The new Upper Class Suites from Virgin Atlantic begin their service as of August, 2019 on the A350-1000 aircraft, flying between Heathrow and JFK (New York). Plane and cabins are all brand new; Virgin has no plans to retrofit older aircraft with Upper Class Suites.
The new suites look great, have excellent features, and reflect the trends and goals of other major airlines, like Virgin’s primary competitor, British Airlines, which has also upgraded its services with the BA Club Suite as of 2019.
Though Upper Class and Club Suite offerings are similar, Virgin’s service philosophy is slightly different, and it shows in the details of their new design.
What they Look Like
The most obvious change is the switch from seats facing inwards in a herringbone pattern, to seats facing outwards toward the windows. They are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, so passengers will still have access to the aisle without having to cross over a neighbour, but will now also be able to look out of the window, albeit at a fairly steep angle, from a seated position.
Chunky leather seats and padded surfaces around the head and arms give each suite a feel of comfort while increasing safety – no bumped heads if hit with turbulence while sleeping. The personal storage area includes a covered compartment, a small cupboard and a side-table area with pleasant sub-cabinet lighting, reducing glare while keeping the area clearly lit. Lighting can be adjusted to suit the mood and preferences of the passenger. There is, of course, a mounted reading light as well.
The personal table folds out from a panel beside the aisle and then can be slid in front of the passenger. The configuration means that passengers can’t leave their seats with the tray tables deployed, but this isn’t too much of a problem as most items can be temporarily placed on the side tables if need be. The table itself is sturdy, and of a good size.
The seats rise to a 44-inch seat pitch, or can be lowered to create an 82×20-inch flat bed configuration. This is a full three inches longer than BA’s seating and only an inch narrower. Not a bad trade for most.
Deep, comfortable mattresses with ‘the thickest pillows in the sky’ are designed to give passengers the option for a full, unrestricted sleep during the flight if they choose. One of the most popular improvements is that passengers can change seat modes without leaving the seat, or flipping it over, as was the case on Virgin flights before the upgrade.
The 19.5-inch entertainment screen has good resolution and the in-flight entertainment system can be controlled by passengers’ personal devices – each device linked to each individual seat of course.
Each suite includes two USB ports, an AC socket for UK, EU, and US plugs, and a deployable privacy screen that is meant to provide a feeling of privacy without restricting communication with crew. It does this pretty successfully, despite only closing one half to one third of the opening, compared to BA’s that covers the entire width of the opening save for a one-inch gap.
As usual, there is overhead storage too, and Virgin has opted to trade some of the headroom to provide larger storage volume than BA offers. This reduces the feel of openness in the cabin – really only valuable for initial visual impact – but allows for larger cabin luggage. Bright, clear lighting mitigates any negative effect the loss of space might have otherwise had.
Passengers will receive new pyjamas as well, which are pre-ordered to personal tastes so they never run out of the style a passenger may prefer. They’re nothing fancy – trousers and shirt (long-sleeved or tee) – but they are comfortable and will keep your regular clothing fresh for arrival.
The new amenities kit features larger sizes, and means that passengers don’t have to lug around their own in cabin bags.
The old bar area has been scrapped, replaced by access to The Loft, a social space with sofa-style seating, a 32-inch TV screen, and Bluetooth headset capabilities (headsets are available for passengers not bringing their own). It has a capacity of eight at a given time and seats are fitted with seatbelts, so passengers do not have to return to their seats during turbulence. The Loft also includes a stand-up desk that allows up to two people to work on laptops.
The usual bar service is also available in this area and includes ‘bowl food’ – full, on-demand meals that will be available throughout the flight.
Despite some critics wishing the privacy screen closed fully, rather than halfway, and not being able to get out of one’s seat with the tray deployed, there is nothing negative to say about this new service and configuration. The positives are plentiful.
Long flights can now be slept away in comfort, reducing stress and leaving the passenger fresh and ready for whatever business or pleasure awaits at the destination. Entertainment and ambiance are customisable, and include a wide range of choice.
The suites are private without being isolated from crew, which means the best in experience and service for all passengers on board.
Well done Virgin Atlantic.