UK long-haul carrier Virgin Atlantic has redesigned its upper class cabin to include an eight-seat lounge called “The Loft” on its new Airbus A350-1000 fleet, replacing its existing upper class bar area.

 “When I joined the company five years ago, we had a very simple mission statement: fix the financials of Virgin Atlantic—get it back on an even keel without destroying the magic. As you will see, the magic is still there,” new Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said, speaking at the A350 cabin launch event at Virgin’s Gatwick headquarters on April 8.

Former CFO and CCO Weiss, who has only been Virgin Atlantic CEO for 100 days, described the new cabins as “the coming together of many years of work.”

Virgin has 12 Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered A350-1000s on order, scheduled to join the fleet by 2021. The new cabins will launch on Virgin’s Heathrow-New York JFK route in August, followed by other routes to JFK later in the year.

The Loft is a lounge area near Door 2 that all passengers will pass through as they enter the aircraft, but it is reserved for Upper Class-traveler use during the flight.

“We’ve now evolved the bar and we’ve taken it to new heights. We’ve literally brought alive the whole Club House [airport lounge] experience at 35,000 ft., so that upper class customers can socialize, meet, greet and play in that area,” Virgin Atlantic EVP-customer Mark Anderson told ATW in an exclusive video interview, filmed on site at the Gatwick launch.

The Loft will still have a drinks service, but the area is designed to be more of a seating, dining and socializing area. It is equipped with a single 32-inch screen for watching short films and documentaries, with audio accessed via Bluetooth headsets (provided by the airline, or the passenger). There are also USB and mains power sockets around the seats, which cannot be used for takeoff and landing, but have seat belts in the event of turbulence.

Virgin’s new lie-flat upper class “dream suite” has been laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, with a 44-inch pitch and 82-inch lie-flat bed. Every seat faces towards the window, with direct aisle access, and has a sliding privacy door.

The 18.5-inch inflight entertainment screen is almost double the size of today’s upper class and is controlled via passenger mobile phones. High-speed Wi-Fi will be available throughout the aircraft. Upper class passengers are able to individually control the brightness of the mood lighting around their seat.

Virgin has also redesigned its premium and economy cabins, with 13.3-in. and 11.6-in. screens respectively. The economy screens are larger that Virgin’s current upper-class screens.

“Premium customers will also enjoy a generous 7-in. recline, increased space for storage, a four-way adjustable headrest and a luxurious leather seat,” Virgin said. “Economy seats have been upgraded to new luxurious fabrics offering adjustable headrests. Economy light and classic will offer a 31-in. seat pitch whilst economy delight offers 34 inches.”  

Weiss said the new cabins form part of Virgin’s Velocity strategy, which was launched shortly after he became CEO in January. The objective of Velocity is for Virgin Atlantic to become “the most loved travel company.”

“2019 has already been extremely busy. We bought the first company we have ever bought, which is [UK regional] Flybe, together with our [consortium] partners Stobart Air and Cyrus Capital. We obtained approval for our joint venture with [incoming 31% shareholder] Air France-KLM and we hope to launch the full codeshare this summer. We are returning to profitable growth,” he said, citing new route launches to Sao Paulo and Tel Aviv, as well as Gatwick to Boston and New York.

By the end of 2022, Virgin will have completed its fleet transition, moving away from Boeing 747s and A340s to Boeing 787s, A350s and A330s.

Virgin Atlantic flies 5.4 million customers annually to 26 destinations, served by 46 aircraft. Virgin is part-owned by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.

Victoria Moores