Virgin Atlantic Introducing New Upper Class Seat In 2019

2019 is going to be a big year for business class on the UK’s two biggest airlines. Earlier I wrote about how British Airways will be introducing a new business class product on their A350, and they’re expected to take delivery of the first such plane in July 2019.

Their rollout will be fairly slow, though — by the end of 2019 only six planes will feature the new seats, and the entire longhaul fleet should have them by 2023. They’re not the only UK airline to introduce a new business class seat next year, though.

Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class seat

Virgin Atlantic also plans to introduce an all new Upper Class product when it takes delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft next summer. Virgin Atlantic ordered these planes in mid-2016, and they have a total of 12 of these aircraft on order.

So far the airline hasn’t yet revealed the details of these new seats, though they have said that the seat will be “revolutionary,” so hopefully it’s a significant improvement over the current seat.

Virgin Atlantic’s SVP of sales and customer loyalty had the following to say to Business Traveller:

“We’ve seen it, I’ve sat in it, it’s a fantastic seat. What you’ll see is that it’s a next-generation product but it’s incredibly Virgin Atlantic – it’s exactly what you would think Virgin Atlantic is in terms of the look and feel, the design, the feel of the cabin and the warmth of the environment.”

As you can see, this means the seat has already been developed, so it seems like they’re in the final stages. Virgin Atlantic is expected to reveal the full details in early 2019, definitely by the first quarter.

While it’s not a sure bet, apparently Hong Kong and Shanghai are front-runners for getting the A350 first, as both routes are apparently doing very well for them, and putting the A350 on the routes would allow them to add more capacity without increasing frequencies. However, I wouldn’t take this as a sure bet, as it seems to me that a market like LAX is also fairly likely to get the new seats first.

Unfortunately the bad news is that existing Virgin Atlantic aircraft won’t get the new seats, so it’ll only be A350-1000s that get new seats… at least for now.

Virgin Atlantic’s current Upper Class seats

While Virgin Atlantic has different finishes on their seats depending on aircraft type (the 787 has much more modern seats than the 747, for example), all Virgin Atlantic aircraft have herringbone seats in business class.

When these seats were first introduced they were pretty revolutionary (they were among the first seats with direct aisle access from every seat), though they’re not exactly cutting edge anymore. I dislike the fact that these seats face the aisle rather than the window, and that you have to get up to turn the seat into a bed, as the seat basically “folds” over.

So this will be a long overdue improvement. I get that they’re not reconfiguring 747s, since these will be retired eventually. However, I’m a bit surprised they won’t even reconfigure their 787s, which are still new planes. Maybe they’ll change their mind on that at some point down the road.

Bottom line

I’m excited to see Virgin Atlantic’s new A350 business class seat. Historically the airline has been pretty innovative, so hopefully that trend continues.

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of a seat Virgin Atlantic chooses. I could see them going with some sort of a customized reverse herringbone seat, which would represent a significant improvement.


Virgin Australia’s reverse herringbone seat

Given their joint venture with Delta, I could also see them introducing Vantage XL suites with doors.


Delta’s modified Vantage XL suites with doors

Regardless, it sounds to me like Virgin Atlantic is promising a bit more with their new business class seat than British Airways is. Virgin Atlantic is saying this seat will be “revolutionary,” while British Airways isn’t making quite such a claim.

What kind of a seat do you think Virgin Atlantic will choose for their new A350s?

Comments

  1. This announcement is not a coincidence: they measure themselves against BA, so couldn’t bear the idea of BA having a better seat.

    Their phrasing is unfortunate, though: “it’s exactly what you think Virgin is…”. So that’s over-hyped, uncomfortable and, ultimately, disappointing, then? Though it might also be pretty bling-y.

    In truth, my guess is they’ll follow Delta.

  2. Virgin flies most of their 747’s to Orlando in the summer. They fly up to 7 daily (and they only have 8). Does this mean that Orlando will be one of the first airports to get the A350? I heard that the a350 is replacing the 747.

  3. JFK might be first, knowing how profitable the London-New York market is. Plus, it’s only 7-ish hours away? Like when SQ first introduced their A380 to SYD

  4. I flew Virgin Atlantic upper class and absolutely hated it
    I’d almost rather fly coach in an exit row or bulkhead seat
    at 6’2 I couldn’t fit in the seat or extend my legs fully and the width of the seat made
    Me feel claustrophobic
    The food was terrible and even the hot towels had some stench perfume in them
    Added to that their trendy club in SFO had worse offerings than BA
    Don’t have faith in anything they do
    They seem trendy over premium and come off as penny pinchers

  5. I wonder if the new seat will incorporate a buddy seat because from recent flights it seems to be a popular option with people dining across from each other. Might not look promising for the new seat to be retrofitted on existing aircraft as they have just retrofitted they’re a330-300s with the current upper class seat. As for routes I could see them launching it on the LAX route as that is one of they’re most prestigious and they’ve had to downgrade that from three a day to twice a day due to 787 engine issues so it could do with the increased capacity.

  6. @Alvin yeah, I am sure flight attendants know all the ins and outs of what management does…

    Regardless, I like Virgin Atlantic. But BA is on another league.

  7. I disagree about the current seat being poor.

    I fly regularly across the Pacific. Qantas use the supposedly class-leading Vantage XL. Virgin Australia use the equally “advanced” BAE seat, while Air New Zealand use the ancient Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite.

    The modern reverse herringbones afford a better view and have more storage space.

    But Virgin Atlantic/ Air NZ’s old Upper Class Suite is immensely better for sleeping and makes the cabin seem less packed.

    Ultimately, in the old Virgin Atlantic / Air NZ seat your space is your space.

    Whereas all the “modern” variations basically stick your legs in a hole under somebody else’s seat.

    So it will take a lot to convince me that this is “progress”. I’ve tried “progress” with QF and VA, and to be honest I prefer VS and NZ’s retro product!

  8. @ Airways and Travels — You’ll be surprised at how much they know, actually. In early 2016 a flight attendant showed me photos of Cathay’s A350 business class seats, which the airline was tight-lipped about. It’s not hard when you work in the same building where the seats are developed.

  9. The current Virgin seat was stupidly designed from the start some 20+ years ago in that, as Lucky says, you have to get up and make the bed in order to lie flat. I hope that the new design and configuration, which will probable be the Delta seat with some flashy extras, will be better though through this time round.

  10. Virgin isn’t really a “business” airline. I quite like the UC seat – I don’t care about having to get out of it for 30 seconds for the bed to be made up. Common sense would dictate they follow Delta’s lead.

  11. I’m 6’5”, the current UpperClass seat is too narrow for my solders when used as a seat and too short when a bed. In both positions it claustrophobic and losing the window view was a downright odd choice. Their premium economy seat is actually more comfortable for me.

  12. I wonder if Air NZ will ‘borrow’ Virgin’s new Upper Class seat for their Business Premier? They did indeed use the earlier version, with brown upholstery, but have since updated it, initially for the 777-300s which arrived several years after the 200s. Or maybe they’ll design their own seat this time.

  13. I Wonder if they will use the seats on their ex Air Berlin A330s as they are a marked improvement over the current seats. Although whether they’ll retrofit a current design or decide to wait around 10 years to get new planes with new decent seats seems like the Virgin way of thinking.

    As for the A350 it would be surprising they not fit some kind of suite with a door as it’s what a lot of 350’s are getting nowadays and seems to be the standard for the seats up front.

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