Will Virgin Atlantic Install New Upper Class On 787 & A330?

Filed Under: Virgin Atlantic

About a week ago Virgin Atlantic revealed their new Upper Class product, which will be debuting on their A350-1000 this summer (and hopefully also on the A330-900neo). The new seats look like a significant upgrade over Virgin Atlantic’s current Upper Class product, though also aren’t exactly cutting edge.

Virgin Atlantic revealed their new Upper Class seats just weeks after British Airways revealed their new Club Suite, and by comparison it sure seems like British Airways’ product is better.

British Airways’ new Club Suite

When it comes to new business class seats, I tend to think that the bigger question is with what kind of a timeline the new seats will be rolled out across the fleet, rather than the specifics of the seats as such. A product can only be so good if most passengers never experience it.

We know that all British Airways long haul aircraft are slated to be reconfigured with the new Club Suites in the coming years (with the exception of those planes being retired). But what about Virgin Atlantic?

Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic will be retiring A340s & 747s

Virgin Atlantic will be retiring their A340s and 747s in the next couple of years, as both planes should be leaving the fleet by 2021. Neither of these planes will feature the new Upper Class product, which is fair enough.

Virgin Atlantic 747Virgin Atlantic’s 747s will be retired in the next two years

Virgin Atlantic’s A350 plans

I find Virgin Atlantic’s plans for their A350-1000s to be surprising. Virgin Atlantic has a total of 12 Airbus A350-1000s on order. What’s their timeline for these planes? AusBT notes:

  • Seven A350s will be delivered between mid 2019 and late 2020, and will be based out of London Heathrow and Manchester
  • The remaining five A350s will be delivered throughout 2021, and are expected to be based at Gatwick, where they’ll have a really dense configuration; these planes are expected to have a lot fewer business class seats (for reference, Virgin Atlantic’s Gatwick based 747s have just 14 Upper Class seats)

To me that seems odd. You’d think they’d use their new flagship aircraft to compete in prime business routes, where passengers might choose Virgin Atlantic because of the type of plane they’re flying. This plane isn’t just about improved fuel efficiency, but also about an improved passenger experience.

In the case of leisure markets out of Gatwick, I assume people are choosing more based on price than product, which is why they have such dense configurations.

I understand the concept of trying to fit the right capacity to the right route, but Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow based A350 fleet will be very small. If there are seven A350s split between Heathrow and Manchester, not many routes will get this plane.

We know Virgin Atlantic will be debuting the A350 on their JFK route, so at this point I can’t help but wonder if they’ll offer all A350 service to JFK, and have no other Heathrow routes with the plane.

Virgin Atlantic’s Gatwick-based A350s won’t feature “The Loft”

Upper Class plans for Virgin Atlantic’s 787s and A330s

Virgin Atlantic has 12 A330 and 17 787s in their fleet, so what’s the plan for reconfiguring these planes? Well, unfortunately they won’t feature the new Upper Class product that has just been debuted.

Virgin Atlantic’s 787

It’s expected that 787s and A330s will be getting new Upper Class seats, though that’s likely to happen in “the early 2020s,” and will be a different product. Virgin Atlantic says this is because the seat was custom built for the A350 due to its width, but the 787 isn’t that much narrower.

Virgin Atlantic’s VP of Customer Experience told AusBT the following regarding these planes:

“The 787s are approaching their mid-life span with us, and that is the logical point for an airline to invest money into the cabin and the product.

So what we are doing is taking a lot of the learnings, the insights, the feedback that we’ll be getting on this product, and we’re now starting to think about what does that mean for our Boeing 787s and our Airbus 330s.”

Virgin Atlantic’s current 787 Upper Class

So while they claim that the seats installed on those planes might be even better than those on the A350, I personally wouldn’t count on it. Furthermore, it’s likely several years until the first such plane is reconfigured.

Bottom line

I’m disappointed that Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have immediate plans to install new seats on their 787s and A330s. Furthermore, I’m disappointed that five of these new A350s won’t even be stationed at Heathrow or Manchester, so only very few business routes will be getting them.

