LONDON – Virgin Atlantic has revealed its innovative new cabin for the Airbus A350 to the world. In an event held at their Crawley base, members of the press, and frequent flyers were given the opportunity to experience the new cabin in their crew training mockups.
The biggest innovation for Virgin Atlantic on board the A350 is a big social area, which they are calling ‘The Loft’.
Despite what the name suggests, this is the polar opposite of a domestic loft at home, where, if we’re all honest, is not somewhere you’d want to have a drink with friends or have a meeting.
The loft on the A350 is a spacious area featuring a wide range of cocktails, and the opportunity for passengers to eat together and enjoy Mile High afternoon tea by Eric Lanlard and a selection of delicious new meals by Donal Skehan.
Whilst enjoying afternoon tea or a meal, passengers can tune in to a 32 inch TV, playing either a short film or documentary. In order to listen to the TV, passengers can use complementary Bluetooth headphones, or their own if they’d prefer.
Despite being an area for Upper-Class passengers only during the flight, The Loft is located in the primary boarding area, which is door 2 (the second from the front of the aircraft), so all passengers will experience walking through the loft, even if the vast majority of them won’t actually be able to use it.
Whilst this could be interpreted in a number of ways, it could be seen as a pure space restriction, or a ‘here’s what you could have won’, potentially encouraging the passenger to upgrade in the future.
Alongside The Loft, the Upper-Class cabin has been excellently designed, with every seat window facing in the cabin’s 1 – 2 – 1 configuration, however, also featuring privacy screens for the view onto the aisle, and therefore the window (for the passengers seated in the middle) to be obstructive.
Whilst the screen isn’t big, it is enough to block enough view for a reasonable amount of privacy. When in the bed position, the seat is at a pitch of 44 inches, with the completely flat bed length of up to 82 inches.
Whilst lying in complete comfort, passengers will be able to enjoy the brand new in-flight entertainment (IFE) system on the 18.5 inch screen, which is the biggest ever fitted to a Virgin Atlantic aircraft.
Whilst the screen is a touchscreen for easy controls, the passenger can opt to control the screen with their own electronic device, such as a phone with Virgin Atlantic’s app, which will utilize the A350s high-speed WiFi to connect the passenger’s device to the screen, as well as the outside world via the internet which the WiFi provides.
Whilst, far less impressive and lacking the wow factor of Upper Class and The Loft which comes with it, Premium Economy and Economy have been refreshed.
The seats in both classes feature a 4-way adjustable headrest. The fourth way being for neck support, which I found made the experience far more comfortable.
Premium passengers get a 7-inch recline along with increased space for storage compared with previous seats.
The seats retain the leather construction which passengers have grown to love at Virgin Atlantic. A 13.3-inch IFE display comes with the same features as the upper-class cabin, the only difference being the smaller display.
The economy cabin can be broken down into three ‘sub classes’, however, there are only two seat types.
Economy delight is the highest legroom and lowest pitch offer in
The A350 will be the direct replacement to the Boeing 747-400, which Virgin expect to retire in 2021.
Once the fleet is renewed, the average age of any aircraft in Virgin Atlantic will be between 3 – 4 years. Until the aircraft are all delivered, however, we will not know a definite average age.
Speaking of how the Airbus A350 will affect Virgin Atlantic, Mark Anderson, Executive Vice President Customer said “The A350 forms a significant part of our fleet transformation strategy and by 2022, we’ll have our youngest, cleanest, greenest fleet in the sky as the aircraft transforms our customer experience, reduces our environmental impact and improves our route economics.”
In an interview with Daniel Kerzner, Vice President for Customer Experience, he remarked that the competition “should be scared” of what the aircraft and airline have to offer with the A350.
He also went on to confirm that the long term plan will be to use the A350 on both corporate and pleasure routes across the Virgin Atlantic network.
When asked if this cabin would be retrofitted to the other aircraft types, he said that the innovations from this cabin will be taken into account with other cabins.
With the Dreamliners reaching their half-life with Virgin Atlantic, it was hinted they’d get a refresh, potentially with design queues from the A350.
To conclude what I saw, if Virgin Atlantic brings the fantastic customer service which they are known for to the plane, with a cabin and extra features which they will offer on the A350, British Airways should be worried.