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Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus A350-1000 is a hugely important aircraft to the airline as, not only does it come equipped with a much needed high-end Business Class cabin (which will allow it to make a more serious play for transatlantic Business traffic), but it’s also a significantly more efficient aircraft than the Boeing 747s it will (in some cases) be replacing.
With Virgin Atlantic launching its A350 on the London – New York JFK route earlier this week there’s been quite a bit of press coverage of the new aircraft but one tidbit of information that Virgin Atlantic’s PR team put out caught my eye – not all of Virgin’s A350s will be configured in the same way.
I’m not sure if this has been mentioned before (I haven’t seen it anywhere else) but Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that the final five A350 aircraft that will be delivered in 2021 will feature what the airline is calling a “leisure” configuration.
Per Virgin Atlantic:
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. These deliveries will take place in 2021 as the airline beings to retire its 747 fleet.
A leisure configuration would seem to indicate that Virgin will be lowering the number of Upper Class (Business Class) seats in the frontmost cabin of 5 of its A350s in order that it may install significantly more Economy Class seats….and you can see why the airline would want to do this when you compare the cabin sizes on the A350 with the cabin sizes on the 747s.
The A350 that’s currently operating on the London – JFK route offers 44 Upper Class seats, 56 Premium Economy seats, and 235 Economy Class seats…
….while the 747s that the final 5 A350s will be helping replace offer 14 Upper Class seats, 66 Premium Economy seats, and 375 Economy Class seats.
In its current configuration the Virgin Atlantic A350 has over 3x the number of Upper Class seats than the 747 while the 747 has almost 60% more Economy Class seats than the A350s – a reconfiguration is clearly needed if some of the A350s are to replace the 747s.
If Virgin is happy with just 14 Upper Class seats on its 747s there’s little reason to believe that the airline will want many more Upper Class seats in the reconfigured A350. With 4 new Business Class seats to every row in the A350 it’s entirely possible that Virgin will go with a 4-row Upper Class cabin on the A350 (16 seats), maintain a 56 seat Premium Economy cabin and then fill the rest of the aircraft with Economy Class seats.
I considered the possibility that Virgin may also add more Premium Economy seating to the final 5 A350s it receives but, after having given it some thought, I don’t expect that to happen.
As it is Virgin is going to struggle to get anywhere near the same number of Economy Class seats in its reconfigured A350 as it currently has on its 747s so I can’t see the airline apportioning yet more seats to an already generously sized Premium Economy Class cabin.
Upper Class will be culled and the Economy Class cabin will take most of the released space.
It will be interesting to see what configuration Virgin Atlantic will unveil on its final 5 Airbus A350’s but I’m calling it now and saying that I’ll be surprised if the aircraft has more than 16 – 20 seats in Upper Class.
While this will probably be good news for Virgin Atlantic’s bottom line it won’t be good news for Flying Club members hoping to redeem their miles for the new Upper Class seats on a vacation to Florida or the Caribbean – I suspect that Upper Class awards on these routes will be pretty tough to find.