Why Virgin Atlantic’s New Business Class Seat Is So Disappointing

These new seats are going on Virgin’s Airbus A330 aircraft. It’s already a narrower plane than the Airbus A350 that they introduced their last new seats on. The reason for these new seats is that the last new ones wouldn’t fit on this aircraft – they start from a position of needing to give passengers less space because the plane is narrower.

Virgin is using the Thompson Vantage XL seat with doors. That’s the Delta business class suite. Delta’s offering was revolutionary when it was introduced six years ago. Delta has claimed to be the first with doors in business class, but that’s not quite true. Qatar Airways was actually first to market with a seat that is still part of one of the very best business class experiences.

New Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330 Business Class, Credit: Virgin

Introducing the Thompson Vantage XL seat in 2016 was fantastic in 2016 when doors in business class was still a novelty. In 2022 it’s… okay, but something of an also-ran. The seat is tight. Not quite as tight as United’s Polaris, but certainly not spacious either. In terms of passenger space it compares unfavorably to American Airlines.

While Virgin claims it’ll be offering the best product across the Atlantic it’s likely to be inferior to the new British Airways seat (Super Diamond with doors) and even inferior to the new Air France business class that’s been announced (Cirrus with doors).

New British Airways Business Class

New Air France Business Class, Credit: Air France

Neither BA nor Air France are doing anything revolutionary, essentially putting doors on seats that have been flying for years, but they’re offering more spacious seats than Virgin is likely to be able to provide with Thompson Vantage XL as a base.

Ultimately a business class seat, once it offers full recline and direct aisle access, comes down to:

  1. Whether it offers doors or not (BA does on some planes, Air France is adding this, so does Delta – and leaks have shown that American and United plan to as well)

  2. How much space in the cabin is allocated to each passenger.

Adding doors to a seat that’s been flying elsewhere with doors for six years, without matching let alone exceeding space per passenger offered by competitors, may be a reasonable strategy. But it’s disappointing in a new product launch in the back half of 2022.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It becomes more and more clear that Virgin Atlantic is essentially a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines. Virgin doesn’t even pretend to offer its departure airport services in the US that it offers in the UK. Virgin’s labor costs are much lower. So, for Delta, they want to funnel as many passengers as possible on Virgin over Delta.

  2. FNT,
    apparently you don’t realize that Delta’s strategy is for its joint venture partners to co-locate on both sides of the Atlantic and, where they do, use the “home country” staff.

    Where they operate from the same terminals, Delta ground handles Virgin Atlantic, Air France and KLM flights in the US while those 3 do the same in the US. There are similar arrangements for reservations, as far as I know.
    And, yes, Delta has said they will jointly purchase with its joint venture partners where it can. There are not a whole lot of seat options for any aircraft type and the A330 is narrower than the A350; Virgin Atlantic flew the A330 long before Delta got involved with them and it isn’t a surprise that they are replacing their A330-300s with -900s.

    and to the point that Gary raises, I’m not sure that a qualitative assessment of what seats offer more space really matters for many people. If you have flown all of the types of seats involved, then you can make an assessment based on the basic structure of the seat but airlines can and do customize their premium cabin seats so the perception of space can be different. Without measurements, most people don’t care about someone else’s perception unless they have flown all of the options.

    And there is a point of diminishing returns and where the seat itself isn’t as big of a deal as the service. In what people have posted here, most people that have replied have spoken against AA and UA’s service. and that is why Asian airlines esp. pull passengers from the US market.

    Factors such as price and loyalty are a much bigger factor than an inch in a seat.

  3. Respectfully disagree. There are only so many things you can do to make a seat unique. I am glad they went with a crowd favourite and gave it some creature comforts like wireless charging and Bluetooth. There was no need to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of it.

    More so, I’ll give them props for the unique row 1 offer and for keeping the loft in place. I’d rather them exercise their creative muscles in those areas versus toying with the seat.

  4. Not sure what else they could do. They wanted a door and all-aisle access on an A330 so why spend a bunch of money re-inventing the wheel?
    I am sure there are business benefits by aligning with Delta and in any case there is also the VS soft product to differentiate.

    I really wonder what UA are thinking if they put doors on Polaris. Its already tighter than the others and doors could make it claustrophobic.

  5. Oh tim
    I thought you told us all to stop reading Gary’s blog to reduce his views? I see you still have nothing better to do with your time than troll blogs to defend delta and their friendless partners reduced to settling for delta’s money…

    The best part is you’re likely monitoring Gary’s blog for comments.

    Get a life, a job, and your own blog that no one will read.

    What a troll.

  6. What were you expecting in business class on an A330? It’s fully enclosed suites with fully-flat beds and direct aisle access for all. That’s market standard/leading. Were you expecting them to install showers in each suite or something?

    The BA Club Suite door is too low to be of any use. When you can see other passengers’ faces when the door is closed it renders it useless – its just a silly gimmick. Qsuite is about the only door that serves any purpose.

  7. Max Power,
    no, I told Gary to quit filling his blog with anecdotes that he turns into generalities.
    He has actually done quite a bit better.

    As for this article, how about you provide evidence of how a tiny difference in the size of the seat makes a difference for people who are buying business class seats? You can’t because once a seat generally has the attributes of other seats on other carriers in the same cabin, a few millimeters here or there doesn’t make a difference.

    And whether Delta was the first airline to put a door on even some of its business class seats or not, how about you provide us with a review of United and American’s business class suites that have doors? The reason why you won’t is because you can’t.

