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Virgin Atlantic Will Bring Its New Business Class To Orlando (And Other Leisure Routes)


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Earlier this morning, Virgin Atlantic announced that in honor of International Women’s Day it will be naming two of its aircraft after “iconic women”. As praiseworthy as that gesture is, another piece of news buried within the same announcement will probably be of most interest to flyers – Virgin Atlantic will be bringing its new and hugely improved Business Class cabin to Orlando and other leisure routes.

Virgin Atlantic has said that two of its yet undelivered Airbus A350-1000 aircraft will be named in honor of Emmeline Pankhurst (the founder of the Suffragette movement and women’s rights activist) and Eve Branson (the late mother of Sir Richard Branson and a pioneering air hostess) before they take to the skies for the first time.

‘Lady Emmeline’ will have the registration G-VLIB while ‘Fearless Lady’ will fly under the registration G-VEVE and while we don’t know much about the latter, a little tidbit of information that we’ve been given about ‘Lady Emmeline’ is noteworthy.

Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that Lady Emmeline is due to commence operations in April 2022 and “will operate on a number of the airline’s leisure routes, whisking holidaymakers to destinations including Orlando, Antigua and Barbados“.

What this means is that as all Virgin Atlantic’s A350 aircraft come equipped with the airline’s latest cabins, flyers to/from Orlando and the Caribbean will soon have the option of booking the New Virgin Atlantic Business Class cabin.

Note: At one point, Virgin Atlantic was scheduled to offer the A350 to/from Barbados for the 2020/21 winter season but with a 787-9 operating the route right now, I’m not sure that ever actually happened. Also, although the airline’s schedules are currently showing the A350 operating to Barbados in Winter 2020/21, that shouldn’t be taken as a certainty.

Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Importantly, flyers booking a leisure route operated by a Virgin Atlantic A350 shouldn’t expect the same cabin configurations as the ones found on the airline’s A350s that operate to cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

As far back as September 2019, Virgin Atlantic let slip that the final five Airbus A350 aircraft that it adds to its fleet will be a little different from the others that it already operates and I suspect that the Lady Emmeline will be one of those five:

All of the airline’s initial A350 deliveries will be based at London Heathrow. The final five planes will offer a leisure configuration and will operate routes to Florida and the Caribbean from London Gatwick and Manchester Airport.  

When Virgin Atlantic references a “leisure configuration” it almost certainly means an aircraft configuration that offers considerably more Economy Class seats and fewer Business Class seats than the aircraft operating to major cities.

The A350’s that Virgin Atlantic will operate on its leisure routes are replacements for the 747 Aircraft that the airline recently retired and as such will probably be configured in a very similar way.

As things stand, we don’t know what sort of cabin set-up Virgin Atlantic has in mind but as the current A350 cabin configuration offers over three times the number of Upper Class seats than the 747 it is replacing and as the now-retired 747 had almost 60% more Economy Class seats than the newer aircraft, it’s probably safe to speculate that Upper Class seating will be cut to make room for more Economy Class seats.

If Virgin Atlantic was happy to operate with just 14 Upper Class seats on its 747s, there’s little reason to believe that it will need any more Upper Class seats in the reconfigured A350. So, with 4 Business Class seats to every row in the A350, it’s possible that Virgin’s leisure-configured A350s will operate with a small, 4-row Upper Class cabin (16 seats), a 56 seat Premium Economy cabin (the same size as the Premium Economy cabin found on the airline’s other A350s), and an Economy Class cabin that takes up all of the remaining space.

There’s a chance that Virgin may also add more Premium Economy seating to the last five A350s that it receives but as the airline is already going to struggle to get anywhere close to the same number of Economy Class seats in its reconfigured A350 as it had on its 747s, I’d suggest that that chance is a slim one.

Virgin Atlantic A350 Premium Economy – Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Lastly, it’s worth noting that while the Virgin Atlantic A350s all come with a Business Class cabin that represents a big improvement on the current Upper Class cabin (reviewed here), the seating in the Premium Economy cabin is considerably less spacious than the excellent seating that was found on the 747s and that can still be found on the airline’s 787s and A330s (reviewed here) – if you’re flying in the Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin and have a choice of aircraft, avoid the A350.

Bottom Line

Virgin Atlantic plans to offer A350 service to Orlando and the Caribbean from April 2022 at the latest. Based on what the airline has said in the past, we can expect these routes to be operated by A350 aircraft with a more Economy-heavy cabin configuration than the A350s that the airline currently flys on its more premium routes, and while the much-improved Upper-Class seats that the A350s offer will be a big bonus for passengers flying “in the front”, the tighter Premium Economy Class seats will be a negative for those traveling one cabin closer to the back.

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