New heights: new ‘drink-by-seat’ style seat for first class in 2021

Travellers will be able to order a glass of champagne at departure and switch seats within 30 seconds, says the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic

Jet setting business travellers could start ordering drinks for their fellow passengers in 2021 as part of an overhaul of first class seating on planes, according to Virgin Atlantic.

The airline has appointed entrepreneur Richard Branson’s son Sam to head a team that will develop new designs for business class, including seats that allow passengers to order liquor and fruit juice while in flight. He has suggested it could speed up a journey by 20 minutes.

Using advances in technology, Branson believes he can improve customer satisfaction by putting more power back into passengers’ hands, allowing them to make changes to their seats as they go.

To start with, airline seats will have iPads on which passengers can order a drink. With the tip of their fingers they can choose between bubbly, rosé, wine or pina colada.

Sam Branson said passengers would then switch seats using touchscreens, opening the way for a looser arrangement with laptops, smartphones and tablets, allowing frequent flyers to make regular updates in the cabin.

Virgin Atlantic’s new business class seats may shorten the air commute between London and New York Read more

Branson explained: “I want Virgin Atlantic to go one further … we are going to go one step further. When the ticket goes on sale we want to show how we can cut the journey time by 20 minutes.

“You will only go on holiday once so why have an impediment to getting into the holiday earlier? We have been doing all the technology to bring it all together.”

Planes could be configured with 20 rear-facing seats per row and 20 forward-facing seats in the same configuration. However, the airline has yet to announce where it would install new business class seats, although Branson said American carriers were among those he had spoken to about the idea.

Branson said he was confident that new technology and custom-designed seats would revolutionise business class travel by 2030.

The Virgin boss made the comments as he announced a major overhaul of Virgin Atlantic’s business class experience, a year after it was promoted as one of the best business-class experiences in the world at the World Travel Awards.

Branson said that the new system would go into full pilot production next year and that the airline would add first-class seats by 2023.

The new business class seats will feature reclining seats, with data screens to show passengers how long they were travelling in total. They will also be designed to have privacy walls.

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