  8. You not even had a chance you fly on it yet so your opinion is worthless and quite frankly the Virgin experience is always better they have amazing crews.

  9. Thanks for proving my point, tim. Monitoring every comment on Gary’s blog despite saying this a week ago on Gary’s blog:
    “ The best way to demand better content from Gary is to not read or reply”

    Yet here you are doing your normal sad daily routine.

    Make your own blog, Tim. Call it “Trolling for points” — TOP. Maybe you can move out of the comments section and produce something rather than troll everywhere else.

  10. Max,
    since you are the only one that has failed to address the topic that Gary raised EVEN ONCE and instead are running around the web denigrating people, you, not me, fit the defintion of a troll.

    Second, Gary has responded well to feedback from MULTIPLE people about the content on his blog. I don’t agree w/ all of his positions but I read his blog because of the content that matters – and he has cranked out a lot of it in the past couple days after criticism from multiple people about how negative and critical of everything his content was.

    third, the majority of people that replied to this article about the topic do not agree w/ Gary that there is no need to throw out perfectly workable seat designs for something newer and sexier, esp. when the aircraft itself is the best choice for the airline.

    fourth, you have yet to address the fact that neither American or United have doors on their business class products. If a door is something more ‘advanced’ than what is in the market, then AA and UA aren’t even in the ball park.

  11. @A Smith – no one has flown it, but virgin is promoting a comparison to other airlines, and many commentators are regurgitating their claims, I’m pointing out facts about the seat that don’t live up to the claims (and we’ve certainly tried the seat since it is basically the 6 year old Delta seat)

  12. @Gary,
    Your article focuses on the “less than novel” addition of privacy doors and “lack of comparable space” allocated to the passenger, but you completely missed the boat on the overall product offerings.

    Notably, as a frequent traveler of Business Class products, when I feel like I’m hurting for space, I take a hard look in the mirror and realize my fat a$$ is my problem, not an airline’s problem. Additionally, although not a new concept, business travelers want the option of privacy and said doors are a step in the right direction. Finally, not all aircraft are built the same and if you expect a 1-2-1 configuration in Business Class, the wider you make the seats, the narrower the aisles become, which is disruptive and ultimately dangerous (safety is always more important than my wide a$$).

    With respect to the product offerings you’ve missed, why didn’t you discuss the Bluetooth Enabled IFE, faster wifi, more USB ports, wireless charging capabilities, their new “Retreat Suite” products, or the Upper Class “Loft”?

    This is why your post comes across negative. Forest through the trees, mate! Forest through the trees.

  13. Can you read, Tim? Lol
    I don’t owe you an explanation about some topic I’m not even discussing.
    Stop being a troll. Your weird misdirection attempts never cease to amuse.
    Get a job.

  14. And Tim, I know you’re bad at math, but ~six delta fanboys commenting that they don’t like Gary picking on Virgin doesn’t mean the majority of people disagreed with Gary’s view. It means six delta fanboys have hurt feelings. Far more than six people read the article. Virgin got called out for copying an old seat but trying to market it like something new and original. It isn’t. The intent behind the article is Virgin trying to act like they did something original from a marketing perspective when they clearly didn’t.
    Critical reading and thinking should be something you try now and then.
    Stop trolling the aviation internet looking for slightly negative delta articles.
    Go write your own blog that no one will read.

  15. It means, MAX, that actual people that bothered to reply to the article do not think that Virgin’s product needs the sexy bells and whistles which may not even exist on ANY A330 seat.

    And, again, Max, tell us how many AA and UA seats have doors on them, please,

    It isn’t a hard question to answer if product matters.

    Either the people who actually buy the seats know what they want or Gary does.

    If Gary wants people to read and not give them the opportunity to reply, he will lose readers.

    The risk of writing and having replies is that people don’t have to agree with you.

    Gary gets it even if you don’t.

  16. Tell us, Tim. How many Delta widebodies have doors in business class? Should consistency matter in product? Apparently not to Delta…

    “ The best way to demand better content from Gary is to not read or reply”
    –Tim Dunn

    Again, your comment from a week ago vs your comments above… Get a job.

  17. Man, the comments here got spicy in a hurry. I will say that there’s one bit of the critique here I think is off. The article opens by correctly pointing out a design limitation (A330s are narrower than A350s or B777s) but then blows that off when comparing it to other products. The British Airways and Air France products are on an A350 and B777 respectively. Do you have a list of other A330 business class products you really feel show this one up?

  18. I agree with @Doug, which was one of the points I made in my response to @Gary. Not all aircraft are equal and making a seat wider on some (like the 330) doesn’t make complete sense when it comes to overall customer experience and safety. We’re all Monday Morning Quarterbacks here, but the fact is, while not a reinvented product, it’s still new to VS and is improved from other airlines using the same type of seat.

  19. @Gary, it’s clear from reading your other articles you have a significant following who read what you write to get the latest news and gossip about the industry and airlines we so dearly love and hate, which is great! The pissing match between Tim and Max proves this and also proves we’ll continue to check in on you to see what’s new. My sole point in my original comment was this… Enough with the narrow viewpoints please. Try telling the whole story about a new product, service, route, or decision instead. Make a “good reason” and a “bad reason” list and discuss them all please. This would show your readers you are impartial and have done the background investigation to be able to speak with authority about the topic at hand.

  20. Where to even start with this one. Between mad Max and his ranting (seems like someone forgot to take their meds today) or another post from this author presenting a one-sided, myopic, and less than accurate assessment. Yet another case study.

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