Virgin Atlantic has ordered 12 A350-1000s. You can read my current Virgin Upper Class trip reports, I now outline the experience on the new A350-1000.
Virgin Upper Class Cabin experience
Virgin Atlantic features in my top 10 best airlines for longhaul Business Class, so offers a very decent Upper Class product.
These new A350-1000 Virgin Atlantic planes have two configurations – one for the business fleet on key routes such as London Heathrow to New York JFK, seating up to 360 customers, and one for the leisure fleet, seating up to 410 customers.
The passenger experience team – led by Reuben Arnold – is currently undertaking in-depth research on the cabin design, and is including key customers in the process. The design team will be working within the new Airspace by Airbus cabin architecture, which offers a blank canvas, with white finishes that optimise mood lighting. The Virgin Atlantic design team will “paint” the white cabin with light as it has done on the Dreamliner.
The Upper-Class Suite has evolved between aircraft, with subtle changes to the aesthetic but keeping the product relatively consistent across the fleet. You can see how Virgin Upper Class compares to British Airways Club World and in the majority of areas, Virgin wins. The turn-down service also creates a nice opportunity for the crew to interact with the passengers. There are likely to be subtle changes to optimise the use of the wide cabin and to create extra space and comfort.
The Upper-Class bar is key part of the Virgin Atlantic brand experience. In fact, the airline’s research has found that the door 2 bar area creates a positive feeling among many economy passengers when they pass it during boarding, even though they can’t use it. One can, therefore, be pretty certain that there will be a bar onboard the A350.
The latest Upper-Class bar design can be seen on the A330 (pictured above), with a more toned-down version than the one on the B787, which to be fair is not nearly as impressive with 4 wobbly stools by a table.
The food offering in Virgin Upper Class on the A350-1000 is similar to that offered on its other planes. The food is good and there is plenty of choice, from prawns and caviar starters to chicken, beef and salmon mains. Examples of puddings include lemon curd sponge, which is very good, and strawberry pannacotta. To finish Virgin push a traditional cheese and port trolley around the cabin which is a classy touch. Later in the flight, you can eat a choice of sandwiches, cakes, jam and clotted cream scones or a burger. In comparison, BA offers a specific selection of sandwiches with no choice.
Virgin Atlantic’s Upper-Class Relax Packs have been developed by Canadian lifestyle brand Herschel and come in two innovative designs. On outbound flights from the UK, it’s a hangable wash bag. On inbound flights to the UK, they offer a bag inspired by the famous Herschel Network Pouch. This is a constant across Virgin’s fleet and both packs include: A Rituals hand cream, lip balm and face cream. A toothbrush, a new larger, branded tube of toothpaste, earplugs, eyeshade, socks and a Virgin Atlantic pen.
Wilbur and Orville, the Virgin salt and pepper characters, returned in 2013. Possibly the coolest salt and pepper pots in the world, you can ‘borrow’ them and take them home with you – it is almost worth flying Upper Class to take home these lovelies.
The A350-1000 will offer WiFi, charging sockets and as always, passengers on overnight flights are given a black jersey sleepsuit (pyjamas).
In the main cabin, the airline will make use of the 18inch minimum Economy seat width, which Airbus promotes as a key selling point, but otherwise, the Economy offering is unlikely to change.
It is worth mentioning that if you can wait another year, there will be a much bigger game changer launching (around 2020) with the introduction of Concorde like transatlantic Supersonic travel. The major players in this market are Boom, backed by Richard Branson, Spike Aerospace, Airbus and Aerion Corp. With prices expected to be around $5,000 a ticket, these will offer an exciting and faster alternative to First and Business when travelling transatlantic.