Virgin Atlantic recently revealed The Booth, a cozy corner developed through a collaboration with London-based Factorydesign for the leisure fleet of its 397-seat A350-1000 twinjets. These widebodies, which will serve sun spots, feature a smaller business class cabin with only 16 Upper Class suites in addition to 56 Premium seats and 325 economy seats.
For this leisure configuration, The Booth effectively takes the place of the The Loft found on Virgin’s regular A350s. It has been designed with tactile finishes, including Scottish leather seats and a pressed wool effect table.
The Booth is an exciting new cabin feature reveal at a time when those are somewhat rare. It could also be seen as a controversial decision by the airline, given that socializing onboard is discouraged by COVID-19 preventive measures.
We asked Factorydesign’s associate director, Matthew Fiddimore, to tell us a more about the design brief for The Booth.
“The brief developed organically through the early part of our collaboration with the wider Virgin Atlantic team, led on the design side by product designer Henry Buckley,” Fiddimore told Runway Girl Network. He said The Booth concept emerged from a much broader exploration of the whole aircraft layout and possible ‘destination space’ ideas.
Virgin Atlantic’s brand is famous for providing brilliantly unique customer experiences, and this ambition was central to the design brief from the very start.
With The Loft, Virgin Atlantic ran extensive customer insight sessions, and it resulted in the airline moving on from the iconic Bar. So with the leisure aircraft, we knew we would not be simply recreating a Bar.
Cabin customer ratios were tightly defined, with Fiddimore explaining: “[W]e knew that an exclusive 16-passenger Upper Class cabin would need a different type of social space from The Loft. The different customer numbers and profiles on these aircraft meant that the emphasis shifted from serving a large number of customers simultaneously to providing a space for two to three people. It was a very different brief from The Loft, which allowed Virgin Atlantic and us to explore a whole host of new and exciting ideas.”
Crucially, Virgin Atlantic and Factorydesign see The Booth as a destination space for couples or companions flying together in Upper Class, not a congregation space for strangers. That fits with the needs of passengers traveling in the current pandemic environment. Passengers may be less eager to hobnob with strangers in a cramped space, but they may welcome an opportunity to sit across the table with friends and loved ones.
“The leisure routes have a greater proportion of these passengers, so this was seen as a key factor in the design direction,” said Fiddimore. “The Upper Class cabin has a great balance of privacy in the suites complemented by this ‘break-out’ space for socializing. I think the inclusion of a cozy retreat within such an exclusive cabin is really quite charming. The Booth meshes with the overall cabin neatly to find the right balance of privacy while retaining the open connection with the cabin that is unique to Virgin Atlantic social spaces.”
Indeed, Virgin Atlantic touts the space as being “a luxurious spot just for two, to enjoy anything from a wine tasting experience, to a romantic dinner, a nightcap, or just a change of scene”.
It is always the case that space is at a premium on aircraft, which creates unique design challenges. The Booth on the Virgin Atlantic A350 was no exception. In terms of how the design team overcame the tight quarters, Fiddimore said: “The initial concept was refined and mocked-up a number of times in order to create the most usable space we could.”
He continued, “The Booth is completely open to the aisle for access but also to extend its perceived space beyond its physical footprint. We made a big step forwards when we fully integrated The Booth with the front-row seat architecture. This allowed us to maximize the space between the front row seat and The Booth, creating a comfortable seating area for two. It was an intensive team effort between Virgin Atlantic, the vendor, and ourselves.”
We also asked Fiddimore to share his favorite design elements of The Booth. “The floating table is a great success and creates a focal point for the space. It’s actually quite large and has a very minimal structure so that you can change seating position comfortably without any intrusion from it into your leg space,” he said.
“The other exciting feature is the tiled monitors. There are no windows in this part of the aircraft, so it was important to create depth by some other means. Different screen content can transform the space and also transport customers to another destination. This simple idea enables the space to be dynamic and fun and reflect the Virgin Atlantic brand to its fullest.”
Virgin assures there will be a range of content on the two panoramic 27” screens.
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Featured image credited to Airbus/Image: Airbus/Fixon-MMS