Will Virgin Atlantic Change Their Upper Class Seat For Good?

Boeing has been having some tough times with the 787, so some of these planes have been grounded, which has been a nuisance particularly for airlines that operate the 787 on a majority of their longhaul flights. Virgin Atlantic is one of these airlines, and while they still fly their non-grounded 787 to a variety of destinations (including Hong Kong, so I’ll be flying their Upper Class in a couple of weeks), passengers on a few U.S.-based routes have seen their aircraft replaced by A330s that belonged to now-defunct airline Air Berlin. This was announced a few months back, and as of yesterday Daily Mail revealed some sleek new photos of the reupholstered cabin interiors of Virgin Atlantic’s newest A330s.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Upper Class

Today an arbitrary source on Instagram (wrongly?) revealed that all of Virgin Atlantic’s A330s would be retrofitted with this configuration. The curious thing was that I found that completely feasible, since their leased A330s feature staggered business class seats, which feature more storage space and are more spacious than Virgin Atlantic’s current herringbone seats. Virgin Atlantic’s press release doesn’t suggest that staggered business class seats will become the new standard, though.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Cabin

The press release states:

Taking to the skies from November, Upper Class will enjoy a sleek new makeover, ahead of the A350’s arrival in 2019, currently in development to set another industry standard for business class travel .

The way this is worded suggests potentiality that Virgin Atlantic will look into installing staggered seats on their new A350s. I can’t confirm this, but there are a few hints that suggest that they’ll go in this direction. I decided I’d quickly write about them below.

Virgin Atlantic’s “Suite” Marketing Is Too Great

For one, they marketed their different types of staggered seats as Corner Suites, Solo Freedom Suites, and Love Suites. Their corner suites are the “true” window seats located nearer to the window, with a console between the seat and the aisle (I flew a similar seat in Hong Kong Airlines A330 business class, and found it private while not too confining):

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Upper Class Corner Suite

Their “Freedom Suites” are the ones nearer to the aisle (it’s brilliant marketing for a not-so-private seat, in my opinion):

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Upper Class Freedom Suite

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Upper Class Freedom Suite Bed

The “honeymoon” seats in the middle of the plane are marketed as “Love Suites” (if you’re confused at this point, I’ve detailed the configuration more in my review of Hong Kong Airlines business class, which features the exact same configuration apart from the finishes):

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Upper Class Love Suite

They’ve released a couple of official seatmaps detailing the benefits of each seat, which I find to be really well-made:

This is brilliant marketing, in line of which we’ve seen before from Virgin Atlantic. Something tells me that if they were keeping this seat design short-term, they wouldn’t be spending so much money on marketing and upholstery. Meanwhile, the extent of their 787 Upper Class suite marketing is limited to one photo and a single paragraph.

Virgin Atlantic’s A330-200s Are Here To Stay

Virgin Atlantic is also retrofitting the ex-Air Berlin aircraft with a premium economy product. The premium economy product is an upgrade from what they have on their 787s, since all of these seats feature legrests. In fact, these seats feature the same “bones” as Singapore Airlines’ A380/777 premium economy product, which I’ve reviewed before.

Even after the 787s are fixed, it wouldn’t make sense for them to get rid of their most up-to-date premium economy product.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Premium Economy

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Premium Economy Cabin

Meanwhile, economy class will feature flexible-wing headrests, whereas the 787 economy class seats have fixed-wing headrests. Also, the seats in the picture below look less like an ironing board than the 787 seats did.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Economy Class

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Economy Class

My point is that Virgin Atlantic’s new reupholstered cabin products in premium economy and economy have become the most updated versions of the airline’s hard product. With this and the rigorous marketing I’m assuming Virgin Atlantic has similar aspirations for their Upper Class product as well. Since they’re planning on keeping the A330s long-term and have to retrofit the aircraft with a premium economy cabin anyway, it doesn’t make sense that Virgin Atlantic would keep the staggered business class product if they favoured their own herringbone seats.

Bottom Line: Imminent Change, or Excellent Marketing?

If Virgin Atlantic were to go forth with their staggered business class seats, I’d be happy. I haven’t heard good things about Virgin Atlantic’s herringbone product (it’s been seven years since I’ve last been in a herringbone seat myself), though I’ve enjoyed flying in staggered business class seats. I also find Virgin Atlantic’s marketing of the staggered business class product exceptional, suspiciously so if they weren’t planning on changing up their business class product.

Are staggered seats the best business class seats in the industry? No. However, they’re a marked improvement over herringbone seats. I predict that in a few years, a majority of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet will house a new Upper Class hard product, whether it be these staggered business class seats, or a new business class hard product altogether.

Have you flown in a herringbone seat before? What’s your favourite business class seat configuration?

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