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What happened at the Virgin Atlantic A350 launch party?

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On Monday night we were invited to the Virgin Atlantic offices in Crawley for the A350 cabin reveal.  Since Rob was on a family holiday in Scotland, I went down to take a look. Here’s my impression of what happened during the event, as well as a quick overview of the new economy and premium economy seats, which we didn’t cover in our full-write up of the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class suite.

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will be receiving brand new A350-1000 aircraft this summer, and both have revealed new aircraft seating and cabins. Unlike British Airways, which kept their Club Suite reveal quite a modest affair, Virgin Atlantic has gone all-out in celebrating what will be a brand new cabin on their flagship aircraft.

On a side-note, I live-blogged the event on our Instagram page – and you can check out a highlights reel on our story.

Virgin Atlantic now has an official website up for the A350 which you can find here.

At the launch party

I was invited to join them at The Base, their crew training facility in Crawley.  They had a mock-up of the new cabin which they will use to train crew safety and cabin service on the new aircraft and seats.

I was in “Boarding Group 1”, which meant I was one of the first people to get the tour of the new aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal

We were first shown a video introduced by Head of Customer Experience, Daniel Kerzner, explaining some of the design inspirations they took for the A350:

Virgin has always been good at marketing itself and this video is no exception.

After we’d watched the video we were escorted into the mock-up cabin itself, entering via the new “The Loft” space, which all passengers (including economy) will see when boarding. This is a good marketing tactic for Virgin Atlantic, as I’m sure they’ll hope it will drive some upgrades and contribute to Virgin’s brand image.

The Loft replaces the bar area.  It has a higher capacity than previously as well as allowing passengers to remain during turbulence, thanks to integrated lap belts.

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal loft


Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal loft

The area is beautifully designed, and particular thought has been put into the lighting which makes this feel more like a high-end hotel than a cabin bulkhead. There is even a gold-plated “chandelier”:

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal loft chandelier

Lighting details also carry over into the new Upper Class Suite, which features in-seat customisable mood-lighting. This was only a crew training model, and only two seats had some of the seat functionality that the full-product will have. You can read more of Rob’s coverage of the new Upper Class Suite here.

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal upper class seat


Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal upper class seat

I was very impressed by the textures, colours and lighting that Virgin has introduced into the new cabin. It feels a lot more like a hotel experience than a grey plastic aircraft cabin thanks to this, and is a big upgrade on current generation cabin interiors.

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal upper class

After the cabin tour we were escorted to a room with various Virtual Reality experiences, as well as economy and premium economy production seats.

Economy and Premium

Textures are also an important part of the economy and premium economy cabins and help to differentiate them from the bland, off-the-shelf seats that many other airlines use.

The economy seat was developed using custom-designed textiles which I think look (and feel!) great. It is based on the Recaro CL3710. I had quick sit down and the seat felt comfortably, though of course the true test will be on a long flight!

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal economy seat

Most economy seats will have 31″ legroom, whilst Economy Delight will have increased space at 34″. The new economy seat also has an 11.6″ entertainment screen which is larger than the current Upper Class screen!

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal economy seat

There will be 235 seats in economy, in a 3-3-3 configuration. This is the standard on the A350 and affords economy passengers an inch or more of seat-room versus the Boeing 787 thanks to the A350’s wider cabin.

In premium economy (Virgin Atlantic calls this simply “Premium”), there will be 56 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. This is comparable to World Traveller Plus on British Airways’ new A350. They chose the Collins Aerospace MiQ seat.

The seats are “inspired by luxury handbags” and made of deep-stitched leather and have a 7″ recline:

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal premium economy seat

As with other premium economy seats, the tray table folds out from the arm-rests. However, it looks like the seat makers have managed to make the mechanism lighter and smaller when I tried it out. The tray tables are beautifully textured to give a slightly more luxurious feel.

Virgin didn’t tell us the seat pitch for Premium, which makes me think that it could be less than its competitors. However, the seat-back screen will be an impressive 13.3″.

After our tour of the cabin mock-up and VR-model, we were also shown various crew training features such as an A350 emergency exit door demonstrator. They even let us try it out, though there was no inflation of emergency life-raft, only a projection of it occurring! It is amazing how easy it is to operate the emergency lever. A child would be able to do it.

