Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission which helps contribute to the running of the site – I’m very grateful to anyone who uses these links but their use is entirely optional. The compensation does not impact how and where products appear on this site and does not impact reviews that are published. For more details please see the advertising disclosure found at the bottom of every page.
On April 8th Virgin Atlantic released details of the new Business Class seat it will be installing on its soon to be delivered Airbus A350-1000 aircraft and the new seat received a mixed reception.
I haven’t commented on the new seat so far for two very good reasons:
- I’ve been traveling with Joanna and enjoying a break (so I’ve had better things to do)
- I decided to try out a true ‘suite’ before I commented on Virgin Atlantic’s so-called new Upper Class ‘suite’
Well, I’m back from my travels with Joanna, and I’ve tried out the Qatar Airways Qsuite so it’s time to say what impressions I’ve been given of the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabin and seat.
First, here’s a recap of what Virgin Atlantic has said about the new Upper Class cabin:
- The A350 will offer an entirely redesigned Upper Class cabin
- Every seat now faces towards the window and offers deployable privacy screens.
- The new cabin is set out in a 1-2-1 configuration
- Every ‘suite’ has a 44” pitch, with a fully flat bed length of up to 82″
- All suites will transition seamlessly from an upright seat, straight to a bed.
- The new suite boasts Virgin Atlantic’s largest ever in-flight entertainment screen, at 18.5”and features intuitive new system, controllable by customers’ own personal device.
- In line with the rest of the fleet, every customer will still have direct aisle access.
- The Upper Class cabin will now have a new ‘social space’ called ‘The Loft’
- The new cabin will enter service in late summer 2019
Virgin Atlantic’s New Upper Class Seat
Virgin Atlantic has been hyping up its new seat for quite some time so the fact that the airline only had 2 pictures of the new ‘Upper Class Suite’ to show us on the day it was unveiled was more than a little surprising – the fact that we still only have two official images of the new seat is staggering.
Leaving aside what I actually think of the new seat for a moment, I can’t understand how an airline can attempt to promote a major redesign of its premier cabin with just two images of the seat and a single image of the new social area (more on that later) – even British Airways managed to furnish us with 9 uncluttered images when it released details of its new Club World seat.
The first thing to say about the new Upper Class seat is that it’s a big improvement on the abomination that passes for a Business Class seat on Virgin Atlantic right now….but that wasn’t a big hurdle for the new seat to clear.
I know that the current Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat has its share of defenders but, from my point of view, it’s one of the worst Business Class seats offered by a major airline – I’ll be delighted when it’s consigned to history.
The new Upper Class seat is being called a ‘suite’ but it’s a suite in name only – it doesn’t have a door that closes it off from the rest of the cabin like the Qatar Airways Qsuite or the Delta One suite, it only has a partition that partly shields the seat from the aisle.
Virgin Atlantic has said that the reason a full door hasn’t been introduced is because it wants to maintain social interaction between crew and passengers and, frankly, that’s a truly ridiculous reason to give.
Virgin could have installed a true suite in its new A350s and given passengers the option to have the door open or closed so, either Virgin is trying to force passengers to interact with its crews or Delta (a 49% owner of Virgin Atlantic) decided it didn’t want its partner airline to have a seat as good as the one it offers – I suspect the latter.
The seat itself (a modified Cirrus NG seat) a looks perfectly nice (although its hard to say from just two pictures) but it’s not exactly revolutionary and it’s not even a major step forward from what a lot of other airlines already offer….so I don’t really know what Virgin Atlantic is thinking here.
It’s certainly going to be better than the current Lufthansa Business Class product (for example) but I don’t see it being noticeably different to (or better than) the reverse herringbone products we’ve had for years on the likes of American Airlines, Qatar Airways, Finnair, Cathay Pacific and Delta….and I’m not even sure it’s going to be as good as the recently unveiled British Airways Club World seat.
I’ve seen reports which suggest that the new Upper Class seats will be just 20″ wide and that can only be described as appalling.
Most modern Premium Economy seats offer at least 19″ of seat width (the current Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy seats claim to offer 21″) so to reveal a new Business Class seat with just 20″ of width is laughable…and indefensible.
