Virgin Atlantic has just launched its new Upper Class Suite, as part of the launch event for its new A350-1000 aircraft.
Let’s take a look! These two articles focus on the new Upper Class Suite. Rhys is at the official launch event tonight and will bring you his thoughts on Wednesday on the party and the changes to the rest of the aircraft, since this is a complete makeover.
Take a look at our Instagram page – click here – because Rhys has already posted a ‘story’ video (click on our logo to see it) from the event.
You can find out more on Virgin’s official A350 website page here.
This is an exciting time for UK business travellers, with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic launching new business class seats within weeks of each other. Whichever seat you prefer, the real winner is you, the passenger, since both airlines have taken major steps forward.
Before I go on, I want to be clear that I’m not going to pick a favourite between these two new seats.
I have been able to sit in the new Upper Class Suite in an impressive training cabin that was built inside the Virgin Atlantic training base in Crawley. I have not seen the British Airways Club Suite in the flesh, only via a VR simulator. I don’t know how it feels to sit in it, and some of the things I think I like and dislike about it may not be accurate when I try it.
Introducing the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite
Drum roll please …… (click to enlarge)
and in bed mode:
As well as the pictures below, some more should appear on our Instagram feed (click here) during the evening from the launch party. Part 2 of this article has an image of ‘The Loft’.
Here are the key facts, which I will expand on over two articles:
The seat is a bespoke Virgin Atlantic design, manufactured by Safran. No-one else is flying it.
The first route it will be used on is New York JFK from August
It is a 1-2-1 layout
It is ‘reverse herringbone’, but not as you know it
All seats face forwards
Each suite has half a door!
There are 44 suites in the A350 Upper Class cabin
The bar has been replaced by a larger social space called ‘The Loft’ (see Part 2)
The new Virgin Upper Class cabin layout
The A350 cabin will have 44 Upper Class Suites across 11 rows in a 1-2-1 format.
The new Suites have some interesting features which I focus on in a minute. Let’s just look at the general layout for now.
The window suites are a standard reverse herringbone design, familiar from many other aircraft. Your head is near the aisle, and the seat is angled towards the window. Your feet disappear into a cubbyhole under the back of the seat in front of you.
In the middle rows, things are different.
The traditional format is that your head is next to the aisle and your feet are angled inwards. This means that your feet are very close to the feet of your neighbour, but your heads are about four feet apart.
Virgin Atlantic has reversed this model. You sit so that your head is in the centre of the row and your suite is angled towards the aisle.
Put simply, if the traditional layout is like this / / , Virgin has switched it to / /
There are two clear benefits from this:
You will get less disturbance from crew service, passing passengers etc which will be especially helpful on night flights
You can, if you wish, talk to your neighbour easily because their head is close to your head, albeit separated by a partition
For couples, this is a significant improvement over BA’s Club Suite. It is virtually impossible to talk to your seat neighbour with Club Suite, because your head is so far away. It is easier to have a chat to the person across the aisle than it is to chat to the person next to you in the middle block.
If you obsessed with privacy above anything else, you will prefer Club Suite. High walls, a fully closeable door, no ability to speak to anyone else. But I doubt anyone so obsessed with privacy has been flying either Club World or the current Virgin Upper Class suite, given how open they are.
Virgin Atlantic also has a higher percentage of leisure customers, and these passengers are looking for a more social travel experience. This also explains why the airline has introduced ‘The Loft’, which I will cover in detail in Part 2.
Let’s look at the new Upper Class cabin
I have to admit that the Upper Class cabin looks fantastic. Virgin Atlantic has its own in-house design team and they have done a great job.
There is a lot of colour used, but nothing too bright. It is a sophisticated palette of soft golds, chocolate browns, ‘polished’ whites and the traditional Virgin Atlantic red and purple.
The team told me it was inspired more by hotels, high end retailers and luxury cars than other airline cabins. It does feel like the airline has ‘grown up’.
The level of craftsmanship and finish is very high end. The leather appears to be high quality, with the seats clearly sharing some DNA with luxury cars. The stitching looks great and there are little flashes of Virgin red popping out in unexpected places.
One of my potential criticisms of BA’s Club Suite is that it looked very grey on the VR simulation, with no colour at all apart from a few touches of navy. The new Virgin Atlantic cabin feels substantially richer in tone, with ‘The Loft’, which I will come to in Part 2, decorated in deep purples and golds.
It is worth mentioning that the different seat fabrics in Economy have also been designed in-house, with each one a mix of warm colours. It looks good.
The Premium cabin – image below – continues the riff on automotive inspired leather and trim, with smart ‘marble-look’ finishes on the tray tables and surfaces.
The new A350 Upper Class seat specification
The new Upper Class Suite is manufactured by Safran, via the Zodiac Aerospace business it acquired in 2018.
Safran is responsible, amongst other things, for the Cirrus seat which features on the Air France Boeing 777-300ER, the American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER and Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-300ER and A350 fleets.
The Virgin Atlantic suite design is new. No-one else is flying it and apparently no-one else will be getting it.
Let’s talk about the door ….
The new Upper Class suite has half a door!
I don’t mean that it only goes half-way up. I mean that it only goes half-way across. Unfortunately I don’t have an image yet.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that a full width door would have meant the loss of some personal space and a smaller seat. The second is that Virgin Atlantic felt that the crew service routine would be difficult with a full width door.
The new Virgin seats are also not as high around the sides as the new BA Club Suite, and without high sides a full width door really is pointless. The half-door gives some additional privacy when sleeping and was seen as the best compromise.
What else is new about the A350 Upper Class Suite?
Let’s take a look at a few other key points:
There is a huge increase in both personal space and storage space. There is no shortage of places to put your bits and pieces.
The seat pitch is 44 inches and extends to 82 inches in bed mode
The IFE screen is 18.5 inches – the biggest Virgin has ever installed. It is not yet certified for ‘gate to gate’ operation, as the screen needs to be flipped towards you and this is not allowed during take off or landing. This is still in negotiation, however, and Virgin hopes that it can get approval. As the screen can be adjusted and folded back you are not forced to stare at it for the entire duration of the flight.
There is a tailcam which links to your IFE screen
There is in-suite adjustable mood lighting
Unlike the existing Upper Class Suite, you can turn the seat into a bed whenever you want as you don’t need the cabin crew to do it for you. This is novel for Virgin passengers although the norm for everyone else!
The tray table has an interesting feature that, as a tall person, I appreciated. It slides out towards you but can also slide on past you if you choose. You don’t need to have your legs blocked by the tray table if you’re happy to turn slightly to the side to eat.
The bulkhead seats have a different design because there is no seat in front. Your feet do not disappear into a cubby hole and you have full movement to the left and right due to the larger footwell. There is also a different IFE screen which pops out, James Bond style, from a concealed slot.
Whilst this wasn’t working on the mock-up cabin, you can apparently pair your phone with the IFE screen to use as a remote control. On-board wi-fi is, of course, provided.
The A350 launch will also see – across the entire fleet, not just the A350 – “enhanced bedding, amenities, toiletries, food & beverage” although the exact details have not been disclosed
You will be able to pre-order pyjamas on night flights in your preferred size!
The Eric Lanlard afternoon tea and the new Donal Skehan menu items will continue
In Part 2 of this article, I will introduce you to ‘The Loft’, the new social space that Virgin Atlantic is introducing on the A350-1000. Click here for Part 2.
You can find out more on Virgin’s official A350 website page here.