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REVEALED! Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class seat on its A330neos, including ‘The Retreat Suites’

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Virgin Atlantic has just launched its new Upper Class seat, as part of the launch event for its new A330neo aircraft.  

Let’s take a look. I was at the official unveiling event in central London last night and had first-hand experience of the new A330neo seats.

You may be wondering why Virgin Atlantic is launching a brand new seat just three years after it launched the Upper Class Suite on the A350s. The answer has to do with cabin width and seat geometry. It is the same problem that Qatar has with its Qsuite, which is too wide and heavy to install on its smaller aircraft.

The Upper Class Suite is just too big for the narrower fuselage widths of the A330neo and 787. Virgin has gone back to the drawing board to design something that is optimised for its smaller wide bodies. This new seat is the result.

The designers at Virgin are calling it the best product from Europe across the Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic A330neo

Introducing Virgin Atlantic’s A330neos

Virgin Atlantic has 16 of the larger A330-900 aircraft on order, with the first three to arrive by the end of the year from September onwards.

The A330neo is an updated version of the Airbus A330 which Virgin Atlantic already flies. Improved winglets and new engines based on the technology used on the A350s mean it is 14% more fuel efficient than older A330s and can also fly marginally further.

Because it is a rehashed version of an older aircraft (the A330 first flew in 1994!), the A330neo unfortunately does not benefit from the same lower cabin altitude or larger windows found on the A350 or 787. The cabin altitude at cruise is between 7,000 and 8,000 feet on the A330neo, versus 6,000 feet on the A350. This is the only major downside of the A330neo versus its carbon-fibre competitors.

The A330neo retains its crown as the quietest aircraft in the 220-300 seat segment, however, and is quieter than the original A330 thanks to quieter engines and better cabin sound insulation.

By the end of 2027 Virgin will operate a fleet comprised entirely of latest generation aircraft – up from 68% today, which should improve its fuel efficiency. This also suggests that the airline will retire its fleet of older A330s over the coming five years.

Virgin Atlantic A330neo sunset

The new Virgin A330neo cabin layout

The A330neo cabin will have 30 Upper Class seats across 8 rows in a staggered 1-2-1 format. This is almost equal to Virgin’s existing A330-300s which have 31. In addition there are 2 ‘Retreat Suites’ – an exciting new business plus product – more on that below.

Virgin Atlantic A330neo seatmap

As mentioned above, the seats are in a staggered configuration, with some window seats closer to the aisle and some closer to the window. You can see what I mean in this photo of a Delta cabin:

Delta one cabin

This is followed by 46 Premium seats and 184 economy seats, including 28 extra legroom Economy Delight seats.

Let’s look at the new Upper Class cabin

Unfortunately, the unveiling event only featured a handful of the new seats rather than a whole cabin mock-up. We will have to wait and see it in person to get a better idea of the finish and overall effect, with daylight flooding through the aircraft windows.

As you would expect, the cabin looked exceptional. Like the Upper Class Suite on the A350s it is a more sophisticated and refined style than Virgin might previously have opted for, with soft gold, chocolate brown and Virgin’s traditional purple and red. There’s no airplane-beige in sight.

All three cabins on board benefit from Airbus’ optimisation work on the A330neo, including better mood lighting and bigger overhead bins with space for 66% more bags.

Virgin has opted to install centre bins in Upper Class, further increasing available storage space.

Introducing the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat

…. but, before we do that, let’s take a look at Virgin Atlantic’s brand new offering which it is calling “The Retreat Suite”.

The Retreat Suite

The Retreat Suite is a brand new concept from Virgin Atlantic and comprises two enlarged Upper Class suites in the centre of row 1.

Virgin says it is its “most spacious suite yet” with a 6’7″ (2m) fully flat bed, expansive 27″ touch screen with Bluetooth connectivity and wireless charging.

It looks impressive:

Virgin Atlantic A330neo The Retreat Suite

Virgin has made the most of the extra legroom afforded in the bulkhead row and opened up the seat footwell – no foot cubby holes here! – with the leg rest also acting as an ottoman for buddy dining.

The Retreat Suites also benefit from a huge amount of storage space, with lids from the side consoles popping open to reveal deep storage areas.

By introducing The Retreat Suite, Virgin Atlantic is the latest airline to offer a differentiated ‘business plus’ experience. Whilst most airlines are starting to offer varied economy experiences (Virgin has Economy Delight, for example) the concept is only just starting to filter through to business class cabins.

Interestingly, The Retreat Suite is only available in the centre pair so you won’t be able to sit next to a window if you want the additional space. The window seats in row 1 will feature the standard Upper Class seat.

