Virgin Australia will install new business class seats across its Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 fleet from next year as the airline aims to trump Qantas on both domestic and international routes.
The extra-wide and extra-long lie-flat beds will debut on Virgin’s Airbus 330 in March 2015, with all six of the twin-aisle transcontinental jets upgraded by July.
The international Boeing 777s will follow in November 2015 and be completed “within three months.”
Virgin will position the new seats as a ‘business first’ product, although it hasn’t yet settled on a marketing moniker for the seats.
The 1-2-1 layout on both the A330s and Boeing 777s will provide direct aisle access for every passenger.
The seat converts into a fully-flat bed...
... which will be dressed by the cabin crew with a mattress, duvet and large pillow as part of the 'Deep Sleep' turndown service.
There's a large video screen for inflight entertainment – 16 inches in the A330 and a whopping 18 inches in the Boeing 777 – while Virgin's inflight wifi system will also beam movies, TV shows and music to traveller's own devices, no matter which end of the plane they're sitting.
“We already have the best transcontinental business class in Australia, and this will take us to a whole new level” Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller at the seat’s launch today in Singapore.
“And on the Pacific route from Australia to Los Angeles this will be the business class to beat.”
However, Borghetti is keeping his powder dry on plans for an international route for the A330s, which has long been rumoured as Perth-Singapore.
“This obviously gives us that capability if we choose to fly it international, but we’ve got nothing to announce today."
Up close with Virgin Australia's new business class seat
But those pretty PR pictures only tell part of the story.
Australian Business Traveller editor David Flynn (below) took a closer look at the new seat following its reveal in Singapore (prior to the Singapore-Sydney leg of the delivery flight of Virgin Australia's latest factory-fresh Airbus A330).
Virgin Australia’s new business class seat is based on the Super Diamond model from B/E Aerospace, but it's received a make-over from Virgin design director Hans Hulsbosch and London-based design agency Tangerine, says Borghetti, "inspired by a lot of luxury automotive interiors."
As Australian Business Traveller tipped some weeks back, Virgin Australia's new business class is more of a suite than just a seat, thanks in part to the high walls surrounding the shell which provide a degree of privacy without impeding access to the aisle.
In fact, Borghetti says he "would classify (the seat) as more ‘business first’ than business class.”
Let's kick off with perhaps the most important attributes for any business traveller: just how big is this thing?
It's a maximum 28 inches wide with the aisle-side armrest down, with a bed length of 80 inches.
Borghetti tells us that the subdued colour scheme of charcoal with brushed aluminium trimming is not only for the sake of contemporary elegance – it ensured the seat also looks great when combined with the red of the cabin crew's uniforms.
In common with many of the latest business class seats – including the Business Suite of competitor Qantas – there's a slab of surface space right next to the passenger.
This not only provides room to spread out your work during a flight, it's also a handy temporary parking space for your laptop or tablet when meals are served.
And because finding room for all your carry-on kit these days is a particular pain point for travellers, Virgin's new business class seat has nooks and crannies a'plenty.
The first one is a large cavity located under the main part of this workspace.
Inside you'll find a controller for the inflight entertainment system...
... plus USB and headphone jacks...
... and a universal AC socket.
Now here's a particular clever piece of design: the hinged lid of this hidden gadget grove is lined with a strip of soft foam so that you can plug in your laptop, tablet, smartphone or noise-cancelling headphones and then close the compartment and regain full use of the table.
The foam compresses over the cables to stop them from pinching.
And if you were wondering about the smaller cut-out space next to this section...
... yes, that also opens to reveal a small shallow shelf for your passport or other knick-knacks.
After all, nobody has ever heard a traveller complain about having too much space for their gear!
The literature pocket for Virgin’s inflight magazine and safety card is located just off to one side of the passenger.
This also boasts a hidden hatch, one designed to your tablet within easy reach.
Sized to just over 10 inches, it’ll take Apple iPads as well as tablets running Google’s Android software.
Further around from this is an LED reading light with three brightness settings which cleverly flips out from the seat's sidewall.
The armrest – which, like the seat's headrest, is clad in soft leather – rises up or drops down to suit your needs when sitting or sleeping.
And lo and behold, here's another nook suitable for a water bottle, reading glasses and so on.
Continuing this walk-around brings us to the aisle side of the seat and the large dining table, which slides close to the passenger when it's time to work or eat...
... then pushes back when it's time to step into the aisle and make for lav or, on Virgin's refitted Boeing 777s, the inflight bar and lounge area.
Note also the touchscreen controller for the seat functions.
Of course, the demo seat was sitting on its lonesome rather than paired to others in a cabin.
On the Airbus A330 or Boeing 777, passengers will find their feet projecting under the seat in front of them (into the space beneath that seat's side workspace).
That's also home to a 16 inch touchscreen running an enhanced version of Virgin’s Red inflight entertainment system backed by Panasonic’s eX2 system.
As you’d expect, the paired middle seats in this 1-2-1 layout include a privacy divider.
Installing the new seats will see Virgin’s business class cabin on the A330 shrink from 24 seats to 20, but Borghetti promised the fares “will remain competitive” against Qantas.
“Everywhere we’ve operated we’ve always brought fares down, so they have to be competitive, but that said, people will be prepared to pay for this product.”
The Boeing 777 will also see a newly-designed business class bar with face-to-face service for up to four seated guests and additional lounge seating behind the bar.
David Flynn travelled to Virgin Australia's launch in Singapore as a guest of Virgin Australia.
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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.