Later in the evening, Shai Weiss, the new CEO of Virgin Atlantic, gave a few words whilst looking like Steve Jobs in jeans and white trainers!

Virgin Atlantic A350 reveal ceo shai weiss

And I spent the rest of the evening enjoining the free food and booze, as well as a wonderful 15-minute oil back massage. Heavenly…

What did I think of Virgin’s new A350?

All in all, I am very impressed with Virgin’s new A350 cabin. From a design aesthetic, it seems to beat British Airways’ new Club Suite reveal which seemed a bit grey and drab – although we have only seen it via VR. Of course, with Virgin’s privacy doors in Upper Class only closing half-way, it remains to be seen whether this is enough for privacy or whether it’s more of a gimmick.

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

Thanks to the Virgin Atlantic team for letting me come along.  We look forward to trying out the new seats later in the year.

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  1. The Lord says:

    Hire Rhys!

  2. David says:

    Does that mean VS will only ever use 1 door to board their A350s, so that everyone gets a good look at the sofa? Doesn’t sound like the most efficient way of getting 300 people on and off an aircraft…

    • Michael says:

      The sofa looks like it’s at door 2, I imagine upper class will board through door 1.

      • Andrew says:

        A350 generally boards through door 2 – LHR rarely provide 2 air bridges for different cabins.

        • Taylor says:

          Isn’t up to the airline to pay for as many air bridges as they want?

        • David says:

          And it says “which all passengers will see on boarding”, implying that all the J passengers will use the same door.

    • Is there more capacity on an A350 than a 747? I’ve only ever seen one door used on a 747 so why would an A350 be any different?

      • Andrew says:

        Indeed. Which is where the phrase “turning left” comes from. To my knowledge only A380 gates at LHR have multiple air bridges. The Virgin set up here is the same as Qatar’s A350 whereby everyone enters the aircraft via door 2 into the bar/loft area – business turn left and economy turn right.

        • David says:

          Hmm, to be honest I haven’t done an exhaustive survey, but I definitely recollect boarding widebodies with one jetbridge for F/J, and one jetbridge for W/Y. On SQ A380s I think they used three – one to the top deck, one to the front of the lower deck and one halfway down the lower deck.

          You’d still “turn left” to get to F if you used a door between the F and J cabins.

        • Lady London says:

          +1. But that would be for the A380.

      • Michael says:

        At LHR i’ve seen BA’s 747’s board First at door one and everyone else at door two.

      • Nick_C says:

        30 years ago, I flew from Schipol to Jo’burg on a KLM 747. They had two air bridges, front and rear. Not seen it since sadly.

        • I have flown from several airports in recent years where they use two airbridges for single-aisle aircraft – probably A321’s. Antalya will be one of them. There is a ‘junction’ where passengers are divided either by a member of the ground crew or by temporary signs. I didn’t know this was so rare.

  3. Interesting … “Virgin didn’t tell us the seat pitch for Premium, which makes me think that it could be less than its competitors”; good journalism. We’ll see and let’s hope its not a reduction from 38″.
    It does appear from the 2 or 3 pictures I’ve now seen that the seat hinge issue hasn’t been fixed for PE, so that and any reduction in pitch will downgrade the PE product.
    If so, a classic case of taking your eye off the ball. It does look like Economy and Upper have had genuine and clear improvements from the current products; shame it PE misses the party. Norwegian are already in front, BA are upping their WT+ game, even AA have a PE product which is not that far behind.
    They need to get the 789s fitted with the new Upper seats somehow … will watch that story evolve over the next 18 months 😉

  4. Taylor says:

    OT: is there an alternative to galleries arrival lounge at T5 coming of a BA first flight. I believe it closes at 2pm and I don’t land until 3:30

    • Michael says:

      No, unless you access Plaza Premium at T2/T3/T4 with a priority pass or pay for entry.

      • Taylor says:

        That sucks – I have a long drive up north and wanted to freshen up. Why does it close so early

        • To save money

        • Andrew says:

          And so BA can host private events there in the afternoon and evening, without the need to take guests airside.

        • Andrew says:

          Maybe you can fly to MAN instead of driving north and then you can use departure lounges at T5.

