s a difference between “premium” and “in”. I can’t imagine BA care, nor that Tatler readers will change their airline choice.

  6. Mark Roscoe says:

    ” It may all be hype but I do think that Virgin Atlantic is on the cusp of a major step-change in their Upper Class product.”

    There is no point in having a step change in your product if your price increases result in no customers. I have to pay for my UC seat myself, always managed to get a return flight for around £2.2K, now looking at £3.2K+

    So its PE or stay at home.

    • Some good deals out of Europe these days, worth doing the numbers esp on Dublin. Need to use Expedia and not the Virgin website though.

  7. Gumshoe says:

    Someone on V-Flyer has posted a “real” photo of the new A332 UC cabin. It looks a world away from the airbrushed, mood-lit, soft focus PR shots. And not in a good way.

  8. I really like the “old” virgin upper seats. In bed mode, one of if not the most comfortable I’ve tried.

    • Ditto, quite a fan of UC even on on a old 747

      • Only flew once UC return to New York. Outbound was 747 upper deck and was a great all round experience.

    • Remember this seat is only on the A332s

      There will be a totally new seat on the A350s. Current timetable is that VS will beat BA with having it’s new seat in public service.

      I do find the UC seat comfortable but the limited recline and having get out and flip it over to make the bed are not good points.

      • There are airlines not yet launched that will beat BA to a new seat.

      • Doesn’t bother me, I want a proper bed for sleeping, which the UC seat delivers. Sleeping on a seat designed for sitting will never be as comfortable imo. I don’t want something that’s half way between the two, I didn’t have any issue with the amount of recline. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

    • …which is why I usually fly Premium westbound (in daylight) and Upper eastbound.

    • Yup, they’re good once in bed mode, shame that they’re crappy otherwise, in regards to recline, space and any chance to see out the window …and to get them into bed mode you need to stand up to flip them over.

      The seat is one area when BA easily trumps VS in my eyes

    • Qantas seat was much better compared to the Virgin seat which I found awkward

  9. Can someone please clarify why “The seat layout is identical to the old Air Berlin seats. Virgin Atlantic had no choice here. A new seat would have required new safety certification which would have taken over a year.” but they could fit Premium seats where there hadn’t been any before without issue?

    Are there different requirements for “upper” seats? Genuinely curious as to how all this works.

    • The Premium seat is the new Singapore Airline PE seat which is already certified.

      • What was wrong with the premium economy seats used in the 787’s/A330-300’s?

      • Ah OK. I thought that the problem was with the seat and the way its fixed i.e. had to use the existing fixings.

        If you can just use a seat that is already certified then why couldnt Virgin use their existing Upper seats/layout if they wished rather than being restricted to the AirBerlin layout?

        • I am not an expert but my understanding is that Business seats are far more complicated because, in a crash, they will behave in a more unpredictable way than a standard seat and so require far greater testing. You also can’t just take a Business seat from one aircraft type and drop it into another as the cabins are never identical in width and curvature.

          Remember that BA had to throw away the entire first batch of White Company Club World bedding purely because the colour failed safety tests …..

        • Thanks for the answers Rob

        • There are also other issues to take into account such as location of O2 masks as well as things such as cables for IFE etc

          Relocating O2 masks could be complicated / expensive so not moving the seats is a lot less complicated in terms of installation etc

  10. Alex Cruz says:

    I hate all things VS.Their Upper Class is crap 💩.

    I have burnt my HFP Christmas Party ticket as a protest for them sponsoring the
    event.

  11. I have recently experienced flying in one of these (pre the VA re-skin), and one of major omissions on this plane that affected my journey was that the absence of above seat air vents/nozzles. Upper Class temperature and air quality was unbearable on the over-night return journey. Utilising the bedding was hopeless as it was far too hot.

  12. Dave Roberts says:

    Found out yesterday that VS73 and 74 will not be flying next October from MAN to ORLANDO and we have been rebooked on VS75 and 76.Seats are allocated on the 747-400.Would have loved it had it been the A330 instead.As an aside Virgin didn’t let us know and it was only because we were pro active booking our seats we found out as we are a family group of 8 and there are only 14 seats in upper class so we needed to book early.Even then 3 others booked before us.Lots of seat savvy people around!

  13. I’m on the upper class virgin vs0602 Boeing 787 from joburg next year and had first pick of the upper class seats so I picked 1K not having a clue. Hopefully that was a good choice.

    • Catalan says:

      I picked exactly the same seat on an LHR-JNB flight last year and regretted it. On a daylight flight it may have be acceptable but on an overnight flight the constant open and closing of the curtain by cabin crew entering an exiting the galley made a restful sleep near impossible. Be warned.

  14. Nicky M says:

    On a side note I recently came to Atlanta on Delta One (A330), as Virgin were using their decrepid A340 on their route that day. Can’t believe this old lady is still flying. Think it cost me 47k Virgin miles. Overall it was a decent experience. Cabin is a bit drab, but the seats are like the above mentioned new Virgin seats. So personal space is good without having to look at other peoples feet and socks sticking out into the aisle Virgin Upper herringbone style.
    Food was very good – big portions (obviously) – but good selections and was efficiently delivered. Crew friendly and who doesn’t like being woken up half way by the smell of cookies being warmed up. Bed was flat and comfortable. No free wi-fi though. Would fly Delta One again depending on what my options were with Virgin that day.

    • The oldest 340 in the VS fleet is 14, hardly decrepit! 😂 Delta and BA have far older aircraft in service.

  15. Lets hope you aren’t affected by this recently announced strike:

    Virgin Atlantic pilots plan Christmas strike

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46487672

  16. If the new seats are anything like the business seats on Hong Kong Airlines, then i’m not a huge fan. They look similar on the photos. Rather than using the word privacy, i’d choose to use isolated and cluttered.

  17. the_real_a says:

    Who paid for lunch? 😀

  18. Dave Roberts says:

    Thanks for the info about the British Disney chat Alan.That explains an awful lot but have to say it’s hard to believe that Virgin got into such a mess over flight schedules and their lack of communication with passengers.

  19. Nicky M says:

    re A340 – I’m not ageist – who doesn’t love a 767 and yesterday I flew a Delta MD88. The 340 is a pig with any airline. The Virgin ones are two paint jobs behind the rest of the fleet and they can’t wait to get rid.

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