Virgin Atlantic's new Upper Class 'Dream Suite' took to the skies this weekend – and we've got first photos of the redesigned business class seats and cabin, snapped from the airline's 'interactive tour' at virginatlanticplaneview.com.
Update: we've now got a detailed review of Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Dream Suite, packed with pics but no punches pulled – check it out here!
The Upper Class Dream Suite 2.0
This refresh of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is a stylish evolution of the current design.
It ditches Virgin's trademark purple leather seat for darker 'espresso chocolate' tones accented by wooden veneer and brushed metal.
'Virgin purple' remains more as a highlights – literally so, using cabin lighting – against a dusky aubergine carpet.
The result is a much more contemporary look redolent of a chic yet elegant bar instead of an overdose of bling.
(Speaking of bling, there's still a touch of what some have called the 'chav' factor by dint of Swarovski crystals at the bar and lining the LED backlit curtain walls.)
The seats are arranged in a mostly 1-2-1 layout across the business class cabin, but with a 'staggered herringbone' layout.
By dovetailing the middle seats into one another, rather than having them sit side-by-side, Virgin can make better use of the limited floor space compared to the current 1-1-1 layout on Virgin Atlantic's Airbus A340s.
An opaque patterned perspex divider between the seats seeks to provide a balance between privacy for each passenger and keeping the overall cabin feeling airy and open.
With an extra 3.8cm added to the seat's width, and folding out to a massive 218cm long lie-flat bed – that's a Harlem Globetrotter-grade 7'2" if you're old school – the Dream Suite is more spacious than the current Upper Class design (which measure 56cm wide as a seat and convert to an 84cm wide and 202cm long bed).
Virgin also claims the DreamSuites have a steeper recline of "up to 50 percent more" than the current business class seats.
The design of the DreamSuite's bed remains the same – the seat flips over to reveal a more cushioned underside.
“We’ve really involved our frequent flyers" on the design of the product, says Virgin Atlantic chief operating officer Steve Griffiths. Some 1,200 frequent flyers took part in surveys, workshop sessions and even 'sleep-overs' in the new seats.
"We’ve learned how the personal space works and what customers want out of their time on board. It has shaped our thinking.”
As with the 'old' Upper Class, each Dream Suite comes with a USB port so you can keep your laptop, tablet or smartphone juiced up during the flight.
With the appropriate adaptor plug you can also connect your iDevice or similar travel tech to the large 12.1" touchscreen, upsized from today's 10.4" panel.
... which comes with a touchscreen controller nestled into the seat.
These tap into an all-new inflight entertainment system called JAM.
Other creature comforts include a new 'literature pocket' for stowing books and magazines plus a flexible LED reading lamp which snake down from the top of the divider wall.
There's also a small cocktail tray.
Virgin's new-look cocktail bar
And speaking of cocktails, that very Branson-esque bar at the entrance to Upper Class enjoys its own mod makeover.
It now stands separate from the cabin and cuts a jaunty angle with hip backlighting, for a stunning 'reveal' moment as soon as you set foot on board and turn left.
Head around to the 'rear' of the bar and you'll find a liquor cabinet for some straight shooting or DIY delights.
"This is not just about the (DreamSuite) seat" says Virgin Atlantic's Griffiths. "This is about creating a gap [with our competitors]. It involves new product, new in-flight entertainment and investment in the service. It will absolutely make Virgin Atlantic the best in class."
When work calls...
A multi-pin international AC power socket in each seat does away with the need to haul that adaptor plug out from your carry-on bag.
Aircraft fitted with the DreamSuite will also sport Virgin Atlantic's Aeromobile system for in-flight mobile phone calls, text messaging and limited data.
Aeromobile works just like a roaming service when you use your mobile phone overseas. As long as your local carrier has a roaming agreement with Aeromobile, Virgin says, charges will be "almost the same as they would be if you were roaming from another country."
As far as 'limited data' goes, Virgin calls out the BlackBerry – which compresses its email into tiny packets – as an example of the type of device you should use rather than regular smartphones such as the iPhone and Android devices.
"As long as your phone is activated for international roaming, you can use it to make calls, receive texts, and, on Blackberrys, receive email" the airline explains. "If you’re a user of another kind of smartphone, we recommend that you turn your data roaming off, as roaming data charges can be expensive and some Smartphones use data even if you are not using an app."
Virgin Atlantic also says it's refreshed the "fine dining" menu, and now offers an 'express supper menus' for lighter meals and quicker service so you can get back to work (or movies, or sleeping).
Virgin even says the Upper Class cabin itself will be quieter, thanks to the work of a 'whispering coach' (seriously, that's an actual job title!) who is teaching flight attendants how to keep the noise down in flight.
When you'll see the DreamSuite
A factory-fresh Airbus A330 fitted with the Upper Class Dream Suite will run six days a week on the daily London-New York (VS003/004) service, beginning April 21 (the day to avoid is Friday, when you'll be on an older A340 with the original Upper Class cabin).
"More destinations will be added as the rest of our A330 aircraft join the fleet throughout 2012", Virgin promises, including its new Boeing 787 aircraft from 2014.
At this stage Virgin hasn't advised when Sydney-Hong Kong-London flights will see the Dream Suite.
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.