The aviation world is abuzz with Virgin Atlantic’s newest addition to its fleet. The A350-1000 is a first for the airline, and has given Virgin the chance to really step up its offering in the transatlantic market.
Their partner, Delta, also operates the A350, albeit the smaller -900 version, and just yesterday agreed to take over LATAM’s order of A350s to boost the number in its fleet. But which airline does the A350 better?
Simple Flying asked Daniel Kerzner, VP of Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic, which airline in the world had the best A350. Fully expecting him to say ‘Virgin’, we were somewhat surprised with his response.
“Delta has the best A350.”
Wow. So despite being a brand new product and the culmination of years of research, development and planning, Virgin Atlantic still don’t think they’ve bettered their US partner? Daniel explained,
“Delta is a great partner of ours. Their product, service, food and beverage for the last number of years has increased tenfold. It’s very different product, and their A350 is a great example of that.”
We know Delta has a huge fanbase in the US, just like Virgin does in the UK, but is their product really as good, nay, better than Virgins? Let’s take a look.
Both airlines have their A350s arranged in a three class configuration. Delta’s features Delta One business class, Delta Premium Select and Main Cabin. Virgin, similarly, have Upper Class, Premium Economy and Economy.
Delta’s business class product is arguably superior to Virgin’s new Upper Class. While both recline to an entirely flat bed and certainly have the ‘suite’ type wow factor, Delta’s has the edge, mainly due to that full height privacy door. Virgin’s product has a small privacy divider, but you could hardly call it a door, and it just doesn’t tick all the boxes for a proper suite experience.
Arguably the finish is marginally better on Delta One also. The airline has spent some serious money on getting these suites just right, and it shows. When we test drove Virgin’s Upper Class seat, we found some minor niggles in terms of build quality. The lack of storage on Virgin is also a problem that Delta does not have. Although none of these issues are a deal breaker by any means, they put Delta in the lead for the business class product.
However, where Delta does fall down is on the sheer number of premium seats on board. Struggling with the smaller version of the A350, the -900, Delta’s 32 Delta One seats are a full 25% reduction on Virgin’s 44 seat capacity.
In premium, Delta has gone for an eight abreast configuration. This means a comfortable width of 18.5” along with 38” of pitch.
Predictably, Virgin’s is exactly the same; 2-4-2 in configuration and with identical width and pitch. Again, Virgin is in the lead on capacity, thanks to a larger plane, with 56 vs 48 seats on Delta.
Down at the back, Delta offers 226 seats with an 18” width and between 31 and 32 inches of pitch. Seats feature movable headrests which can be moved up and down as well as reshaped to cradle the head. The cabin is laid out in 3-3-3 configuration.
Virgin’s A350 also has a 3-3-3 layout, with 235 seats in total. Somehow they’ve lost a little width, with each seat just 17.4 inches wide. Presumably this is to make the aisles slightly wider to make the cabin crew’s job more pleasant. Pitch in regular economy is the same as Delta’s, but Virgin also has a few economy Delight seats, with around 34” of legroom.
Both Delta and Virgin have upsized their screens on the A350. Virgin’s Upper Class screen wins by 0.5” at 18.5”. In premium, screens on Virgin are again marginally larger at 13.5” vs 13.3”. Both airlines have larger than average screens in economy, at around 11”.
In terms of content, Delta Studio is a well-regarded IFE solution with many hours of excellent content. However, Virgin’s content offering is pretty impressive too, with a good variety of TV shows and movies on demand.
For in seat power, Delta has the upper hand, purely for its inclusion of mains ports in both premium and economy, which Virgin does not. Both airlines supply USB charging at all seats. Both airlines provide WiFi; Delta offers free messaging and paid for plans, whereas Virgin charge a couple of dollars for the basic messaging service.
We’re not going to go into all the soft product offerings here, but it’s fair to say both airlines have some firm fans for things like food, service and loyalty programs. It’s a close run thing between the two for the better aircraft, but there is one factor that perhaps sways it in the UK airline’s favor.
The one thing that Virgin has and Delta does not is a social space. With a larger A350 to play with, Virgin got creative to give their aircraft something of a glamorous touch. The Loft is a unique feature of the Virgin A350; a welcome ‘lobby’ for all passengers arriving on board which becomes a lounge area for Upper Class passengers during the flight. The 32” touchscreen TV here can be paired to with Bluetooth headphones by multiple passengers, allowing groups to enjoy a cinema type experience on board.
Kerzner might think that Delta’s A350 has the edge, but we think it’s a pretty close call.