“There are new planes and then there are Virgin Atlantic new planes.” That’s the tag line the carrier used this week to introduce the cabin of its new A350-1000, set to fly at the end of the summer. The entire interior gets a refresh, with updated seats, entertainment and connectivity systems. Virgin Atlantic takes advantage of technology to refresh a number of key passenger touch points throughout the cabin while also delivering more space and a comfortable feel to the space. The aircraft will inaugurate service between Heathrow and New York’s JFK following delivery of the first aircraft in “late summer” of 2019. Four A350-1000s are expected in the fleet by the end of the year.
The Upper Class business class cabin is typically where Virgin Atlantic shines and the A350-1000 is no exception. The new “Upper Class suite” is an impressive upgrade from prior iterations of the Upper Class seat, though it is in no way actually a suite.
Even accepting the airline industry misappropriation of the word suite to describe any seat with a door to the aisle, the Upper Class suite does not qualify. There is no door on the seat. A small “privacy divider” that slides a couple inches does not count. The higher seat walls do, however, offer increased privacy relative to prior iterations.
Going up against the recently unveiled British Airways A350-1000 Club Suites – which do include a door – the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class suite comes up a smidgen short, though the new seat is nothing to sneer at. Based on the Safran Aerosystems Cirrus product, the new Upper Class suite seat offers a fully flat bed, direct aisle access for all passengers, improved storage and a number of other Virgin Atlantic touches to keep premium passengers happy on board.
Perhaps more significant than the seat is the refreshed lounge area on board, the Loft in Upper Class. The A350 version of the infamous Virgin Atlantic social/bar area features space for eight passengers, including five that can be seated with seatbelts. This is the first time the social area includes that option, allowing passengers to remain in the area even with turbulence.
It also includes a 32″ television screen and the ability for eight passengers to pair Bluetooth headsets to that screen. It is the first time Virgin Atlantic has offered Bluetooth audio option in the social area. The Upper Class seats also offer Bluetooth audio connectivity for passengers.
Virgin Atlantic will feature 44 Upper Class suite seats on its new A350-1000.
The Premium Economy cabin delivers a relatively standard 2-4-2 layout for passengers in the Collins Aerospace MiQ seat. The MiQ is rapidly proving itself as the go-to option for Premium Economy seating around the globe, including with Virgin Atlantic’s JV partner and part owner Delta Air Lines. A slightly consistent product across carriers helps deliver a more common passenger experience where the two overlap on routes, though that’s not always the goal.
Soft touches on board bring differentiation to the offerings. For Virgin Atlantic that takes the form of the stitch detailing on the leather seat covers and a pressed black wool cocktail tray. The service standards for Virgin Premium Economy will also continue as a differentiation point.
The A350-1000 will fly with 56 Premium Economy seats
The economy class cabin features a 3-3-3 layout with 235 seats. “Bespoke woven fabrics” cover the Recaro CL3710 seats and passengers will have the benefit of the six-way headrest to help provide comfort on the long-haul trips. The upgraded inflight entertainment system, including use of a personal electronic device as a controller, is another feature of the new cabin.
Pitch ranges from 31″ for Classic and Light fares to 34″ for those buying up to Economy Delight seats.
Entertainment and Connectivity
Passengers on the new Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 fleet will fly with the carrier’s most modern entertainment platform. The airline is installing the current version of the Zii RAVE IFE kit from Safran Aerosystems (formerly Zodiac Aerospace). The screens are the largest Virgin has ever flown. Upper Class passengers get an 18.5″ screen while Premium Economy drops to 13.3″ and Economy to 11.6″. Upper Class passengers have Bluetooth pairing available while all travelers have access to USB power in their seat as well as the new remote control option via their personal device. This is not the RAVE Ultra system with Bluetooth for all passengers and the larger screens, recently demonstrated at AIX2019; that product will not fly until 2020.
One drawback of the IFE kit in Upper Class is the need for the screens to be stowed during critical phases of flight (e.g. taxi, takeoff, landing). This safety requirement, driven by the seat design, reduces the time passengers can enjoy the entertainment offerings. For those obsessed with following the landing approach on the map it is similarly limiting.
On the connectivity front Virgin Atlantic is diversifying its inflight internet portfolio. As first reported in PaxEx.Aero Premium last August, the connectivity will be provided by Inmarsat‘s GX Aviation solution, with Safran handling the integration services.