The new Airbus putting Virgin in the same league as the Middle Eastern airlines, while BA languishes in the second division. It also comes with lower carbon emissions and is half as noisy on take off and landing.
Virgin Atlantic teetered on the brink of bankruptcy during lockdown but now it’s back, and in some style. The airline has unveiled its new Airbus A330neo jet which it will use to take the fight not just to its arch-rival British Airways but also the mighty Gulf carriers of Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad. The A330 is smaller than most long-haul aircraft and Virgin has created more intimate cabins to reinforce Virgin's “boutique” appeal – it only serves premium destinations, with snazzy jets and spiffy service.
The 184 economy class seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 formation, not the standard 3-3-3 on most long haul jets, which is good news for economy fliers as it means that four passengers have direct aisle access and the other four only ever need to ask one person to move when they want to get up. Unlike BA, Virgin has installed 28 extra legroom seats, called Economy Delight, which have a 34-inch pitch, the most generous legroom of any carrier in economy. All are window and aisle pairs, which makes them more appealing, especially to couples.
All the economy seats have a large 13.3-inch TV screen, bluetooth connectivity for personal headsets, and streaming quality Wi-Fi – as do all the other cabins.
Virgin pioneered premium economy, the class between economy and business that it now simply calls premium, and almost every other major global carrier has followed. It has now gone beyond the competition by offering a larder with snacks for passengers to raid and wireless charging. “Premium is a sweet spot for us,” says Corneel Koster, Virgin Atlantic’s chief customer and operating officer.
Upper Class will come as a surprise to many dedicated Virgin fliers. The 32 all-new suites, which convert into a bed up to 6ft 7.5 inches long, in a 1-2-1 configuration, are forward facing. All suites have closable doors for extra privacy.
Virgin’s new A330 will be better for those on the ground, as well as those in the air. Koster says its new Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines are half as noisy on take off and landing as those on the outgoing A330, and 11 percent more fuel efficient, with 11 percent lower carbon emissions.
Put together all the innovations and the A330neo puts Virgin comfortably ahead of BA and on a par with the Gulf Airlines. Its first destination will be Boston in October – perfect timing for those wishing to enjoy autumn colour in New England.