Today I had the pleasure of attending Virgin Atlantic’s launch party for its new aircraft, the A330neo. The aircraft will gradually replace their A330-300s and will be 11% more efficient and 50% quieter than its predecessor in terms of airport contour noise.
The airline’s Upper Class cabin boasts a brand new seat, an evolution of its social space, the Loft and the unveiling of The Retreat Suite, the most spacious suite in Virgin Atlantic’s history.
As well as new seats, those travelling in Premium and Upper Class can take advantage of in-seat wireless charging, whilst customers in every cabin can enjoy a greater number of USB connections including USB-C, Bluetooth enabled entertainment systems so you can pair your own headphones (love this feature!) and the airline’s fastest ever Wi-Fi.
In 2019, Virgin Atlantic became the first UK airline to announce a firm order for up to 16 Airbus A330neos. It’s been a long wait, but now they have revealed what we can expect from the new aircraft.
Virgin has put a lot of investment in fleet transformation over the last decade and now operates a fleet with the average aircraft age of just under seven years and 68% next-generation aircraft. This increases to 100% next generation by the beginning of 2027.
Virgin Atlantic’s A330neo is expected to take off to Boston on its first customer flight in early October. Tickets will go on sale later this month. From September 2022, the airline will take delivery of three aircraft, with the remaining deliveries following between 2023 and 2026.
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The Retreat Suite is brand new for Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class offering and consists of two exclusive suites at the front of the cabin. These are extremely spacious – it almost feels a bit like Qatar’s First class in terms of layout. It comprises a 6ft7” seat to fully flat bed and a 27” touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and wireless charging. Each suite also has an ottoman that doubles up as an extra seat, up to four people can comfortably dine, chat or play games in their own private space. This is not dissimilar to Qatar’s QSuite which can be configured in a 4 seater, but this means you can get 4 people in two seats in effect with the use of an ottoman. However, unlike the QSuite they can’t be configured as a double bed.
The Retreat Suite featured lots of storage and felt very spacious indeed when I sat in it. There were two large bins which is way more than most other business class products I can think of. It’s a bit like a business-first type of seat or perhaps the Mint Studio by Jet Blue.
It will be very interesting to see how the Retreat Suites are priced and whether you can book them on points. It will only be bookable 14 days before the flight and will be offered to customers already booked. It’s estimated to cost around £200pp for the Retreat but we don’t know the exact figures yet.
In addition to The Retreat Suite, the A330neo will offer 30 brand new Upper Class suites. These are all forward-facing suites which offer more space and storage alongside a fully closing privacy door, which has another of my favourite feature – a ‘do not disturb’ feature.
It has passenger-controlled mood lighting, 17.3” touchscreen TV and even a mirror so you check for bed head when you wake up!
The airline’s social space, The Loft, remains and is where you board the aircraft. It’s a shame as personally I preferred the bar but the loft means less disturbance for other passnegers (and less partying!) The A330neo version consists of space for eight people, with four seats. I did like the addition of the new self-service fridge and drinks dispenser. That’s great, even if you just want to stretch your legs and grab a drink. You can also connect Bluetooth headphones to the dual panoramic 27” touchscreens or utilise the wireless charging facilities. On the A350 flight I did there was no one using the Loft but hopefully, things like the tasting experiences I have mentioned before may encourage its use.
The A330neo cabin will consist of 46 seats. The seats are basically the same with a 38” pitch remain, but they’re accompanied by calf rests in every seat and a 13.3” touchscreen with Bluetooth audio. The airline is also offering its Premium customers an in-seat wireless charging pad. This is interesting as it looks like as one pair of seats share a charging pad in the middle. Given the armrest wars with middle seats, this could prove to be the source of some conflict if one person has a large phone!
The aircraft will feature the largest ever economy screen at 13.3”, with an intuitive touchscreen and Bluetooth audio to connect headphones, with customers able to use their phone as a controller. There’s also plenty of storage, plus AC power and USB ports to keep gadgets energised. Customers can choose between 28 Economy Delight seats, which offer an increased 34” seat pitch, or 156 Economy Classic seats, providing a 31” pitch.
Corneel Koster, Chief Customer and Operating Officer at Virgin Atlantic, commented;
“When it comes to innovating for our customers, we never stand still. Our desire to create memorable experiences means we’ll continue to imagine with fresh ideas. We care about every detail of the cabin design and every step of our customer’s journey. We’re proud to unveil our state of the art A330neo and show the evolution of our customer experience, with each of our customers receiving a premium experience regardless of the cabin they travel in. They’ll be better connected with their fellow travellers and our amazing crew in the air, and with their friends and family on the ground.
“The A330neo plays a significant role in our multi billion dollar fleet transformation, demonstrating our commitment to the planet. We know the most impactful thing we can do as an airline is to fly the cleanest, greenest, youngest fleet possible and the A330neo is integral to achieving this goal. It’s truly a plane for the future.”
Virgin Atlantic in-house Design team worked in collaboration with Factorydesign to develop the Retreat Suite, Upper Class Suite and The Loft.