Launched today in London’s still-trendy Shoreditch, Virgin Atlantic’s new A330neo product should indeed turn heads. Launching a brand new product across a small yet nimble fleet usually means that the product offering becomes increasingly fragmented, but actually the airline has stumbled upon better synergies than ever on its Transatlantic offering.
Introduced on Virgin Atlantic’s 16 A330neos, the new cabins (designed in collaboration between Virgin’s in-house team and London’s Factorydesign) will feature 30 brand new Upper Class seats (plus two extra special Upper Class seats), a swanky reworking of the A350 loft, 46 Premium seats and a comfortable economy class cabin with 28 additional extra-leg room seats and 156 regular economy seats.
Now on first glance, things will look different but somewhat familiar to regular fliers. Gone are the A350 seats that we knew couldn’t fit on the fractionally narrower A330 frame, instead Virgin have opted to follow the success of Delta’s (its sister carrier) Delta One Suites (although we’ve been rest assured that’s a happy coincidence). It’s a logical option, moving away from the decades’ old herringbone Upper Class product currently on the A330 and 787. Thompson Vantage XL is a sturdy, well appointed and well-established product featuring all the creature comforts the modern traveller will want, as are both the MiQ Premium and Recaro economy options.
This also creates product synergies between the two carriers who often codeshare on flights across the Atlantic and the states. But Virgin have certainly added their flair and panache, and something else that Delta hasn’t offered in its cabins – A class above Upper Class. This is something that Sir Richard Branson had been toying with when it originally was playing with the idea of purchasing the A380.
The hottest ticket on the aircraft will be in the carrier’s new Retreat Suite – a novel innovation mirroring the trend of ‘premium business class’. The Retreat is created by connecting two exclusive suites at the front and centre of the cabin. It truly is the airline’s most spacious suite yet, comprising a 6ft7” direct seat to fully flat bed and a 27” touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and wireless charging and a table for four. With each suite boasting an ottoman that doubles up as an extra seat, up to four people can comfortably dine, chat or play games in their own private social space. Customers can enjoy an intimate dinner or settle in comfort to watch a film.
It’s almost a QSuite in that regard, with a family of four easily taking the front row of the cabin to enjoy a fairly intimate, enclosed environment – but without the complex walls compartmentalising the experience and making of strained necks.
The regular Upper Class Suites are in effect highly stylised Thompson Vantage XL suites, with doors – it seems Virgin has bowed to the competition and included these for added privacy, finally caving on what was dubbed as a more ‘social airline approach’
The fully forward-facing suite offers more space and storage alongside a fully closing privacy door. With a ‘do not disturb’ feature. It has passenger-controlled mood lighting, 17.3” touchscreen TV and even a mirror so customers can check they’re looking “runway ready.” There is plenty of storage for passengers thanks to the various cubby holes the seats allow.
Virgin’s Upper Class wouldn’t be Upper Class without a social space and it is still the only airline to offer such a space on each of its aircraft. The Loft remains a focal point of the cabin design as customers board the aircraft and is a core part of the Upper Class experience. It is an evolution of design from the Airbus A350, it consists of space for eight people, with four comfortable seats, allowing guests to sit and chat or enjoy refreshments from the new self-service fridge and drinks dispenser.
In fact, one element we love with Virgin is that Virgin now offers a range of different social spaces, from two types of bar, two social loft areas and even a booth on the carrier’s leisure routes. Customers can also connect Bluetooth headphones to the dual panoramic 27” touchscreens (an upgrade from the one on the A350) or utilise the wireless charging facilities for their devices.
When it comes to innovating for our customers, we never stand still. Our desire to create memorable experiences means we’ll continue to imagine with fresh ideas. We care about every detail of the cabin design and every step of our customer’s journey. We’re proud to unveil our state of the art A330neo and show the evolution of our customer experience, with each of our customers receiving a premium experience regardless of the cabin they travel in. They’ll be better connected with their fellow travellers and our amazing crew in the air, and with their friends and family on the ground.Corneel Koster, Chief Customer and Operating Officer at Virgin Atlantic
In Premium, things feel a lot more consistent with the A350 product. With 46 of Virgin Atlantic’s trademark burgundy Premium seats in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration, with a 38” pitch remain, but they’re accompanied by calf rests in every seat and a 13.3” touchscreen with Bluetooth audio. The airline is also offering its Premium customers an in-seat wireless charging pad between some (but not all) of the seats – where there’s no charging pad, there are plenty of power points to keep everything at 100%.
In economy, ‘comfort and connection are order of the day’ in the new Economy cabin, as customers are set to experience the largest ever economy screen at 13.3” (that’s almost Emirates standard), with an intuitive touchscreen and Bluetooth audio to connect headphones, with customers able to use their phone as a controller. There’s also plenty of storage, plus AC power and USB ports to keep gadgets energised. Customers have the choice between 28 Economy Delight seats, which offer an increased 34” seat pitch, or 156 Economy Classic seats, providing a 31” pitch.
Business Class products always will act as a halo for an aircraft, as that is where the most real estate can for afforded to passenger, that’s why all eyes will turn to Upper Class. In our opinion, while Virgin took the easy option by taking an off-the-shelf product, they have not only saved money without the need of expensive certification processes, but aligned themselves with Delta, a smart, savvy move, leading guests to wonder… ‘Who wore it better’. In our view Virgin, with its nose to tail approach to cabin design and successful marriage of lighting and product, there’s a clear front runner in this regard.
I’ll take a deeper dive into the design language and details later this week. Stay tuned for our latest story, where TheDesignAir talks exclusively with Henry Buckley, Design Manager at Virgin Atlantic.
The Big A330neo Picture