We posted recently about the gradual retirement of the Boeing 747 and so, as we say goodbye to the Queen of the Skies, let’s take a look at what both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are replacing that iconic aircraft with – the Airbus A350.

The Airbus A350-1000

Designed and built in Toulouse, the latest in aircraft design from Airbus has now arrived at Heathrow with both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways having taken delivery of their first Airbus A350-1000s in recent weeks.

The planes, which measure 74 meters from nose to tail, feature the latest in aerodynamic efficiency improvements to make the A350 the quietest and most fuel-efficient large passenger aircraft in the skies. The British-built Rolls Royce Trent engines that power the A350 burn 25% less fuel than its predecessors, meaning only 2.9 litres of jet fuel are used per passenger, per 100 kilometres.

The aircraft, a part of the A350 XWB family – or ‘Extra Wide Body’ – features a wide fuselage and so allows for a wider Economy Class seat characteristic of rivals such as the Boeing 787. A few extra inches may not sound like much but they certainly do make a difference to the overall feel and comfort of the cabin. Couple this with the higher ceilings, ambient LED mood lighting, lower cabin pressure and higher humidity, and the A350 is a beautiful aircraft to fly on and a genuine game changer.

New Business Class seats

Virgin and BA have both taken the introduction of the Airbus A350 as an opportunity to launch their new and much anticipated Business Class seats.

Virgin’s new Upper Class Suite sees the airline move away from the ‘herringbone’ cabin layout (where seats face inwards towards the cabin) and instead now have seats that face outwards towards the windows. Gone too is the need to get out of your seat to flip over the mattress when you’re ready to go to sleep.

As is the current vogue in Business Class design, the cabin will be in a 1-2-1 seating configuration and will feature a privacy screen. However, unlike most other airlines, the screen (see: door) will not close fully – which Virgin say is to allow the cabin crew to better serve you.

Meanwhile, BA’s new Business Class seat, known as the ‘Club Suite’, can arguably be seen as an even bigger step change with the airline replacing its 2-4-2 ‘Yin and Yang’ configuration with a much more spacious 1-2-1 seating layout enabling direct aisle access for all passengers. British Airways’ new Club Suite features 40% more storage space than the old seat and looks to be an excellent product with the added improvement of increased privacy thanks to a sliding door.

BA is banking on the Suite pleasing both the BA faithful but also being enough to tempt customers of other airlines to switch. BA were innovators in the early 2000s, and were the first airline to offer fully flat beds in Business Class. However, other airlines, notably those from the Gulf, have caught up – and even overtaken them – in terms of onboard cabin experience. The Club Suite sees BA come back swinging and we can’t wait to try it for ourselves!

The Airbus A350 at BA is currently flying on short-haul flights from Heathrow to Madrid whilst cabin crew familiarise themselves with the new plane. From October you will find the A350 on select flights from Heathrow to Dubai and Toronto.

Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, are set to launch A350 service in September from Heathrow to New York JFK.