I spoke to Corneel Koster, Chief Customer & Operating Officer at Virgin Atlantic, who said they will initially put the Retreat Suite on sale as an upgrade 14 days before departure. You can expect to pay around £200 extra, one-way. The seats can be booked individually or as a pair. If nobody upgrades then they’ll be allocated to the top frequent-flyers on the flight, although we might see them open up for redemption at some point in the future.

The new Upper Class seat

If you don’t manage to snag The Retreat Suite, don’t worry – the remaining 30 Upper Class seats are based on the same seat, albeit with slightly less personal space.

These seats are fully-forward facing – no herringbone layout here – and are based on the Thompson Vantage XL. The Vantage XL was first introduced by Qantas in 2015 and is also used by Delta on its A350s and 777s, but Virgin has it with what appears to be a lot of customisation.

Virgin Atlantic A330neo Upper Class

Each seat has its own passenger-controlled mood lighting which you’ll be able to turn on and off, whilst a fixed 17.3″ in-flight entertainment screen will feature Virgin’s Vera IFE software and offer gate-to-gate operations.

Unlike The Retreat Suite, the remaining Upper Class seats do feature a foot cubby in bed mode but I think this should be ok – it seems fairly big and given my experience in other Vantage XL seats shouldn’t be an issue.

Connectivity is excellent, with a universal socket, USB and USB-C outlets. There is also wireless charging, which is great.

When it comes to storage, there appears to be a generously sized shelf underneath the tray table, plus a small storage cupboard is also at head height and features a mirror.

The tray table slides out horizontally from the side console. It can either act as a little cocktail table or you can fold it out fully for a meal service. It features a slightly rounded edge which means it fits nice and snugly against you. No spilling anything on yourself!

Is there a door?

Yes! Virgin has gone whole hog after introducing a small half-door on the A350 Upper Class Suite. All the Upper Class seats, including The Retreat Suites will have fully-closing doors.

This includes a ‘do not disturb’ feature so you can let cabin crew know you don’t want to be disturbed.

Although most airlines are now introducing doors in business class, I know a lot of people are still on the fence about them. Personally, I like to have the choice, and I particularly like a door on a night flight when I can close it and remain undisturbed by cabin crew and other passengers walking through the cabin.

For accessibility reasons, the aisle-side seat door can also be removed in order to make entry and egress into the seat easier, which is a massive bonus for anyone with mobility issues.

Is there a new social space?

Virgin Atlantic continues to impress with its in-flight social spaces.

The airline started moving away from on-board bars with the A350 launch, which introduced The Loft – a lounge area at the second doors for Upper Class passengers.

The Loft has evolved for The A330neo and now combines the best of both worlds, with seating for four people and a self-serve fridge and drinks dispenser.

Virgin Atlantic A330neo The Loft

There are also two 27″ touchscreens that can be used with Bluetooth headphones.

I know a lot of people lamented the end of the bar when the A350 was introduced, but I have to say I prefer The Loft concept, so this is welcome news for me. I often thought the bar was underutilised and took up a lot of floor space, whilst The Loft is a lot better at facilitating conversations between people.

With the new self-service drinks fridge this will be further improved and take some of the pressure off cabin crew to service the area.

Where will Virgin’s A330neos fly first?

Right now, Virgin Atlantic is planning to launch the A330neos on flights to Boston from early October, with tickets to go on sale later this month.

With three aircraft by the end of the year – more than a daily Boston service would require – I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on other premium routes to the United States.

Will Virgin install this seat on its other A330s and 787s?

The big question is whether Virgin will roll this seat out more widely, onto its A330s and 787s. Speaking to Corneel, he made it clear that the A330neos would be replacing the older A330s, with the last phased out by 2027.

That still leaves the Boeing 787 Dreamliners in Virgin’s fleet with what is now a significantly older product. Corneel wouldn’t be drawn on whether these aircraft would eventually get it, saying that it depended on how long they stay in Virgin’s fleet. As leased aircraft, Virgin Atlantic will have to make a decision in the coming years as to whether it keeps the 787s or replaces them with another type – possibly more A350s or A330neos – although he did say that if the 787s were to stay it would be a good opportunity to refurbish the cabin.

Conclusion – what do I think of Virgin’s new Upper Class seat?

I am impressed. Virgin has introduced the same, albeit differently customised, Vantage XL seat used by Delta, which makes sense given the codeshares they offer across the Atlantic. Keeping a similar seat will mean a more consistent experience for passengers on the joint venture.

The Vantage seat (not the Vantage XL) is also used by Malaysia Airlines (review here) and Aer Lingus on its A330s (review here), although the new Upper Class seat is a newer, better version and is significantly better designed.

So, not a ground-breaking new seat concept (unlike the new Finnair no-recline seat) but quite possibly the best optimisation of a strong product that we know works and is comfortable. Virgin have brought their signature style to it and made it their own.

I look forward to trying out the new Upper Class seat on the A330neo and reporting back this Autumn.


