Virgin Atlantic inaugurated its newest aircraft, the Airbus A350-1000XWB, on Tuesday, officially becoming the second British operator of the aircraft in revenue service. Flying between London and New York on the airline’s flagship route, the first aircraft, named Red Velvet, departed London’s Heathrow Airport a month and a day after its delivery from Airbus bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Leading up to its first transatlantic crossing on Tuesday afternoon, the aircraft proved itself to Virgin Atlantic crews in the skies above Great Britain and in Glasgow where it could be seen performing landings, takeoffs and go-arounds. While airlines tend to fly their latest aircraft, regardless of size, on short-haul routes for crew familiarization and training, the first flight for the aircraft was forced to be a long-haul on one of the airline’s most profitable routes as Virgin does not operate many short-haul routes.
The first of 12 A350s to join the fleet, Virgin plans to focus the majority of the widebodies on premium-heavy destinations such as New York and Sao Paulo, with only five configurated to focus on leisure destinations such as Florida and the Caribbean. Merely the fifth operator of one of Airbus’ newest product lines, Virgin joins an exclusive club of A350-1000 operators that includes launch operator Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways and rival British Airways.
The A350’s introduction to the Virgin Atlantic fleet marked the latest development in the airline’s fleet renewal that will see older aircraft such as the Airbus A340-600 and Boeing 747-400 being retired and replaced by next-generation aircraft. The beginning of the fleet renewal was marked by the introduction of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner into the fleet and with the A350 now in service, the next step will be taking delivery of and inducting the A330-900neo into service.
Virgin’s newest aircraft will feature improvements in each of its three cabins, the most notable being the Upper Class business class cabin. Following an industry trend, the airline has upgraded its business class seats to a semi-suite configuration with privacy sliders at each of the reverse herringbone seats. The current business class product on the majority of its aircraft feature standard herringbone seats facing away from the window and offering less privacy.
With 335 seats in total, the aircraft is second in capacity only to the Boeing 747-400 and boasts the second greatest number of Upper Class business class seats at 44 seats, one less than the Airbus A340-600. The aircraft will also see service and technology upgrades including dine on-demand via in-flight entertainment screens in business class, a tail camera, increased in-flight entertainment offerings and larger in-flight entertainment screens in each cabin.
For New York, Virgin becomes the second Airbus A350-1000 operator to serve New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport behind Qatar Airways. The airline is also the first to operate an Airbus A350 on the London-New York route, a major selling point on a route not yet seeing next-generation aircraft from full-service carriers.
After the aircraft proves itself on the New York route, Los Angeles will become the next destination to receive the aircraft with Sao Paulo scheduled to receive the aircraft when new service inaugurates in 2020.
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