Virgin Atlantic has made no secret of the fact its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners are planned for a cabin refit. Simple Flying caught up with VP of Customer Experience for Virgin Atlantic, Daniel Kerzner, to find out when this would happen and what we can expect from the new cabins.
When will the refits begin?
Different carriers have different standards when it comes to cabin overhauls. Some will undertake it after eight or ten years in service, others will let it go a lot longer than that. For Virgin Atlantic, VP of Customer Experience, Daniel Kerzner, explained to Simple Flying that it’s around eight years:
“With regards to the 78, they are approaching the middle life cycle; they are approaching eight years, which is the ideal time for us to do a refit. We’re not at that point yet, but we’re getting to the point where we need to start thinking about that.”
The current age of the Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner fleet is an average of 3.6 years. Within this, the oldest aircraft, G-VNEW or Birthday Girl, is five years old. The youngest, although currently stored, is G-VNYL or Penny Lane, at just 1.5 years old.
Taking Birthday Girl as an example, her eighth anniversary does not roll around until late 2022, so we’d expect to see the refit getting underway in early 2023 and filtering through the 17 Dreamliners in the fleet over a couple of years. Although that seems a long time away now, it’s actually not a huge amount of time to pick seats, choose amenities, design galleys, select suppliers and everything else that’s rolled into the redesign of an aircraft interior.
As such, we expect that Virgin will be looking to make some decisions on this pretty soon, perhaps within the next 12 months.
What can we expect from the new cabins?
With the beautiful new A350 cabin showing the world just how serious Virgin Atlantic is about upping its game, there are some high expectations for the 787 refit too. However, as Daniel noted,
“The 78 is a different aircraft to the 350. It’s a different fuselage, it’s a different aircraft, it’s a different manufacturer, so the product that we end up putting on that retrofit will, by default, be different to what’s on our 350. But, it will use the A350 as the starting point, as the baseline and as the inspiration for that.”
Some of the notable changes to the A350 include an enhanced Upper Class cabin, with lie flat seats and 18” IFE screens. Further back, the seats in both premium and economy have seen great improvements, both to the seat itself and to the IFE also. Clearly, this will be the starting point for the 787 makeover. Daniel continued,
“What you’re seeing on board today, the enhancements that we’ve made to premium, to upper class, to the social space, to the crew experience … all of that will become the inspiration and the starting point for the 78.”
Virgin is keen to learn by experience and is taking on board all feedback about the A350, both good and bad, and using that to inform future fleet developments. So, what we can take from this is that the Boeing 787 fleet will have something that builds on the A350, that is inspired by the A350 and which takes it up a notch in terms of customer satisfaction.
However, there are some improvements which are unlikely to change, and which will be seen rolled out across the entire fleet, even those aircraft which are not timed for a cabin overhaul. Kerzner explained,
“A lot of the soft products that we have, whether it’s the bedding or the new amenity kits, the most sustainable amenity kits in the sky, we’ve rolled those out across the fleet. Things like having the best coffee in the sky, having the best mile high tea in the sky, having the best bedding in the sky, having the best entertainment and service in the sky… these things are not aircraft specific; we carry those things throughout the fleet.”
We’re excited to watch Virgin go through the process of defining how its Dreamliner fleet will look in years to come, and will be interested to see how the experience of the A350 cabin informs and improves the future fleet.