A350 suite showdown: British Airways' Club Suite versus Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Suite
2019 has been a huge year for British commercial aviation so far. At the forefront of the big news was the delivery of the gorgeous Airbus A350 aircraft to both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Then, taking the buzz to astronomical levels was the introduction of new business-class products for both airlines, each coming out of the gate strong with a new suite product meant to thrust the two British airlines into direct competition with some of the world's best carriers.
I have recently reviewed both products, on a BA flight to Dubai, and then Virgin one to New York-JFK. The reviews expose the good and bad in each, but head to head, which did the best job? I'm going to focus on the hard product of the two A350s here: seat, cabin and sleep, rather than the soft product, which can — for the most part — be found on each carrier's other aircraft.
I find BA's Club Suite -- a customized Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat -- really lovely. It has muted tones and smart detailing. Perhaps to some it verges on boring, but I really love the understated beauty.
Sitting in the seat feels comfortable, there are handy storage options (although it still lacks a deep storage bin or cupboard which I would love), and the table works very well for eating and working. The IFE screen is large, the same size found on Virgin's A350s, and the controls are intuitive and easy to use.
At first glance, Virgin's seat definitely has the wow factor. The materials and detailing are gorgeous. I love the color scheme, and the leather on the chair is super luxurious.
Once you get in and sit down, things fall apart a little bit. The first of my main gripes is the tray table, which is positioned in such a way that you can't really get in and out of the seat while it's in use, and it sits uncomfortably close to you for eating and working, and the seat does not adjust in a way to solve this issue. I think if you were larger you would struggle even more. The lack of any decent storage option is also a real shame, and a bugbear of mine. Finally, I found the seat-control buttons in a place where I kept knocking them and moving the seat by accident throughout the flight.
Although Virgin wows more than BA with its looks, the ergonomics, full closing door, larger and more comfortable table and smart understated luxury put BA a step ahead.
Winner: British Airways
The seat feels a little restrictive around the foot area, but not terribly so. The closing door is the standout feature of BA's seat. It adds a cocoon sensation and additional privacy that would be very conducive to sleep. However, the Club World sleep amenities simply aren't up to scratch when dished out on the new product.
A flimsy little mat to put on the seat in the flat position adds no extra comfort, and doesn't even provide any hygienic benefit as it doesn't fit the seat properly. The pillows are nice, though, and while the White Company bedding is smart, it isn't the coziest.
BA does not provide pajamas or a sleep suit in business class.
The Virgin seat is also a little tight around the feet when in the fully flat position. Row 1, if you can get it, has more room around the feet. Room at the top end is not bad, and the seat is especially spacious around the shoulders.
What's really great is the mattress, which is thick and comfortable. It has elastic attachments at the top and bottom, meaning it fits tight and snug and doesn't move or bunch up however much you toss and turn. A cozy duvet and pillow is also provided, as is a set of pajamas on night flights (they can be requested on day flights).
Looking at the two seats made up for bedtime, Virgin has by far the most cozy and inviting setup. Sliding into the Virgin bed is a delight, and although the actual shell and available room is not hugely different, BA would need to make significant improvements to its soft product to beat Virgin.
Winner: Virgin Atlantic
Understated luxury is the order of the day in BA's A350 cabin. It is a classy, relaxing environment, without bells and whistles. There's also a minicabin at the rear, which could be a great choice, especially for those wanting a quiet overnight flight.
There is, however, no standout feature or anything particularly exciting to mention.
Again, Virgin brings the wow factor. There's mood lighting and colors galore, though thankfully not in too much of a garish way. It still looks luxe, but it's fun. There is a chance this may age a little quicker, but time will tell.
The huge addition here is The Loft, which provides a lounge area for passengers to sit, eat, relax and chat. You can order food to The Loft from the IFE screens at each seat, and you can connect to the screen in The Loft via Bluetooth. I was skeptical about this when I saw the mockups, but in the sky, I ended up spending quite a bit of my flight here, enjoying the comfort, novelty and social setup.
I think there is a chance that the look of Virgin's A350 cabin may not age as gracefully, and it is a little more gimmicky, but the addition of The Loft takes Virgin well ahead.
Winner: Virgin Atlantic
Overall, I think it is impossible to call a clear winner. Virgin's cabin steams ahead with the inclusion of The Loft, BA's seat wins out for comfort and ergonomics and the quality of sleep you'll get could swing either way depending on soft-product offering.
What is for sure, though, is that both airlines have taken huge strides ahead, and both products are a wonderful way to take to the skies. As planes are delivered and route maps expanded, take this opportunity to start racking up your miles with the Executive Club and the Flying Club to be able to enjoy these experiences yourself.
All photos by the author.