Virgin Atlantic will begin flying its new Airbus A350 – with its new suite-like Upper Class business class seats – between London and New York from early September.
This weekend saw the airline update its schedule to set the afternoon London/Heathrow to New York/JFK flight VS153 on September 10 as the A350's trans-Atlantic debut, partnered to the return leg of overnight flight VS138. However, as of September 25 the A350 flights switch over to VS137/VS138.
(The A350 will initially run on six days per week, but will go daily – and take over other flights – as more of the new jets roll into Virgin's hangars.)
The introductory schedule is expected to be as follows:
- VS153 LHR-JFK
- VS138 JFK-LHR
Both flights will operate daily, except for Thursdays when the aircraft will be in planned maintenance
September 25 - October 26
- VS137 LHR –JFK
- VS138 JFK-LHR, except Thursdays (from October 27, scheduled maintenance will switch to Tuesdays.)
Virgin expects to have four A350s in the air by the end of 2019, with eight more through 2020-2021.
The final five of these will be in a 'leisure configuration' with fewer Upper Class seats, and will cover routes to Florida and the Caribbean from London Gatwick and Manchester.
Bookings are now open, and will see business class passengers ensconced in an all-new Upper Class which ditches the steeply-raked 'herringbone' layout of the original Upper Class for a more conventional forward-facing seat.
Each of the 44 Upper Class seats converts to an 82-inch fully flat bed at the press of a button, so there's no more getting out of the seat to flip the back down into 'bed-mode'.
Virgin also plans to offer pre-ordered pyjamas available in a choice of shorts or longer pants, paired with a T-shirt or long-sleeve top.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the new Upper Class is that unlike the latest crop of 'suites' from the likes of Qatar Airways, Delta Air Lines, China Eastern and of course Virgin's bete noir British Airways – all of which can fully enclose the seats with a sliding door - Virgin has opted for a door which slides just halfway across.
The airline says this 'semi-suite' design is to maintain a social connection between passengers and crew.
The A350 also swaps its iconic but sometimes boisterous stand-up bar for a lounge area dubbed The Loft.
The revamped social space double as a lobby-style entrance for passengers – similar in some respects to The Lobby of Etihad's Airbus A380 – with drinks and snacks available for those who are quick to perch at one of the five padded pews, with standing space for three slightly slower-moving travellers.
There's also a 32-inch HD TV for watching a movie or live sports, with audio piped over Bluetooth headphones.