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Late last year, Virgin Atlantic introduced its newest aircraft, the Airbus A330-900neo, to the world. Having just flown on the plane in Upper Class from London to Tampa, I’ve reached a disappointing conclusion: this plane is underwhelming. Really underwhelming, in fact–and I was expecting a lot more than what I got. I’ll write a full flight review later on in the week but for now, I want to briefly share some of my biggest gripes with the product.
These suites feel downright cramped, especially compared to Virgin’s older 787 or A350. The seat is narrow and the footwell is very tight. With the door closed, the space feels downright claustrophobic.
Very little storage space
On a similar theme, storage space is virtually nonexistent. There’s a small mirrored compartment (about eight inches tall and 6 inches wide) just big enough for a headphone case, and that’s about it–pretty much everything else will need to go in the overhead bins.
Too few bathrooms
Just three bathrooms are shared by 78 passengers in Upper Class and premium economy. That’s one bathroom for every 26 passengers, just about the worst ratio I’ve seen in business class. The lack of lavatories meant that I had to wait in line every time I visited and that the bathrooms were constantly in use, and not particularly clean since flight attendants had little opportunity to tidy up.
Badly designed wireless charger
In principle, I like the addition of a wireless charging area to seats. Unfortunately, whichever unit Virgin installed on their A330neos wouldn’t work with my iPhone or other passengers’ iPhones. It seems that the culprit is an underpowered wireless charging unit and the iPhone’s camera bump which prevents the phone from getting flush with the charging surface. Interestingly, if I pressed iPhone into the surface hard enough, it began to charge but stopped the moment I stopped pressing.
I’ve owned multiple wireless charging mats and have never had this issue, so the problem here seems specific to the chargers onboard Virgin’s A330neos.
The Loft is really dumb
I’ve always found Virgin’s onboard bars pretty gimmicky, but the one on the A330neo is especially useless. Dubbed “the Loft” it contains bench seating for four passengers, as well as two large IFE screens. Passengers have the option of syncing their own headphones to the IFE monitors and watching content, but I can’t figure out who in their right mind would want to do this.
For one, the benches are extremely high off the ground, so sitting on them means uncomfortably dangling your legs. Second, the benches are poorly padded and became uncomfortable after just two minutes of sitting. Third, the Loft is un-strategically located between the lavatories, imbuing the area with the unmistakable scent of a recently-used toilet. Its proximity to the lavatories also means that people frequently walk through the area to get to the bathroom.
Gimmicky suite doors
The A330neo has Virgin’s first Upper Class seats with doors, following in the footsteps of other airlines’ newest business class products. Unfortunately, unlike those products, specifically QSuites, the door here is too low to impart any sense of privacy–even the shortest folks walking by can easily see over the door. I found the only thing it really did was make an already cramped space feel more claustrophobic.
For a nearly brand-new plane, the Wi-Fi was really disappointing. Virgin’s A330neos use Viasat for their connectivity, and speeds have been lauded, but I paid 18 pounds for the all-flight pass but didn’t get any signal for around 70% of the flight. I’m not sure whether the satellites were having an off day, but I expected better.
Gilbert Ott of God Save the Points wrote that he “felt incredibly jaded about Wi-Fi claims coming into this flight but was shocked to be able to stream and work efficiently throughout.” I certainly didn’t share his experience, and feel even more jaded coming off the flight than I did getting on.
I realize that writing all this might make me come off as jaded and entitled. Just know that I feel extremely privileged to have been able to fly this product and that I’m bringing up these issues because I think people ought to know what they’re getting when they buy something–especially if they spend big on an Upper Class ticket.
Frankly, I think the A330-900neo is extremely overhyped and I just don’t understand the rave reviews. Though the cabin admittedly looks pretty in photos, it’s far more style than substance. Yes, it’s more comfortable than Virgin’s outdated 787 product, but I’d recommend Upper Class on the A350 (or any number of other business class products, for that matter) over the A330neo every day of the week.