        • Because it’s not intended for flights that late in the day to be blunt. The assumption is that once passengers can access hotel rooms – say post 2pm they don’t need the arrivals service. Always been the case AFAIK.

        • Lady London says:

          Because the lazy unfriendly staff (as in last time I was there late last year and it was the first ever disappointing experience there – other than the continued nonavailabilty of spa) can only be bothered to just about serve lunch snacks then they have to go home.

        • Lady London says:

          You could try a day room at one of the hotels

      • Priority Pass doesn’t give access to T3 Arrivals Plaza Premium. (Though Amex Platinum does)

    • Mark2 says:

      We are scheduled to land at 1345 which is even more annoying.

    • Alex W says:

      Is it possible to book a refundable connecting flight and cancel it as soon as you get in the galleries departure lounge? I wouldn’t feel at all guilty about doing so given how early the arrivals lounge closes.

      • In Singapore, there is a note at immigration desk: ” it is a prisonable offence to pass this point if you don’t intend to fly, even if you possess a boarding pass”. Just saying (and I know the question was about Lhr).

      • The_real_a says:

        I’ve had a few occasions when plans changed whilst in the lounge and decided not to fly. Procedure is straightford although surly. Apparently once an hour security will lead anyone back landside. Have you thought about lounging in the sofitel coffee shop/ bar for a few hours?

  5. Andrew says:

    Judging by the very few comments across the coverage of this new seat (and even on this article we are now discussing at length BA arrivals lounges!), have Virgin suffered from coming out the blocks second to BA a couple of weeks ago and everyone is a bit meh over the new seat?

    • Peter 64K says:

      I think they blew it by not releasing the details early in the day so everyone talked about it the first day out. By the second day it feels a bit old news to discuss it at great length.

      • They did release the details early in the day – for the USA. It makes sense they chose a time which works for both transatlantic audiences rather than morning in UK and middle of night in America.

  6. Derek Scott says:

    I can’t help thinking that the colour scheme is going to date very quickly… it might need toning down just a little, as at the moment it reminds me of an 80’s nightclub.

    • It’s not. That is just the lighting at the event I think. There was no funky lighting when I saw it and it looks smart.

    • Catalan says:

      Yeah. All we need now is a pile of handbags to dance around in ‘The Loft’

  7. Gumshoe says:

    Why no mention of the fact that the new UC seat is only 20” wide (compared to 22” for the current one) and the new Premium seat is only 18.5” wide (compared to 21”)?

    Surely Shay Weiss didn’t forget to mention that at the launch?

    • Doug M says:

      I know I’m flogging a dead horse here but the Virgin PE seat was never that wide. Both Virgin and BA go 8 across on the 747 in PE. The 747 width is constant, so you have to believe if each Virgin seat was 3″ wider then each of the two aisles are 1 foot narrower.
      Could it be that Virgin just measure the seat differently?
      Essentially ‘your’ space is determined by the number of seats across. If this is the same between two airlines on the same model plane then the meaningfull seat width is the same too. Maybe one uses a bigger arm, and measures between the arm inside of the arm rests, but shoulder width isn’t changing.
      When travel sites parrot the Virgin seat is 3 inches wider than the BA one it really is lazy journalism, or just adverts dressed up as reviews. You decide.

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  9. Greenpen says:

    Virgin is too good at marketing but not good with the product. They portray their Upper Class as the very best but the current seat is the worst in the business.

    The only thing they ever got right was their lounge which is really jolly good..

  10. Please always reference the seat width as well as the pitch. Width is more important to some of us than legroom! We’re not all 6’6″ men.

  11. I was at the launch on Monday, and asked about the Premium seat pitch. I was told it was still 38″.

  12. dicksbits says:

    Am I alone in thinking that as Y pax board with their kids full of sticky hands and faces, that they might be tempted to plonk their delicate bottoms in ‘The Loft’ and even worse wipe their hands where they please.. as yummy mummy tells Tilly and Hamish to get down and no, she’s yet again not paying for the posh seats?! Strikes me as a bit of wasted space near the (freezing door) and Virgin have lost the ‘fun’ concept of the bar (whether it was or not: that was the marketing perception). If you sit there how can you expect a drink? Or is it to just stretch your legs? I can see on some flights pax ‘laying out’ like they do in the BA Club lounges ‘for 40 winks’.

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