Simple Flying’s Tom Boon and Joanna Bailey have both had the pleasure of road testing the UK’s two newest A350s shortly after they arrived with their airlines. British Airways’ first A350-1000, G-XWBA, and Virgin Atlantic’s First A350-1000, G-VLUX or Red Velvet to her friends, both have a lot to offer the long haul traveler. But which is best?
Clearly Boon and Bailey have their favorites. Let’s see what they think.
Let’s start with the way they look. We know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but livery does make an airplane stand out. Which of these A350s has been dressed to kill, and why?
JB: Virgin’s A350 is simply stunning. I mean, come on, just look at it.
Contrary to popular belief, and unlike the majority of aircraft, it’s not just white. It is, in fact, a deep, luxurious silver, something that you barely notice until it catches the sunlight. The finish has an almost pearlescent quality and is echoed on the Upper Class seat surrounds, which I think is a nice touch.
The red highlights are not just any old red. Boring old red paint wouldn’t get that depth of color in a million years. This is a specialist paint technique called Andaro, which is unique to Virgin Atlantic in the aviation world, and involves layering tinted lacquers on top of a metallic salmon-colored base. The finish is stunning, and a testament to Virgin’s attention to detail. It certainly catches the eye at the airport!
TB: I personally don’t think you can beat the painted wing tips of British Airways’ Airbus A350. The aircraft is the first in BA’s fleet to have painted wingtips, which perfectly translate on to the curves. They’re perfect for Instagram wing photos! In general I think the white exterior with the dark underbody looks very slick.
Moving inside the aircraft, let’s look at cabin styling. What do you love about the design of the interior of these aircraft?
JB: Virgin has gone with a full-on cabin makeover for the A350. Every single class of travel has a new seat, a new look and is packed full of wow factor. Throughout the aircraft, the general feeling is classy but fun, with rich brown leathers and gold accents offset with little kisses of red here and there.
TB: I love that when you board via the second doors, you’re straight away greeted by British Airways branding. Then, turning left or right takes you directly into the business class cabin. I think the airline has done a great job to make the business class cabin look like a premium product. However, the two economy cabins are also more than comfortable.
You’ve both done extensive reviews of the business class products on board, but let’s not forget 80% of the passengers will be at the back of the plane. What’s good about economy, and what can the average traveler look forward to most?
JB: I personally think that the improvements at the back of the plane are just as exciting as those at the front. The majority of us will be far more likely to sit in economy than in Upper on a regular basis, so this is where Virgin will win or lose the greatest number of customers.
I’m happy to report that economy is a massive step up from what Virgin fliers will be used to. The seats have more legroom, are far more comfortable and are all equipped with one of the biggest economy IFE screens in the sky, at over 11”. The new adjustable headrests move up and down as well as reshaping to fit the passenger’s preference, making it easier for everyone to get super comfortable.
TB: The economy cabin in British Airways’ Airbus A350 is not something to turn your nose up at. When I got to experience the cabin, I was more than satisfied with what was on offer. My only gripe about the seats is that the tables are folded in half. However, every passenger has access to USB power at a minimum, and gate to gate in-flight entertainment.
How about premium – Is it worth the upgrade? What’s new and good in this cabin?
JB: Virgin has had some criticism of the premium cabin, largely due to them opting for eight abreast seating. However, thanks to the XWB-ness of the plane, and a little VS magic, the seats still clock in at 18.5” wide, just 2” narrower than Upper Class. The screens are bigger too, at 13.3”, and there’s both USB and AC power ports here. The seats are finished in luxe leather, and have a massive recline, but probably the biggest reason to say yes to an upgrade is the food.
The main meals are served on real china plates with actual metal cutlery. There’s a glass of bubbly on arrival, wine with your meal selected by the Master of Wine from Berry Bros & Rudd, a liqueur for after dinner and plenty of between-meal snacks. Then, of course, there’s the Eric Lanlard designed ‘Mile High Tea’, complete with rolls, scones and macarons. Fabulous!
TB: The new Airbus A350 saw British Airways debut their new Club Suite. The suite offers each passenger unrivalled privacy with a door that closes fully, something not offered on Virgin Atlantic. The suite turns into a fully flat bed at the touch of a button, and testing the fully made bed was a dream, if you’ll pardon the pun. Additionally, the seat has tonnes of storage, from overhead to under the provided ottoman, perfect for those not keen on checking their baggage.
Turning to the soft product, what would you say will really make a trip on these aircraft stand out?
JB: Aside of the awesome food for which Virgin is renowned, I’d say the best thing about Virgin’s soft product has to be the crew. These guys and gals are absolutely the most enthusiastic, bubbly cabin crew I’ve ever come across, and can’t do enough to make their passengers happy. Regardless of the class you are traveling in, nothing is too much, and it’s clear to see that they simply love their jobs and are fully supportive of the Virgin brand and ethos.
TB: When I got to experience the British Airways Airbus A350, we got a slightly altered soft product. However, if what we were offered is anything to go by, passengers will surely be impressed. The meal served was especially tasty. However, should you get peckish in between meals, British Airways offers a snack fridge in between the two parts of the business class cabin.
What’s the one feature on board your A350 that really sets it apart from the other?
JB: You might expect me to say The Loft, which is really very awesome, but the thing I think BA totally dropped the ball on is the awesome tail cam. Not only is it available in every single class on board, it’s also in full HD quality, so you can get a perfect view of your plane and the surroundings at any point in the flight. There’s an underneath belly cam too, which is interesting when you’re flying over land during the daytime. Virgin clearly thought it was worth the investment, and literally every passenger I’ve spoken to has raved about how cool it is.
TB: British Airways’ Airbus A350s have gate-to-gate inflight entertainment. Something not offered by Virgin in its Upper Class cabin. Additionally, you can’t beat the Do&Co millionaires shortbread served onboard the A350. Finally, British Airways is a part of the oneworld alliance, meaning that passengers can contribute towards points and status more easily.
Finally, if someone you knew was booking a flight, and both these aircraft were going to the same destination for the same price, what would you tell them to make up their mind?
JB: At the end of the day, it comes down to what you want from your flight. If you’re a stuffy businessperson who wants to shut themselves off from the world in a boring BA Club World suite and hammer away on a laptop all the way across the Atlantic, by all means, pick BA. But if you’re looking for great service, comfortable seating and some cool, fun touches along the way, Virgin wins hands down.
The Upper Class product might not be as private as BA’s ‘suite’, but it’s intimate enough. The screen, tailcam and food more than make up for the lack of a door. If you’re traveling anything less than Upper Class, Virgin wins hands down. Bigger screens, higher-quality seats and the attentive cabin crew make it clear which one you should pick!
TB: It depends if you have status with one of the airlines. Obviously, it would pay to pick the airline you did hold status with. Otherwise, I’d recommend British Airways’ Airbus A350. It has the most privacy in its suites, while its wingtips are arguably more Instagram ready for those 36,000 feet snaps.
Clearly Mr. Boon and Mrs. Bailey have some strong opinions on the topic, but has either argument been enough to convince you? Let us know in the comments which is your favorite!