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IT’S HERE! The new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite! (Part 2)

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This is part 2 of my overview of the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite, launched tonight as part of the A350 launch event.

You can read Part 1 of my A350-1000 Upper Class suite review here.

You can find out more on Virgin’s official A350 website page here.

Introducing ….. The Loft

The bar is dead.  Long live The Loft!

Virgin Atlantic has always been known for its social spaces.  It was, I think, the first airline of the modern era to have a bar on its aircraft.  Over the years the Middle Eastern airlines, primarily Emirates but also Etihad and Qatar on their A380 fleets, have taken this idea and run with it.  On the most recent Virgin Atlantic arrival – the Boeing 787 fleet – the bar almost appears as an afterthought and doesn’t add as much as before.

The Loft is an impressive attempt to introduce something which is closer to a casual WeWork hot desking area and living space than a bar.  Virgin found that many people using the bar were using it to work or discuss business issues with colleagues.  (The only time I ever use the bar on Emirates is when one of my kids gets restless and I want somewhere for us to sit side by side.)

The Loft is a lovely looking area that accommodates eight people.  It will be the first thing that every passenger will see on boarding the aircraft, and the last thing they see when they leave, and Virgin is hoping that it will encourage other passengers to trade up over time.

Virgin Atlantic The Loft A350

There are five comfortable seats with seat belts in case of turbulence.  These are made up of a sofa, facing the 32 inch wall-mounted TV, a table where two people can sit face to face and a solo seat.  There is also an area where two people can stand, with a high surface for a laptop.  The area has three charging points.

The lighting system – which you can just see in the photo above – is gold plated for effect.

The Loft has bluetooth capabilities for up to eight devices – this is the first time that I have seen bluetooth on a commercial aircraft.  You can bring your own bluetooth headphones or borrow a pair from the crew.

There are still technological reasons, apparently, why bluetooth is not available in airline seats but The Loft is the first step in making it available.  Passengers will also be able to connect their own device to the big screen TV via bluetooth, opening up the possibility of impromptu business meetings.

The plan is that families or friends might choose to sit together on the large area of seating, whilst business travellers might choose to have a short meeting at the table for two or at the perching area.

I know that Virgin has done a lot of research into how its Upper Class passengers were using their existing bar areas, and they believe that this is the best way to move forward.  It is very possible that it will be used in ways that Virgin hasn’t considered.  Either way, it is impressive and something that you won’t find anywhere else.

Will the new Upper Class Suite be retrofitted?

Virgin Atlantic does not want to commit at this stage.  When I asked, there was an indication that the Boeing 787 fleet may receive a similar refresh when the aircraft go in for their first ‘D check’. 

(A ‘D check’ happens every 6-10 years and involves the aircraft being virtually taken to pieces and rebuilt.  It takes two months to complete and costs a seven figure sum.)

There seems little sign of it being added to the A340 or Boeing 747 fleets which are due to be replaced by the 12 x A350 aircraft on order.  This would only leave the A330-300 fleet of eight aircraft and the four ex-Air Berlin A330-200 aircraft.  The latter have just been fully refitted with a totally different Upper Class Suite.

What is my verdict?

I don’t want to start picking favourites between BA’s new Club Suite and Virgin’s new Upper Class Suite.  Let’s leave that until we have had the chance to experience both products.  A pleasant flight is also, of course, about more than just the seat itself.

I should stress that, whilst BA is simply introducing a new business class seat on its A350, Virgin Atlantic has changed every part of the aircraft.  Whilst Head for Points focuses on business class, there are also improvements in Premium and Economy which we will look at separately.

I was never the biggest fan of the existing Upper Class suite.  The lack of storage space and the coffin-style feel to the seat didn’t work for me.  I preferred the ex-Air Berlin A330-200 when I flew it last year, and I am keen to try the refurbished version of that aircraft with a brand new suite.

The new A350 Upper Class suite is far, far better than the previous version:

you have more privacy

you have far more personal space

you don’t need to call a flight attendant if you want to convert your seat into a bed

the IFE screen is much improved

the overall seat look and feel is better

it is now possible for couples or colleagues to be able to sit side by side and talk (if they want)

seats by the windows now actually face the windows rather than into the middle of the plane

I do feel that Virgin Atlantic has missed a marketing gimmick by not having a fully closing ‘partial’ door on the seat.  A quick stroll around Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last week showed that every seat manufacturer is now working on seats with ‘partial’ doors and they will become more common over the next decade.

(I say ‘partial’ doors because, unless you are in the new Emirates First Class Suite or Etihad’s The Residence, the doors do not go anywhere near the ceiling.  You only get partial privacy.  Anyone walking past can still see fully into your seat.)

