Long-haul flying can be a tough test of endurance at the best of times. Cramped into a aircraft cabin for hours, crossing multiple time-zones and finally arriving at a faraway airport when you’re tired and weary. But at least you have your destination to look forward to. Even Cabin Crew get to spend a couple of days relaxing in their new city.
But how about taking a 12-hour flight to nowhere? Doesn’t really sound appealing does it but that’s exactly what 13 Flight Attendants working for Virgin Atlantic did last Thursday. Their journey started off in Toulouse, the home of aircraft manufacturer Airbus. And after all those hours in the air, it ended right where it started, back in Toulouse.
Luckily, there was a very good reason for this bizarre flight to nowhere. Along with 310 passengers who had actually volunteered to be onboard, the flight was the first long-haul test of the new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
Putting the Cabin Environment to the Test
This was an opportunity for Airbus employees to put the aircraft to the test in the real-world. How would all the gadgets like the in-flight entertainment system, lighting, acoustics and even the lavatories work in reality?
Though Airbus claims the certification process for the A350-1000 is going well, this flight wasn’t even part of the official programme. Instead, a spokesperson explained, it was a chance to “optimise cabin procedures to ensure full maturity at Entry Into Service.”
Airbus is hoping the A350 will be popular with both airlines and passengers. So what makes it so special? Sometimes called the A350XWB – standing for ‘Extra Wide Body‘ the cabin is wider than similar sized aircraft – meaning there’s more room for you and me to stretch out. Seats in the Economy Class cabin will come in a standard width of 18 inches.
In comparison, Emirates – awarded the World’s Best Airline title by Skytrax – has seats that are only 17 inches wide on its Boeing 777 fleet. The aircraft also features the ‘Airspace’ concept with ambient lighting, a quieter cabin and a unique design to create a sense of calm.
Some carriers are already flying the A350-900 version with which the new aircraft shares 95% of the same parts and design. But at 72.25m (237ft 0.5in), the stretched version can accommodate 40 more passengers than its little sister. It’s also powered by the new Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine which is said to be the world’s most efficient large aero-engine.
With the new engines and state-of-the-art design, Virgin hopes to cut CO2 emissions by 30%, compared to the ageing Boeing 747’s and Airbus A340-600’s that the new aircraft will replace.
What Routes Will it First Fly?
The Crawley-based airline has placed an order worth $4.4billion USD at list price and is one of 12 launch customers of the new aircraft. Deliveries are expected to start in early 2019 with Virgin’s order of 12 aircraft completed by the end of 2021.
The question is, how can you be sure you’ll get to experience the A350 when you book a flight with Virgin? The jets will be initially used for key U.S. routes and will be flying from both London Heathrow and Gatwick. Aircraft will be configured separately for business and leisure markets, seating 360 and 410 passengers respectively.
The airline has already announced the pricing for in-flight wi-fi which will be fitted across the fleet. A 24-hour access pass will cost £14.00 (approximately $19 USD).
Craig Kreeger, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO has said the order demonstrates the airline’s “focus on investing in the future for our customers and our people, and confirms the strength of our business.”