Virgin Atlantic has unveiled the new ‘social space’, The Booth, that will available to passengers on its upcoming ‘leisure configuration’ A350 aircraft.
The A350 was destined as Virgin’s flagship aircraft. It sports its very newest Upper Class cabins and offers a more pleasant experience thanks to the quieter cabin, wider fuselage and lower cabin pressure altitude.
Since then the airline has received seven A350s which are currently operating on routes such as Atlanta, Barbados, Mumbai, Hong Kong, New York, Johannesburg and Los Angeles.
All seven A350s currently delivered feature the same configuration – 44 Upper Class suites, 56 Premium seats and 235 in economy. The aircraft also all feature ‘The Loft’, a communal seating area for business class passengers.
From December they will be joined be a new variant optimised for Virgin’s leisure routes.
Virgin Atlantic’s leisure A350 fleet
Virgin Atlantic always planned to introduce an A350 subfleet to cater for its leisure customers from Manchester and Gatwick. Whilst Covid has changed the airline’s plans slightly it is still pressing ahead and will introduce five leisure A350s optimised for holiday destinations.
As a consequence, they’ll have a slightly smaller Upper Class cabin with just 16 seats – almost two thirds less. This will still be the new Upper Class Suite unveiled in 2019 (review here) but the reduced seat count means the entire business class cabin will sit snugly between the front of the aircraft and the second set of doors.
The number of Premium seats will remain the same at 56 whilst there will be 325 seats in economy including 45 extra-legroom Economy Delight seats.
The Loft has been replaced with The Booth
The biggest difference between the leisure fleet and the main fleet based at Heathrow is the removal of The Loft, which has been replaced by a smaller flexible space. Virgin is calling it ‘The Booth’.
Instead of spanning the entire width of the aircraft it will offer a small nook with a single leaf table for up to two people to sit together.
There are two 27″ touch screens and two bluetooth audio connections in case you want to watch something together or simply put on some relaxing imagery.
Virgin Atlantic has yet to announce plans for how they expect The Booth to work. When Rob and I were invited to see the prototype at Virgin Atlantic HQ in early 2020 there was talk of making it a bookable space with custom experiences: for example, an extra-special cream tea spread or candle-lit dinner for two (fake candles only of course!). The airline is still finessing its plans but expect to hear more about this soon.
Where will the leisure A350 aircraft fly?
The original plan was for these leisure aircraft to fly from Gatwick and Manchester where Virgin Atlantic is less business-focussed. With no more flights from Gatwick and a reduced schedule from Manchester Virgin’s plans have changed slightly.
The first route to see the new configuration will be London Heathrow – Orlando. The inaugural flight is planned for December with the arrival of G-VEVE, named ‘Fearless Lady’ after Richard Branson’s late mum Eve.
Lady Emmeline (G-VLIB, named after Emmeline Pankhurst) will arrive in April 2022 and is expected to operate services to Barbados.
Three more aircraft will round out the ‘leisure’ fleet, with Soul Rebel (G-VBOB), Wendy Darling (G-VNVR) and Benny Jet (G-VELJ).
I’m a big fan of the A350 and I’m pleased to see that Virgin Atlantic is still accepting deliveries of the aircraft. Over time this sub fleet should allow passengers from Manchester (and possibly Edinburgh) to enjoy Virgin’s flagship aircraft.
Whilst The Booth is obviously much smaller than The Loft it offers some exciting opportunities. I’m looking forward to seeing how Virgin Atlantic will manage this space and what sort of experiences it will offer.