I’ll be curious to see what business class product Virgin Atlantic comes up with for their 787s and A330s, though I fear it’s going to be several years before any plane features these products.

Contrast this to British Airways, which at least will start reconfiguring some 777s with their new Club Suites as of this year.

What do you make of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet plans?

  1. It makes sense for VS to put more fuel efficient planes on long haul liesure routes. Economically, they are better off keeping older planes with denser business loads on business routes as these naturally make more money.

  2. I personally disagree with your opinion because I fly Virgin from Orlando to London Gatwick almost every other month. So having the A350 would be awesome!
    Currently Virgin operates almost all of their 747’s to Orlando from various cities (I believe they have at most 7 daily flights in the summer on the 747 and 1 on an a330).

  3. VS needs to put some A350s at LGW because they are using them to replace the 747 that are based there.

    It’s good they are doing that because VS will be able to say ‘look we have our newest plane and product flying from both airports!’ whereas BA will be still operating a dated fleet from LGW for some time and unlikely to get their new suite until the end of the refit programme. Surely as a leisure flyer yourself you believe that leisure flyers should also get the latest products so well done VS for this.

    Also VS basically has two fleets – ex-LHR and ex-LGW/MAN/GLA and they very rarely mix them unless some really bad irrops are involved. We aren’t going to find an LHR configured 350 flying out of MAN for example.

  4. I vaguely remember reading that VS intended to convert all LHR-JFK flights to A350 as a first priority. That would make sense: they need the big gun of their best product to try to compete against BA’s sheer frequency on that route.

    For the rest, it’s the usual problem of an airline having a crazily wide range of hard product on different planes.

    Airlines are archetypal brands; the key element of a brand is *consistency* – the customer should know exactly what to expect, and that is what should be delivered. Airlines that have too wide a range are failing at the most basic level.

    I know some see me as a BA apologist – God knows why, I am hugely critical of all sorts of things they do – but the one area they excel is in hard-product consistency. For better or worse, take a BA long-haul flight and you know what seat you’ll get. Take an Air France flight and you might get a much better seat – or you may get something that isn’t even a lay-flat bed. That’s really poor brand management, no matter how wonderful is the airport car service at CDG when flying AF 1st.

    VS will be the same: it doesn’t matter how nice the lounges are if you end up with a random old-style seat that’s not what you were expecting.

    Unfortunately this is what I’d expect from VS: lots of hype focused on the best, and no mention of the typical reality. Some of what they do is genuinely good, but, overall: hype over substance.

  5. I hope the newer a350s still have personal air cents above Seat, as the older 747s I fly with Virgin have.

    Do the newer Virgin 787s have personal air vents?

    It would be great if lucky could do a list of airlines that still put these on their newer planes, none of the new Jumbo model 747-8s seem to have them and with many newer BA/Lufthansa and most Asian carriers I have been on, they seem to be abandoning the personal cooling vents. But they are something I often consider very important when booking.

  6. You clearly have no clue re how much it costs to retrofit an aircraft with new seats and certification processes for a small airline like Virgin. Please also note you have the fleet sizes wrong in respect of the A330 and B787.

  7. I just hope some VS folks went to the 2019 aircraft interior expo. Some of the business class seats that debuted there looked innovative and perhaps they can use those or a hybrid of those for the 787/a330. I still remember when VS debuted their 787 back in 2014! Gosh times flies — can’t believe that’s mid-life already for the plane!

  8. I guess Virgin don’t like Upper Class passengers looking out of the windows. Before, the seats faced inwards and now the windows are blocked by pointless plastic panels.

  9. The story of Virgin and not just the airline is over promise and under delivery. It’s endemic throughout the group and disappointment with the offering is the norm. This is no different.

  10. British Airways are doing the right thing and getting their spectacular Club Suite product to everyone in a relatively short period of time. The rate at which they’re planning to retrofit their aircraft means they may install their suites before Qatar Airways can finish the ludicrously slow roll out of the QSuite.

    British Airways could be the world’s first all suite business class airline and that is something we can all look forward to

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