Virgin Atlantic has revealed today that its final five A350-1000s will be serving leisure markets to Florida and the Caribbean. The aircraft, which will arrive in 2021, will be based out of both Gatwick and Manchester Airports.
In a press release, Virgin Atlantic said,
“The final five planes will offer a leisure configuration and will operate routes to Florida and the Caribbean from London Gatwick and Manchester Airport. These deliveries will take place in 2021 as the airline beings to retire its 747 fleet.”
Virgin previously revealed plans to phase out the Queen of the Skies by 2021, retiring the 747s to make way for newer twinjet aircraft. At an average age of 19 years, these aging but beautiful aircraft are just no longer efficient for Virgin to stay competitive.
Virgin and the A350
Virgin Atlantic received its first A350 just weeks ago. The first aircraft, registered G-VLUX and carrying the name ‘Red Velvet’ is scheduled to begin service later today between London Heathrow and New York JFK.
The second in the fleet will be Mamma Mia, registered G-VPOP, and will also be placed on the London to New York route. As will the third, and indeed the fourth. The fifth A350, however, is not due to arrive at the carrier until next year. This A350-1000 will operate between Heathrow and Los Angeles.
While Virgin has a total of 12 A350-1000s on order from Airbus, it’s not clear where numbers six and seven will go. Virgin has said that all its initial A350s will be based at Heathrow, so these later two will likely be used for transatlantic routes also. It’s possible that they will be placed on the Los Angeles route too, adding extra frequency to this important market.
The final five A350s
Virgin’s last A350s are set to arrive in 2021, taking the carrier up to its completed fleet of 12 of the type. Virgin has revealed that these will be in a ‘leisure configuration’ and will service routes between London and Manchester to Florida and the Caribbean.
Hmm. A leisure configuration… now, what could that mean?
Currently, Virgin’s fleet of 747s all operate these routes, and the carrier has indicated that the A350-1000 will be used to replace them. As there is only one seat layout on the 747, rather than one for leisure and one for transatlantic/business flights, it’s difficult to make assumptions about what this will mean for the layout of the A350.
Looking at the A350 configuration for the transatlantic market, it’s pretty premium heavy. There are 44 Upper Class suites, 56 premium economy recliners and 235 economy seats on board. The current 747 layout, for comparison, has only 14 Upper Class seats, with 66 premium economy and 375 economy seats.
Air Caraibes is another operator of the A350, albeit the slightly smaller A350-900. Firmly fixed on the leisure market, this carrier opted for 18 business class seats in a 2-2-2 layout, 45 premium economy in a 3-3-3 layout and, shock horror, a stifling 326 economy seats in a 10 abreast layout.
While Virgin could go for a 3-4-3 configuration in the final five A350-1000s, it’s unlikely (we hope) they’ll want to subject even the leisure market to this sort of cramping. More likely, we think, they’ll slim down the Upper Class, perhaps to just 20 or so seats, and expand the premium economy cabin, which is likely to be in high demand on this route.
Time will tell!