I’m not saying that I want a door (personally I never use them) – and Virgin is giving you a half-closing door – but you need something as the ‘hook’ for your advertising.  Virgin will be relying on ‘The Loft’ and their unique suite design to do that.

Virgin believes that the new privacy divider and suite design gives the optimum combination of privacy, seat width, sociability and service delivery (eg the ability to pass food and drink to you easily, something which BA may struggle with on Club Suite).

It is also worth highlighting the contribution of Virgin Atlantic’s cabin crew to the Upper Class experience.  The new suite will only work if there is a good crew delivering the soft product, and I have always found that Virgin scores well here.

Virgin Atlantic A350 new upper class

Where can I fly the new Virgin Upper Class Suite?

The first A350-1000 is due for delivery this Summer and will enter commercial service in August.

The first route will be New York JFK.  Virgin also implied that the second and potentially third aircraft will also be dedicated to New York.

As Virgin Atlantic does not have any short haul routes, you won’t see any commercial short haul test flights like the Madrid runs that BA is planning.

BA is being forced to launch Club Suite on secondary routes such as Toronto and Dubai because the aircraft do not have First Class.  This should give the new Upper Class Suite a head start of at least six months on flagship routes such as New York

Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have really moved on with their new seats and I can honestly say that they both look as good, if not better, than anything else being flown by a European or North American airline.

It will take time for a consensus to emerge over which of the new products is best – and I genuinely feel that both will have their fans.  The real winners, of course, are the travellers.

I look forward to trying out the new Upper Class Suite and The Loft later in 2019 and reporting back.

You can find out more by visiting our Instagram page NOW – click here – and clicking on our logo to see the video ‘story’ which Rhys has just uploaded.

You can find out more on Virgin’s official A350 website page here.

IT'S HERE! The new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite! (Part 1)
COME BACK AT 7pm: Join us for the launch of the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite! (EDIT: Instagram 'story' already live!)
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Comments

  1. Peter 64K says:

    The loft looks like a gimmick. By the time everyone and their dog has traipsed through a few times it will wear and who wants to sit on a sofa with 2 to 3 people they don’t know?

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      A gimmick it may well be in terms of actual use, but I thought getting something designed as a “tempter” for the non-Upper passangers to walk through as the very first and last thing they see is quite a clever marketing touch to encourage them to upgrade next time.

      • Shoestring says:

        well it’s still a bar so people will be drinking up in the sky, making new friends and releasing inhibitions

        I’d be on the sofa like a shot, drinking a G&T with a single malt chaser and getting to know some fellow passengers – let’s get a bottle of Champagne to celebrate friendship 🙂

        • Bootlace says:

          Releasing inhibitions, oooh get you!

        • Shoestring says:

          well, not with you, obvs 🙂

        • iamfugly says:

          After all my time traveling UC on virgin I have never once seen a single UC passenger actually use the bar as a drinks bar. I have seen, traveling crew using it to have their meals whilst sat on the jump seats, used newspapers dumped on it, random paper work left on the bar but never ever seen a single person leaning up on the bar drinking! Its probably due to the overnight long haul flights I have been on but still it has been a massive waste of space (plus unsightly due to the mess on the counter) which hopefully the loft lounge seats will rectify. Although I seriously doubt it will influence passing PE customers to upgrade just to have access to the loft!

      • Freddy says:

        Not sure if I’d view it that way after a 12 hour flight in economy

    • All bars on planes are a gimmick. Have you tried the QR a380? Looks great. On a day flight a few people pass through. Night flights they are dead. They do however draw you in to using the product in the first place. Gimmick? Marketing tool? So what. VS has made a career out of gimmicks.

    • Unlike most commentaries on this thread, I’m quite a social person, and will happily speak to random people. I’ve had some great conversations at the bar, including a Bond girl! I don’t sleep on day flights, and when they dim the lights, I get super bored after my 3rd movie. So, it’s off to the bar to read, stretch my legs, etc.

      The standing WeWork type area is even better: whilst working on a plane is not something I’ll ever do, being able to stand somewhere where I don’t get in the way of the aircrew will be a God send. As I fly often to SFO, the plane is normally full of Facebook, Apple, Cisco, Google folk, and I feel they’ll also enjoy this.

      • +1
        Although I think that I enjoyed the bar area on the B747, A340-300 & 340-600 a lot more than the ones on the A330 & B787. Have stopped using them despite the fact that I have met many interesting people from all walks of life on those flights.

        • David says:

          “All walks of life”? I think the Upper Class bar on a TATL flight would reflect rather a small slice of the general population…

  2. Overall looks like they’ve done a good job. Although annoying personally they’re putting everything into the JFK route initially it makes perfect sense given how that can give them the march on BA for 12 months or so…

  3. Catalan says:

    Rob. Looking at the first pic of the seat (with the crew member’s arm in view) it shows the window being obscured by a cabinet at eye level. I’d be very disappointed if this is the case.

