Tonight saw Virgin Atlantic peel back the curtain on their exclusive new A350 cabin. The aircraft, which will enter the fleet this summer will initially fly on the prestigious Heathrow – New York JFK route, followed by Atlanta, and the rest of the existing 747 routes as the new aircraft starts to take over from the current Queen of the Skies.
But does Virgin’s latest addition to their fleet family live up to the grandiose title, and deliver on the airline’s continued mission to become the world’s most loved airline? We were lucky to be invited to take a tour of their cabin crew trainer mock up and experience the new cabins, revealed for the first time to the public.
On entering the aircraft, you are immediately greeted by a social space, titled ‘The Loft” crafted by UK firm, Factorydesign, which is less of a bar, and more of a communal area, akin to Etihad’s A380 lounge more than the existing full-service bar. While this will be appealing to most passengers who like a quiet cabin, it means no matter how the airline packages it, it’s another aircraft that has been brought in with no bar, losing some if its Virgin sparkle in the process.
But while it takes on one hand, it delivers in generous handfuls in the other. For those lucky enough to travel in Upper Class, the 44 Upper Class seats (Yes, 44!) the hard product is totally new. As an industry first, every seat now faces towards the window and each seat features a deployable privacy screen (not door like BA) either between the centre pairs or towards the aisle for window-seat passengers.
The seats don’t offers as large a real estate as BA’s super Business Class seats, but what they do offer is a really bespoke finish that just oozes Virgin Atlantic’s somewhat missing sex-appeal that is now back with a vengeance.
This is also, like the A330-200 retrofit aircraft, an Upper Class Suite that reclines from upright straight into a bed, complete with shoulder strap. The seat, based on a Saffron seat shell seems to be somewhere between a heavily-customised Cirrus product and their new Versa product.
What is impressive is the airline has opted for a huge 18.5″ screen that will feature an innovative new GUI and more films, higher definition and more tech advances than the existing product. But what hasn’t changed is the airline’s all-aisle access, something it has prided itself on for two decades.
In Premium Economy however, the airline has opted for the Mi-Q seat, but in a narrower configuration that we were expecting with just 18.5″ seat width. That means the airline has opted for a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration in what could easily be a comfortable 2 x 3 x 2 configuration in a wider 21″ seat width, something currently available on the rest of the fleet.
The seat, which Virgin states they have taken inspiration from high-fashion leather handbags (read luscious leather and stitched detailing) has all the standard Mi-Q benefits, including calf and leg rest in the front row, as well as just foot rests in the following seats, and a deep 7″ recline.
But the good news can be found in economy, where the 3 x 3 x 3 configuration offers wide, well padded and tech-savvy seats filled with all the creature comforts that economy could provide. The best news is that because of the new Rave IFE system, there are no more bulky boxes under the seats, allowing for more legroom and passenger comfort.
The airline will offer an industry-standard 38″ in Premium Economy, 34″ in Economy Delight and 31″ in economy, but thanks to these Recaro seats, that’s still plenty of leg room for most. The first A350 will take to the skies in August, as it flies from London Heathrow to New York JFK, followed by other services to JFK later in the year. Virgin Atlantic has ordered a total of 12 Airbus A350-1000, with them all scheduled to join the fleet by 2021 in an order worth an estimated $4.4 billion.
The A350 will also be the first aircraft in Virgin Atlantic’s fleet to feature its new Flying Icons, which are set to replace the airline’s famous Flying Ladies. The high flyers are a diverse range of men and women representing modern Britain, rolled out on the four A350-1000 aircraft this year, followed by a further eight by 2021.
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