On Monday night, I was at Virgin Atlantic HQ – known as The Base – in Crawley for the launch of the A350-1000 aircraft, featuring an all-new Upper Class cabin.
Our article covering the key points of the new plane and cabins can be found here. I figured it would be interesting to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what went on at the launch event.
Life-size versions of Virgin’s famous Wilbur & Orville salt & pepper shakers are situated at the entrance to Reception.
As we entered the event, there was an exhibit with previous versions of the Upper Class seat, as well as a couple of small stations manned by Rolls-Royce whose Trent XWB engines are used in the A350.
You then arrived in the main concourse:
The invitation promised the full Virgin Clubhouse experience and the Clubhouse Spa certainly seemed pretty popular (I didn’t manage a treatment, unfortunately!):
Attendees were divided into various groups (I believe there were 11 in total) for a chance to board the A350 cabin mock-up. Groups were called over the tannoy and made their way to a pre-boarding area.
After a short wait at the pre-boarding area, we headed for the ‘departure gate’.
Full marks to Virgin for a dramatic entrance.
After entering the mock-up we were shown the following video, introduced in-person by Daniel Kerzner, Virgin’s Vice President of Customer Experience.
After the video, we entered the mocked up A350 aircraft – as all customers will now do – through ‘Door 2’. In doing so, you immediately encounter The Loft which has replaced the bar behind Upper Class. I couldn’t get a decent picture here unfortunately as it was packed with people at all times.
Here’s the press shot:
Designer, Henry Buckley (pictured in the above video), talked us through The Loft. Here are some of the key facts:
- It has a max capacity of 8 (5 seated, 3 standing)
- The 5 seats allow you to remain there even during turbulence
- The aim in replacing the bar with this was to increase the versatility of the space beyond simply evening drinks
- There are plug sockets as well as USB outlets
- 32″ monitor with bespoke Loft content
As is the case throughout, the quality touches and finishes are very much in evidence. This felt like a very nice space indeed.
And then into the main event – the new A350 Upper Class cabin:
You’ll have to excuse the quality of some of these images, while the mood lighting was fantastic, it did play havoc with some of my photos.
There was also a chance to see the Economy & Premium (economy) seats.
During the evening there were also brief speeches from CEO Shai Weiss:
And Executive Vice President – Customer, Mark Anderson:
Kudos to Virgin Atlantic for putting on a very enjoyable launch event. Truth be told, I think Virgin will get a lot of positive feedback, based on the fact that they have allowed people to actually experience the seat if nothing else. All coverage of one of its main rivals – the new BA Club Suite – has been contained to press releases and or a VR experience. By physically showcasing their new product this seat already feels more real.
After trying the seat, I’m a fan. While you can’t get a proper feel for the pros and cons of the seat by trying it for a couple of minutes, first impressions are always important. It’s not revolutionary in terms of business class products but you are getting a bespoke seat that looks both high-end and classy as well as something which feels uniquely Virgin Atlantic.
Many thanks to the Virgin Atlantic Press team for arranging our visit.