Yup, Virgin Atlantic seems to be keen on bringing about the apocalypse. They’re actually going to be removing a number of Upper Class seats from their 747-400 configuration and replacing them with coach seats. Even stranger, they’re doing so in the “exclusive” upper deck zone of the 747s. And so there it is – mixing the passengers in the same cabin area on an airplane with no real separation between the two. Even intra-Europe narrow-body planes usually have a curtain or something.
The forward part of the upper deck will still be designated as the snooze zone, reserved for folks who want a quieter ride so they can sleep on the flight rather than eat, drink or chat. But instead of another 10 passengers behind them upstairs there will now be 33 passengers. Sure, there is the small exit row space separating the groups but the only lavatory is in the front (Virgin says they’ll fix that but there doesn’t seem to be room) and tripling the number of passengers is always going to increase the noise level.
But they need to make money and if they aren’t getting it in the old config (left) then they don’t really have too much choice. I guess they could try dropping them down to Premium Economy seats instead. After all, that is supposedly the fasted growing segment of long-haul travel. But they’d probably only get about 16 PE seats in where they are getting 33 coach seats so the incremental gain wouldn’t pan out financially. On the main deck there isn’t much room to work with because of the way the cabin is laid out with the bar and the Premium Economy cabin. Maybe replacing the 14 seats in the nose with coach seats would have worked but that’s more seats lost and you still have the coach passengers mixing with the business class folks.
It turns out that Virgin Atlantic isn’t alone in this type of configuration. Air New Zealand has a similar arrangement on their 747s, though with Premium Economy upstairs, not regular economy. But those two seem to be the only ones.
I know that it doesn’t really matter: people are people and there are plenty of arrogant asshats in the business class seats just like in the coach section. But part of the appeal of buying up to the premium cabin – and especially the upper deck – is the exclusivity of it. And that is going away. Bummer.