In part 3 of the series, we examined the experiences Virgin America for pre-flight and at the airport. This part will conclude the series and will focus on the experience on board, Virgin America’s fiscal year 2014 results and strategic opportunities for growth.
On Board Experience
Virgin America has two type of aircrafts in operations both manufactured by Airbus. On board, the major difference between the two are the number of seats installed. The smaller version A319 has 119 seats (8 First Class, 12 Main Cabin Select and 99 Main Cabin). The A320 has the same number of First Class and Main Cabin Select seats but have between 27 to 30 more Main Cabin seats.
On both types of the Airbus A319 and A320 aircrafts, Virgin America uses seats from Recaro with custom cushioning.
First Class features white leather seats in a 2-2 configuration with controls for recline and leg rest. Headrests are moveable and have flaps additional comfort.
Main Cabin Select and Main Cabin use a contrast black leather seat with a better sliding table design for the Main Cabin select option.
When these seats were introduced, they were considered the best for the market they operates. Main Cabin (economy) seats are still some of the most comfortable ones used currently. The First Class seat design has been eclipsed in 2014 by JetBlue with MINT and both American Airlines and United Airlines introduced lie flat seat products for transcontinental routes.
Inflight Entertainment System (IFE)
Virgin America features an inflight entertainment system (IFE) called Red(R) which features a good selection live tv, movies, music, tv shows, music and games. It was the first US domestic airlines to introduce a chat function on the IFE. All the entertainment options are free for First and Main Cabin Select passengers. Live TV is free for travellers in the Main Cabin and the options cost from US$2-8 each (Refer to this table for the exact fee schedule). This is consistent with the implementation on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.
Every seat has a USB and AC power ports for use. Wi-Fi is available on all flights and cost between US$4.95-34.95 for all passengers via Gogo.
Since its introduction, Virgin America have been known and awarded for their food service. In First Class, meal options are changed seasonally and feature a tray service with a good sized portion of salad and main course. Desserts are brought out after the main course was completed. Additional food service is catered for longer flights (Refer to this link for the food offered currently by selecting First Class in the food section).
In Main Cabin Select will receive free food such as sandwich, protein options and breakfast items depending on the time of the flight. Main Cabin passengers will also have access to purchase these food items.
One interesting note is that all passengers can use their IFE to access and order food items. This was an industry first for an US based airline.
Virgin America was one of the first US airlines to have fleet wide mood lighting systems installed to ease jetlag. It continues to have some of the more entertaining safety videos in the industry.
Strategic Growth Opportunities
Virgin America was a pioneer when it opened for business in 2007. It’s service quality and amenities on board still ranks one of the best in the industry. However, competitors are catching up in all areas in during ticket booking, at the airport and on board.
Here is a list of items Virgin America should consider to bring itself one step ahead while continue to provide good value to passengers:
1. Introduce a mobile application solution that will allow passengers to book, monitor and check in on flights. This is something at a hip social media conscious airline should have. An application also also increase agents’ time for managing more complicated travel issues.
2. Expand its Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) and New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) markets to create a bigger network within the US and to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
3. Consider a link up with a hotel chain for cross promotions. This could bring a new set of passengers into the airline.
4. Instead of spending money on more dedicated clubs, consider expanding the gate area in selected cities with amenities such as USB/AC power ports and desks for passengers waiting for flights. Boarding gate screens can be upgraded to include more information such as weather, meal service information and a unique Virgin America catch phrase.
5. First class seats should be re-imagined by the airline’s 10th anniversary to be more competitive with similar airlines.