Virgin to cut business class capacity

3 Dec 2009 by Tom Otley

Effective January next year Virgin Atlantic will begin to reconfigure its London Heathrow fleet of B747-400s with a new upper deck layout. 

It means that the number of Upper Class seats (Virgin’s brand name for business class) is being cut by 10 seats while at the same time the number of economy seats is being boosted by 33. Details of the new arrangement are displayed as “Seating Configuration 4” on Virgin’s website.

The new seat layout on the upper deck will prove controversial. It comprises five rows of Upper Class configured 1-1 (so 10 seats in total) at the front and five/six rows of economy class configured 3-3 (a total 33 seats). The change is unlikely to be popular with Upper Class passengers flying on business, who in some configurations of the B747-400 previously had the whole of the upper deck to themselves.

It means that the two classes are separated by the emergency exit space. At present, there is only a single toilet at the front serving the entire upper deck, though Virgin says that a second washroom will be fitted at the back of the aircraft, to prevent a situation where economy passengers wishing to ‘spend a penny’ will have to either walk downstairs or through Upper Class, possibly disturbing premium passengers’ peace and quiet.

Removing several rows of business class seating would suggest that Upper Class is feeling the effects of the economic downturn. Since Virgin has confirmed that it is all the London Heathrow Boeing 747-400s that are being reconfigured, and not those B747-400s flying from Gatwick and Manchester, would also seem to suggest that it is the prime business routes out of Heathrow such as New York and Johannesburg that have been affected. 

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Report by Alex McWhirter

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