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Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend the unveiling of the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat that will debut on the airline’s new A330-900neo aircraft so, for once, I didn’t have to rely on a press release to get a feel for what a new seat is going to offer.
Virgin Atlantic’s new A330neos are expected to take to the skies later this year, but because it has been less than three years since Virgin Atlantic put its new A350 Upper Class cabins on sale, I wasn’t expecting much more than a few tweaks to the seat I reviewed last year.
As I quickly found out, I should have expected more.
Virgin Atlantic A330neo Upper Class seats
The Upper Class cabin in Virgin’s new A330neo aircraft will offer 32 seats set out in a familiar 1-2-1 layout. All passengers will have direct access to one of the aircraft’s two aisles and most seats will offer 22″ of width and will turn into beds that are 6′ 4″ in length.
So far, you’re probably thinking that this doesn’t sound massively different to what the current ‘new’ Upper Class cabin offers on the Virgin Atlantic A350s…
…but I’m here to tell you that the new product should be better. A lot better.
Here it is.
Where the A350’s new Upper Class seat has clunky seat controls…
..the A330neo’s new Upper Class seat has sleek touchscreen controls and a ‘do not disturb’ option.
Where the A350’s new Upper Class seat offers almost no storage space at all…
…the A330neo’s new Upper Class seat offers a small cubby with a door…
… a further storage area to one side of the seat…
…and a long, wide shelf that will hold most things passengers will want close to hand.
Storage should not be an issue on the Virgin Atlantic A330neo.
Where the A350’s new Upper Class seat has a narrow ottoman area where a passenger’s feet rest when the seat is in lie-flat mode…
…the same space on the A330neo feels wider and taller (even with shoes, I couldn’t touch the top).
And where the A350’s new Upper Class seat doesn’t have a door that fully closes…
…the A330neo’s new Upper Class seat is a true ‘suite’ with a fully closing door.
When you also add into this mix the fact that the A330neo Upper Class seat offers AC, USB-A, and USB-C charging options as well as a wireless charging station under the cubby…
…it’s hard not to think that this is the A350 seat that should have been.
At 22″ wide there was a risk that the new Upper Class seat could feel a little confined and claustrophobic but in the short period of time that I lay flat in the seat, that wasn’t a feeling that I got. I’ll have to wait and see to find out what it feels like on a long-haul flight but as no one is going to be forced to have the suite door closed, I doubt even true sufferers of claustrophobia will have too many issues here.
This A330neo seat feels comfortable, well-equipped, and well thought through, and while it would be folly to give this seat an official big thumbs up before trying it out on an actual flight, I expect it to take a place towards the very top of the list of ‘best transatlantic Business Class seats’.
I’ve already mentioned that the Upper Class cabin on the Virgin Atlantic A330neo is home to 32 seats but the truth is that only 30 of those seats will look like the seat I’ve been discussing above. The remaining two seats will be even better and this was the surprise that Virgin Atlantic pulled on the night – no one was expecting this.
In the center section at the very front of the A330neo Upper Class cabin, Virgin Atlantic will install the “Retreat Suite” – two larger Upper Class seats sitting side by side.
These seats offer a good-sized ottoman “buddy seat” opposite each of the main seats to allow two or four passengers to dine together…
… and a divider that runs the length of the Retreat Suite area means that privacy doesn’t have to be surrendered.
Also, because the seat’s footprint is longer than the footprint of the regular Upper Class seats, the Retreat Suite seats can turn into lie-flat beds that are an impressive 6′ 7″ long and because there are no seats ahead of the Retreat Suites, they can offer 27″ touchscreens with Bluetooth audio (10″ bigger than the regular Upper Class screens), and a substantial storage bin to one side of the ottoman.
I got a chance to sit in the main seat and on the ottoman and the feeling of space was impressive. Virgin Atlantic will be charging a £200/sector premium to book the Retreat Suites and while I’m not sure that I’m going to feel the need to upgrade within a cabin whose regular seats I’m pretty sure I’m going to love, those of us who are above average in height may well be grateful for the chance to stretch out fully.
When I say that the new A330neo Upper Class seat is better then the current ‘new seat’ on the A350s, keep in mind that the A350 seat is already orders of magnitude better than what you’ll find in Upper Class on Virgin’s Dreamliners…so this A330neo seat really is something to look forward to.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, Virgin Atlantic’s new A330neo Upper Class seat is going to offer a fantastic way to cross the Atlantic. 30 out of the 32 seats may “only” be a variation on the Vantage XL seat that Delta already offers, but that’s no bad thing. Why completely reinvent the wheel if the wheel is doing a great job already? Why not just improve it where you can? That’s exactly what I think Virgin has done and it looks like it has done it very, very well and I can’t wait to try it out in the air to check that I’m actually right 😁