Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Shai Weiss on Virgin Atlantic’s future: Upper Class, Clubhouses, Heathrow and more

Links on Head for Points may support the site by paying a commission.  See here for all partner links.

Last week I interviewed Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss about the future of the airline.

Yesterday, I published an article looking at why I think Virgin is about to announce a new aircraft order at Farnborough.

In this article, I want to look at the future of the customer experience, from the Clubhouse at Heathrow to new routes.

The future of Virgin Atlantic

The future of …. Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic currently flies three different Upper Class seats:

Whilst innovative at the time, the 2003-era seat is very dated and lacks features more modern seats have, such as high levels of privacy and in-seat storage. At 6’2 with wide shoulders, I also find it quite narrow and short.

“It was one of the first true flatbeds flying. Some people love this herringbone. I personally do, but I understand that some people want more privacy.”

Whilst the A330s with the old seat are slowly being phased out with the arrival of the new A330neos, a decision on the Boeing 787s will depend on whether Virgin Atlantic decides to renew their lease or not.

“If we made a decision to retrofit the 787s, it would probably be in the configuration of the A330-900neo. You can see where our mind is with the A330neo and that’s the standard of the cabin we want to offer. It’s one of the best in the sky, definitely crossing the Atlantic.”

With no firm announcement made on the replacement or retrofit of the Boeing 787 fleet, it sounds like we are still years away from a wider rollout. At that point, the 2003 seat will have been flying for over 25 years.

The future of Virgin Atlantic

The future of …. the onboard bar

In a recent Sunday Times article Sir Richard Branson described the replacement of the onboard bar with the Loft social space as “a dreadful mistake. We’ll be bringing back the bar as soon as we possibly can.”

Unfortunately for Richard, it doesn’t look like the social spaces are going anywhere. Shai said:

“You know, we have a bar on the 787s and we have social spaces on the A330neos and A350s, and that tells us where we’re going. You can’t just change direction mid-course. The stream of planes coming in is of that nature. We like the bar, of course, but there are always trade-offs. The bottom line is that all our planes come with bars and social spaces.”

The future of Virgin Atlantic

The future of …. Clubhouse lounges

Virgin Atlantic currently operates six Clubhouses around the world, with the vast majority in the United States:

Virgin is currently in the process of assessing its Clubhouse portfolio. One casualty has been the Manchester Clubhouse which was announced in 2019 but delayed due to covid and now cancelled.

“For the level of activity there, we just couldn’t justify level of investment for a Clubhouse. It was a commercial decision.”

The Heathrow Clubhouse is now increasingly busy as Virgin Atlantic rebuilds its network. The spa and hair salon were dropped during covid and replaced with Peloton bikes for a short while, but haven’t returned.

During a press conference in Las Vegas last week, fitness fanatic Sir Richard Branson suggested that he would like to make better use of the outdoor terrace in the Heathrow Clubhouse and turn it into an outdoor gym. I think he may have forgotten the UK climate – this isn’t the British Virgin Islands!

The future of Virgin Atlantic

The future of …. Virgin Atlantic at Heathrow Terminal 3

Whilst Shai has said he has a very good working relationship with Heathrow airport, there remain points of contention.

“We are in a terminal that needs some attention, Terminal 3, and we’re going to be there for a few years, that’s for sure. So I’d like to see a rapid expansion of the new security lanes, continued operational excellence and overall customer satisfaction creeping up.”

And long term?

“Support for a new home for Virgin Atlantic to be delivered by the end of the decade in Terminal 2.”

Is that even possible?

“It is possible. It’s already in the plan anyway, right? Not all of Terminal 2, the core Terminal 2.”

As Shai notes, Terminal 2 was always designed to be extended. A 2012-era Heathrow press release said:

“The second phase would extend the main Terminal 2 building northwards onto the existing Terminal 1 site. This phase, which would also include the construction of a second satellite building, T2C, would increase the capacity of Terminal 2 from 20 million passengers a year to 30 million passengers a year.”

A 2019 document said that an additional satellite, T2D, could increase passenger numbers to 52 million per year.

Work is moving in the right direction, with construction of a new baggage handling system underground between T2 and its satellite so that Terminal 1, where the existing system is, can be knocked down. This is due to be a six year project so Shai may have his work cut out if he wants a new terminal by 2030.

Pre-pandemic, Virgin Atlantic carried almost 6m passengers both in and out of Heathrow. A 10-million passenger capacity increase at T2 would allow Virgin and its SkyTeam partners to co-locate in a single, modern terminal building – “a home fitting for a flag carrier.”

The future of Virgin Atlantic

The future of …. new routes

During the 40th birthday celebrations, Shai and Richard announced the resumption of flights to Toronto – the third time Virgin Atlantic has attempted that route.

But there’s more to come. I’m told there are more new routes to be announced, although the only one we know of so far is to Seoul. This is part of a deal with the UK Competition and Markets Authority to approve the Korean Air-Asiana merger.

I asked Shai if he was confident the route would launch:

“We don’t control that …. we are a recipient of that decision. I think the last regulator to approve the merger between Asiana and Korean Air is the United States. As soon as that happens, we receive the remedy slots. It’s not paying us, but we get the slots at Heathrow and Seoul. It happens to be that they are also a SkyTeam partner. So I would hope that their merger goes through so we can announce the commencement of operations, but it’s not in our control.”