    • David says:

      It will probably depend on what row you end up in – just like with the Cirrus on CX and AY (and probably everywhere else). Some seats get two windows, some get one and two halves etc, because the length of the seats won’t align exactly with the window spacing. Once every seat has aisle access, it’s things like window alignment that give the frequent flyers something to worry about with seat selection…

      • Catalan says:

        @ David. That’s not what I’m talking about. The seat in the pic looks to have a small locker to put glasses/water bottle etc in at eye level. It is blocking the view out the window.

        • David says:

          Hmm, I don’t think it is. Look at the view from above in the “bed mode” photo – the locker is tucked around towards the side of the plane so you have a clear line of sight from where your head would be.

    • Depends on the seat row.

  4. BSI1979 says:

    Initial thoughts are the Loft seems like a great idea/concept, but how will they police certain passengers monopolising the space? 🤔

    • They have always had passengers monopolising the bar, hasn’t been an issue really. Some passengers just stand up and drink and chat with fellow passengers. Perhaps the same will happen in the loft. Passengers return to their seats if the seat belt signs are lit.

  5. Alex W says:

    It looks very good and I hope the seat is comfortable as a bed. I find the current Virgin one the most comfortable I’ve tried out of maybe 7 different lie-flats. I don’t mind standing up to fold it over, and nor did I need any help from the cabin crew!

  6. Callum says:

    There’s an obsession in this “hobby” to try and make everything as private as possible and pretend other people don’t exist.

    I think a lot of you forget that humans are an inherently social animal and a huge amount of people actually enjoying interacting with others. An amusing example was when the crew raised the privacy divider while I was half way through a conversation with the guy facing me (initiated by him, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t annoying him!).

    • Peter 64K says:

      I’m sociable, in fact my whole job is basically interaction and building rapport with new people constantly. That’s why it is a luxury to be a bit less sociable on holiday 🙂

    • I’m a Software Consultant. I hate people. When I have to attend meetings with customers I normally arm myself with 2 packs of cigarettes.

  7. 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

    Really. I get this is a travel blog and you need to hype up the language. But these are products you won’t see generally avail label for years. 2023/4 in the case of some BA flights.

    I flew BA F yesterday. Check in awful, F security failed and back up is to join the south security. Concorde room lounge dragons miserable but the contract staff a delight. Food and service were very good.
    There had been a lot of hype about new wash bags, pyjamas, China, blankets and food. Well don’t get excited, the pyjamas fit so badly I reverted to my AA ones. The wash bags are dull and unimaginative, the pillow is cheap and very nasty but the blanket is fine. They both add a touch of Beige to the grey and blue!
    IFE system was simply awful.
    The food was good and clear step up and the china very nice.
    The crew were fine in F but one guy was a stranger to soap!
    My point is

    Real World Flying is light years away from what the marketing hyperbole would have you believe.

  8. iamfugly – I use the bar ever time, crew have also let me be the barman and serve bubbly to other UC pax. (obviously in moderation)

    • Steve O'Hara says:

      Just imagining the crew watching you pour – that’s enough now

    • iamfugly says:

      My bad, I guess it does depend on the route and timing of flight. I tend to fly overnight long haul to Asia. So I guess the use is somewhat limited compared to, say, tourist routes to the Caribbean where theres a different vibe onboard.
      You obviously have a very trustworthy face! 😉

  9. lauren says:

    Will they be flying from Manchester at all, or just from london?

  10. Is no one going to mention….

    Custom PJs?! The polyester ones Virgin currently have are horrible and too hot, and fit no one (badly). And that they’ll come in T-Shirts also….

  11. Kevin says:

    The bar has been very busy on most day flights I’ve been on. I really like it, makes me forget i’m on a plane for half an hour.

  12. Eduardo Gomez says:

    I think it was Gulf Air on their Lockheed L1011 Tristars, in the early 70’s, who first introduced the bar concept in First Class.

  13. Colie says:

    Have been Upper Class a couple of times and the bar was absolutely rocking during the day, all stools occupied and several people standing, great atmosphere, flight attendants had time to chat as well.
    It was dead on a night flight apart from me and the cabin crew, and I was pouring the drinks behind the bar.
    If you like a few drinks, a bar on a plane is still a fantastic thing to behold and dream of, especially in these austere times. It was ages ago when a Virgin flight attendant told me ‘ALL our planes have bars’ that I knew I had found a brand I liked 🙂

  14. Mark O'Brien says:

    I read that the new seat will only be 20″ wide which is narrower than the old one. How is that an improvement?

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