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Comments (53)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • dougzz99 says:

    “although the new Upper Class seat is a newer, better version and is significantly better designed.”
    OK the new seat is newer. It has mood lighting which could make it better, but what is the significant design improvement?
    That seat is narrow, despite the gushing I remain unconvinced by Virgin. Clubhouse great, service typically very good, hard product, not so much.

    • Rhys says:

      Vantage XL is a good seat, and Virgin have added their usual flair. It’s a good seat!

    • Comrade Chag says:

      Agree! I get Rhys is fanboy of VS.

      • Rhys says:

        Not really. I gave their old coffin style seating a poor review a few weeks ago, and their amenity kits I think are very disappointing for Virgin.

        But let’s call a spade a spade – Virgin have picked a good seat and they have styled it extremely well. Compared to Club Suite (also a good hard product) but is grey, grey, grey, this is 100 times more exciting.

        • GM says:

          Agree that the seat looks good! I’m planning a booking for March (NYC) and might not avoid an A330 if listed now. Just wondering whether to just book now or wait for sale, although with fuel prices at present it seems like it might just get more expensive.

          Like the A350 seat. Didn’t hate the 787 coffin, but I’m under 5ft and currently less than 50kg so it’s more like it’s private for me – I should probably be their seat model because I’m under the average size. Love Virgin but think the amenity kits suck. Give me a proper pouch! The nice socks used to somewhat make up for being given a cardboard bag, but now they’re cheapy things too.

          • Rhys says:

            New York normally gets A350s

          • GM says:

            Not always A350s for NYC these days. Pre-pandemic, yes. Presume will change, but schedule has been loaded with A330s and 787s. Did VS3/VS4 in May and it was 350 outbound, 787 return. Think only one 350 option in the evening.

  • AJA says:

    If all the seats were like the “Retreat seats” I’d be impressed. As it is I wonder how comfortable it will be as the seats look rather narrow.

    • dougzz99 says:

      I think the retreat seats are the same, the space around them is bigger.

      • Rhys says:

        The retreat seats are basically the same as the others, but there’s a different tray table mechanism and they don’t have an enclosed foot well but are fully open with an ottoman that can be used for buddy dining. Seat width is I believe exactly the same.

      • AJA says:

        The thing I like about the retreat seat is that it doesn’t have the footw cubby hole. The fact that the seats look narrow combined with the fact that your feet go into a cubby hole makes me think this new seat will be rather confined and like being in an open coffin.

  • Doommonger says:

    I agree with Rhys, being a larger chap, the coffin was awful, i could hardly get out, the retreat looks much better, one thing that’s not so good is the entertainment on VS, especially the comedy, no Jethro (RIP) Jim Davidson or Chubby Brown mores the pity.

    Doomster.

  • WaynedP says:

    Thanks Rhys, hugely informative as always.

    Appreciate you haven’t been given sight of full cabin mock up yet, but please advise once you know it whether there will be individual overhead fresh air nozzles.

    I always value your attention to detail in mentioning these in your reviews as I usually find ambient cabin temperature significantly higher than my individual preference.

    Having individual overhead air nozzles goes some way to improving overnight comfort in what is after all (despite how airlines might try to dress it up) nothing less than a dormitory in the sky.

    • Rhys says:

      They’re putting in overheard bins in the centre too so I’m hoping/assuming they will have air nozzles too. I’m the same as you – I overheat on night flights.

      • WaynedP says:

        If flying in Winter or from cooler climes, I’ve resorted to wearing layers of light cotton clothing of the type available to buy in hot countries like South Africa or Egypt, which can be progressively removed.

        Recently saw someone here mentioning packing a pair of shorts in hand luggage, but am not mad keen about having my bare skin coming into contact with upholstered surfaces.

  • ADS says:

    “Keeping a similar seat will mean a more consistent experience for passengers on the joint venture”

    Back in November 2019 Shai Weiss gave a talk at the Royal Aero Society, and I asked him if Virgin were effectively a sub brand of Delta … which he denied … at the time !

    • Rhys says:

      According to the designer it wasn’t a consideration in their seat selection but it obviously has its benefits.

      • Mikeact says:

        But is this or is this not, the same seat that Delta have been flying these last few years ?

      • ADS says:

        And presumably Virgin get to leverage Delta buying power – so presumably a lower unit cost compared to what they would pay if they’d bought from a different supplier ?

    • Mikeact says:

      I would have thought it pretty obvious that Delta pull the strings, and don’t just rubber stamp Virgins wish list/s.

  • SteveH says:

    Enjoyed the excellent review Rhys as usual.
    “The designers at Virgin are calling it the best product from Europe across the Atlantic.”
    Thompson 100% owned by AVIC (Chinese State Holding Co). Just sayin !

  • Mikeact says:

    Total rubbish, according to some Delta reps I met over here….but what do they know.

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