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.

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.

(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

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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.

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