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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
(EDIT: Here is our 2023 review of flying the Virgin Atlantic Retreat Suite.)
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.
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.
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.
How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (June 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Virgin Points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
You can choose from two official Virgin Atlantic credit cards (apply here, the Reward+ card has a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points):
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ card is doubled to 30,000 Virgin Points. Apply here.
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
30,000 points bonus (to 13th June) and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard
A generous earning rate for a free card at 0.75 points per £1 Read our full review
You can also earn Virgin Points from various American Express cards – and these have sign-up bonuses too.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is FREE for a year and comes with 20,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 20,000 Virgin Points.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 30,000 Virgin Points.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card is doubled to 60,000 Membership Rewards points (worth 60,000 Virgin Points) – and you get £200 to spend at Amex Travel too! Apply here.
The Platinum Card from American Express
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Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.
American Express Business Platinum
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American Express Business Gold
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Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points.
(Want to earn more Virgin Points? Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)