Flights to Korea would add much-needed capacity into East Asia, with Virgin Atlantic currently only flying to Shanghai. Hong Kong was dropped a few years ago.

The future of Virgin Atlantic

The future of …. Flying Club

Read the comments on any Virgin Points redemption article on Head for Points and the issue of sky-high taxes and fees soon rears its head. On some routes, it is now £900+ return in Upper Class.

British Airways, meanwhile, has introduced Reward Flight Saver. This caps surcharges on business class redemptions at £350 return on the majority of long haul routes, albeit with substantially more Avios required.

(Reward Flight Saver isn’t necessarily wonderful, of course. Far more Avios are required than before if you want to book the ‘low charges’ option. It IS good value if you are using a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 companion voucher, because if you are getting ‘2-4-1’ on the inflated Avios element. If you are not using a voucher then one of the ‘fewer Avios, more cash’ options may be a better deal.)

Will Virgin Atlantic introduce anything similar?

“We’ve been on a very nice journey right, where there was limited availability to Flying Club. We then went to guaranteed availability, 12 seats on every plane. And I think we have a few ideas to make that even more exciting. There’s a bunch of stuff coming out, starting very soon.”

The first announcement will be made in the coming weeks, but I am told several positive changes are in the works.

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards

How to earn Virgin Points from UK credit cards (July 2024)

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 18,000 Virgin Points and the free card has a bonus of 3,000 Virgin Points):

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

18,000 bonus points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

3,000 bonus points, no fee and 1 point for every £1 you spend 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 40,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert into 40,000 Virgin Points.

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points AND (to 27th August) £400 to spend at Amex Travel Read our full review

Small business owners should consider the two American Express Business cards. Points convert at 1:1 into Virgin Points.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and FREE for a year Read our full review

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.)

Comments (150)

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

  • aq.1988 says:

    Agree 100%. I’ve only flown VS UC on two separate trips, on an A350, and 787.

    I found the 787 much better than BA CW. And, I think I preferred the A350 to BA CS. VS also beats BA Club with the T3 Upper Class Wing and Clubhouse. I guess the equivalent would be BA First Wing and CCR: I’ve not yet flown F, so can’t compare yet, but have a flight in August to see how it compares.

    Where VS wins hands down is with the crew. I just found them so much more friendly and personal than with BA. In fact, I even remember their names, as I found them so friendly. I don’t know if the personal touch is because UC is VS’s highest cabin, whereas Club is not for BA, but the cabin sizes weren’t too dissimilar.

    I guess after I’ve tried BA F, I’ll see if you get the same personal experience that you get on VS UC, in a cabin of only 8.

    • Novelty-Socks says:

      The crew on a Virgin flight a year or so ago bumped me up from the cheapest economy ticket all the way to Upper Class, as a “discretionary upgrade to say thank you”. I was gold at the time, Upper was only about half full.

      I don’t know how much power Virgin gives its cabin managers in things like this, but it was one of the best experiences I’ve had on a plane. Talk about creating moments of delight!

      Sadly I’m not really flying long-haul for work any more, but that moment alone makes me way, way more likely to choose them in future.

      Anyone had anything similar with BA, ever?

      • James C says:

        Yes have been upgraded from CW to F onboard once, have also been reseated from CW into the closed F cabin (eg when F isn’t sold on a route but a 4 cabin plane is used) once and had the purser come and move me from ET to CE twice in the 18 months since I’ve been GGL.

      • Rob says:

        BA did, may still do, have an algorithm which selects people who could pay for higher cabins and upgrades them. I suspect, for example, that if you book a few Premium seats with your own money at non-sale prices you’d be a target of a one-off Club upgrade to persuade you to pay more next time.

        This technique absolutely works. Multiple times I have paid cash for hotel room types that I was upgraded into on a previous stay and want to be certain of getting again.

  • hampshirehog says:

    Come Fly With Me’s depiction of cabin crew in First is spot on in my view….

  • RobH not Rob says:

    Virgin’s Travel Talk (closed) forum throws tons of stuff our to their 1,000 members every month to get feedback on things they are thinking of introducing.

    I’ve been in it since it’s inception, and at least give them credit for gathering feedback on stuff like carbon offsetting to pairing desserts with wine and everything in between.

    It’s genuinely interesting to hear what different sorts of Virgin customers want and aspire to, and how much Virgin deep dive before they commit to ANYTHING.

  • Eddie says:

    The bar on the 787s is a great product, 5 seats but more for standing IIRC. A great social hot-spot especially with a fun crew. I spent at least 6 hours at the bar with fellow travellers on a LHR to SFO flight in 2017. Not so keen on the right hand side herringbone seating and have booked left handside for next VS UC flight in November. Looking forward to the Drive up checkin and club lounge again too.

  • GAC says:

    I tend to agree, combined perhaps with no more expenses or per diem….?

    As I suggested, it’s beyond a coincidence and doesn’t justify taking a slice of our retirement fund.

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

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.