A behind-the-scenes look at the seat installation on a Virgin Atlantic A350

Jan 24, 2021

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Last month, I was lucky enough to spend the morning in Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow hangar to see its final 747, named Pretty Woman. I was even luckier at the end of the event to be led out of the hangar doors, leaving Virgin’s oldest aircraft behind me to step onboard its very newest plane.

This Airbus A350, registered as G-VDOT and known as “Ruby Slipper,” was delivered to Manchester from the Airbus factory in Toulouse on September 9, 2020.

Whilst some aircraft are delivered fully fitted from the manufacturer, Ruby Slipper was originally a test aircraft for Airbus. So, Airbus and Virgin decided to install the aircraft’s Upper Class seats in the U.K. at the same time as carrying out the entry into service checks.

After being delivered to Manchester, Ruby Slipper took a 35-minute flight to London Heathrow (LHR) on November 30, 2020, ready for its makeover.

It was fascinating boarding a plane that was still midway through its cabin installation. I turned left — naturally. Inside the aircraft, I found a true building site, full of engineers, tools and wrapped-up suites ready to be fitted.

Below are some of my own pictures of a finished cabin to give you a sense of the product passengers see compared to the work in progress.

The seats being installed are Virgin’s new Upper Class Suites. Virgin launched the new product in autumn of 2019, and I was onboard one of the very first commercial flights to review it.

The finished cabin I experienced in 2019 certainly looked a little different.

Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class

The seats usually take 14 days to install, with crew working 12-hour day shifts. But on Ruby Slipper, it took Virgin crew took 21 days to complete the project in order to weigh the aircraft, carry out pre-entry into service safety checks and ensure the inflight entertainment systems were fully functioning.

Virgin Atlantic engineering teams installed the seats with assistance from Safran, the seat manufacturer, and AIM, which supplies the lounge area of the Virgin A350, known as “The Loft.” A further team from Safran are present to oversee the inflight entertainment and connectivity systems.

Sometimes, a low-cost solution is required to solve a potentially costly problem. Expensive D369 series election connectors line the floor of the cabin, waiting to be connected to the suites. With so much foot traffic and equipment moving around the cabin, the engineers fit tennis balls over the top of the connectors to keep them safe.

Down the back, the economy and Premium cabins were already fitted, just waiting for the protective plastic to be peeled off. The famous “new plane smell” was definitely present — even through my mask.

Ruby Slipper is now fully fitted and in service and you can catch her plying Virgin’s New York, Lagos and Los Angeles routes.

All photos by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

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