For comparison here are the widths offered by some other well-known Business Class products:
- Delta One Suite – 22″ – 24″
- Qatar Airways Qsuite – 21.5″
- American Airlines 777 – 21″ to 22″
- American Airlines 787 – 21″
- LOT Polish 787- 23″
- Air France 787 – 21″
- Air France 777 – 21.5″
With a width of just 20″ I’m not sure how Virgin Atlantic persuaded a number of media outlets to describe the new seat as “Incredible”, “Superb” and “Stellar” but either their writers have never seen a good Business Class seat or their integrity is up for sale – you decide.
Still, one clever innovation which Virgin Atlantic is introducing is that the seats will not be set out in a traditional reverse herringbone layout – the seats on either side of the aisle will be angled towards the windows (as with a regular reverse herringbone layout) but the center seats will both angle towards the aisles.
Having the center seats laid out this way should make it easier for couples traveling together to communicate during the flight and it should ensure that any flickering from the IFE screens in the center section of the aircraft doesn’t disturb passengers in the window seats – I really like this and Virgin should be applauded for coming up with this set up.
The Virgin Atlantic ‘Loft’
‘The Loft’ is the name Virgin Atlantic has given to its new bar/lounge area between Business Class and Premium Economy.
Here’s how Virgin Atlantic describes ‘The Loft’:
As the first airline to introduce an on-board bar, Virgin Atlantic has taken its customer proposition to the next level, as customers can now enjoy a social space known as The Loft. As the largest social space in the airline’s fleet, it’s designed for customers to gather, chat, enjoy a drink or dine with friends.
The Loft extends the airline’s world renowned Clubhouse experience to the skies, offering a wide range of cocktails, and the option for customers to dine together and enjoy Mile High afternoon tea by Eric Lanlard and a selection of delicious new dishes by Donal Skehan. As well as enjoying luxe comfort and high end finishes, customers can settle in with Bluetooth headphones and connect to the 32” screen – catch a show, or watch the live tailcam.
The Loft appears to have got a lot of people quite excited but I genuinely don’t see the attraction – this looks like a novelty that may well just end up as a waste of space.
While a true bar area on an aircraft can genuinely be a sociable place to hang out (like on the Qatar Airways A380s) this doesn’t look all that sociable at all.
Virgin has said that the area will only seat 8 passengers (out a cabin of 44) and that, in its experience, its current onboard bar is often used as an informal area in which to discuss Business…so that’s what the Loft will be for.
There are charging points, high tables (for people using laptops while standing up) and devices will be able to connect to the large screen via Bluetooth so travelers can hold meetings and discuss presentations.
Firstly, most businesses would be apoplectic if they discovered that their employees were rehearsing/conducting presentations on a publicly viewable screen onboard an aircraft (I know of corporations which prohibit their employees from using laptops onboard in case their work can be viewed by another passenger) and, secondly, an area that can house just 8 people is in no way big enough to generate the convivial atmosphere Virgin appears to think it will.
I genuinely don’t see the point of the Loft – it smacks of style over substance and the airline would probably have been better off using the space to either add more seats or to give the existing 44 seats more room.
Clearly we won’t really know just how good or bad the new Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat is until we can actually try it out on a long-haul flight (that’s why I’ve been careful to use the word ‘impression’ when describing my thoughts) so it’s entirely possible that the limited images and information don’t do it justice and that 20″ of seat width will feel incredibly spacious thanks to some amazing design work….but I’m not exactly blown away right now.
Overall I’m actually incredibly disappointed with what I’ve seen and heard so far. After having been incredibly excited to see what Virgin Atlantic would unveil and after having really wanted to love the new seat and the new cabin (I have a soft spot for Virgin Atlantic), I’m now finding myself wondering what all the hype and fuss was all about.
Aside from the clever seat layout in the center section there’s not much to get excited about here and, from what I can see, Virgin Atlantic is introducing a seat that isn’t really ahead of what a lot of other airlines have offered for years.
The new Upper Class seat may be a big improvement on the current Virgin Atlantic Upper Class product but it doesn’t look like a product which can move the airline ahead of its competition.