Why Virgin Atlantic’s New Business Class Is So Different From Other European Airlines
Virgin Atlantic launched its last new business seats in 2019 with the A350 Upper Class seat, which had a partial door. So many people were wondering exactly what their newest aircraft delivery would do to improve on an already good seat. Virgin Atlantic’s latest aircraft is a new version of the Airbus A330 – the A330-900neo. This brings 25 percent less fuel burn and carbon emissions compared to previous-generation competitor aircraft. The new aircraft took to the skies with passengers for the first time at the end of October.
The Airbus 330 brings a challenge itself for seat design due to its narrow fuselage. There is only really one option if you wish to buy a business class seat off the shelf. Otherwise, designing a new seat from scratch can be costly as well as taking much longer to produce. Virgin Atlantic went for a hybrid of the two by customizing the existing Thompson Vantage XL by adding a full door to make it a proper suite and using the customary Virgin color palette. The seat is already in use by several airlines, such as Delta and Qantas.
Virgin Atlantic also went one further and added its innovative Retreat Suite to the front of Upper Class. Business class plus is a trend that is gaining popularity, although it started some time ago with Malaysia Airlines deciding to stop first class and instead offer business plus. JetBlue also picked up on the trend with their Mint Studio at the front of business class which offers a considerable amount of extra space. However, Virgin Atlantic is the only European airline offering business class plus.
Virgin’s Retreat suite is definitely one of the best-priced premium options at the moment, with upgrades costing from just £200 per person one way. So what does this buy you? The Retreat Suite is definitely a big step up in terms of space as well as storage on the standard Upper Class Suite. The space comprises two seats that convert into a 6ft7” fully flat bed and a 27” touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and wireless charging. It’s particularly good for families or groups as you can turn the Suite into a mini restaurant with the ottomans being used to allow four people to dine together.
You can only reserve the Retreat Suites after you have already booked and are within 14 days of departure. It’s available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’d better set the alarm early that day if you wish to reserve it!
In addition to The Retreat Suite, the Airbus 330neo offers 30 brand new Upper Class suites. These are fully forward-facing suites rather than Virgin’s older angled product. The seat offers plenty of innovative touches even if you don’t manage to secure the Retreat Suite. The suite has a high focus on technology with three separate ways to charge your devices with wireless charging, USB A and C ports, as well as a standard multi-country socket.
Once the ‘do not disturb’ sign is on with the door closed, you can relax in your cozy private space with some entertainment. One of the best features for those that prefer to have their own headphones is the Bluetooth paring capacity with the entertainment. There is also an option to pair your phone with the 17.3” touchscreen TV to control it. However, the new remote control is actually a triumph in its simplicity. While previous generations of controllers looked great with their touchscreen displays, they were often inefficient, being slow to react. Virgin Atlantic’s remote uses a touchpad style of control to highlight items on the screen but also keeps the essential flight time remaining information prominently displayed on the handset.
The airline’s award-winning social space, The Loft, has also evolved for the A330. The lounge area can accommodate eight people, with four seated. You can watch something on the dual panoramic 27” touchscreen or grab some refreshments from the new self-service fridge and drinks dispenser. Again, it is currently the only European airline to offer a social space.
Virgin Atlantic’s A330neo is scheduled to be on routes from London to Tampa, Boston, Miami, and New York. Prices for Upper Class start from $2050 (£1696) from London to New York return in Upper Class in June 2023, but you can use Virgin Points for a redemption flight from 95,000 points return.