Virgin Atlantic set to commence Google Glass pilot scheme

As part of its efforts to improve customer service, Virgin Atlantic is set to launch a Google Glass and wearable technology pilot among its Upper Class staff, according to a report by The Telegraph.

In an industry first, concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing, which serves business class passengers, will be using Google Glass and other wearable technology to start the check-in process. The pilot scheme is expected to run for six weeks.

Google Glass is intended to help staff to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination, and translate any foreign language information. The new technology is also intended to advise airline staff of their passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences in the future.

Dave Bulman, director of IT, Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘While it’s fantastic that more people can now fly than ever before, the fact that air travel has become so accessible has led to some of the sheen being lost for many passengers.

‘By being the first in the industry to test how Google Glass and other wearable technology can improve customer experience, we are upholding Virgin Atlantic’s long tradition of shaking things up and putting innovation at the heart of the flying experience.’

The company will also test iBeacon with its Upper Class passengers at Heathrow. This is a new, low-powered Bluetooth transmitter that will update iOS users with regard to nearby services, discounts and updates on their flight boarding schedules.

Virgin Atlantic has previously introduced a number of technological innovations, becoming the first airline to allow mobile connectivity and SMS texting on board in 2011. 3G is now available on all 10 of Virgin Atlantic’s A330 aircraft, and Wi-Fi is currently being trialled on three of these. All 16 of Virgin Atlantic’s 787s will have the latest 4G technology available on board, the report noted.

The company was also among first airlines to offer individual TVs to its business class passengers in the late 1980s.

Virgin to appeal against CAA’s decision over airport charges

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is considering an appeal against the decision by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over airport charges, The Travel mole has reported.

Virgin Atlantic CEO, Craig Kreeger, said that the airline was ‘baffled’ at the CAA’s decision in October, which suggested that prices rise in line with inflation.

The statement comes after the CAA published its final decisions on economic regulation at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, to be effective from April 2014, offering passengers lower prices and high service standards. At Heathrow, the CAA’s price control decision will see prices fall in real terms by 1.5 percent per year between 2014 and 2019. The changes are introduced after passenger traffic forecasts strengthened from October, and the cost of capital has been revised.

Kreeger said: ‘Today’s decision is a far cry from the reduction needed to mitigate the incredibly steep price rises customers have seen in Heathrow airport charges in the last few years. Prices at Heathrow are already triple the level they were 10 years ago, and coupled with ever increasing Air Passenger Duty, customers flying to and from the UK are facing some of the highest travelling charges in the world.

‘Virgin Atlantic is totally committed to improving the passenger experience at Heathrow, but we believe this could have been achieved with a more significant reduction in charges. We will be carefully considering our right to appeal on behalf of our passengers who will ultimately pay the price for the CAA’s decision.’

With a regulation based on the airport operator’s own commitments to its airline customers, the CAA is backing the commitments with a licence, to allow itself to step in to protect users if there are reductions in service quality that are against the passenger interest.

Virgin also accused the CAA of laxity with its regulation at London Gatwick.

‘We hope the CAA will properly hold Gatwick Airport and its shareholders to account in order to improve its price offer to its airline customers,’ said Kreeger.

‘If it fails to do so, coupled with looser regulatory controls, we are concerned that the CAA is failing in its statutory obligation to protect passenger interests, and will consider our right to appeal on their behalf,’ he added.

Virgin Atlantic to double cabin baggage over Christmas, organises festive choir

Virgin Atlantic is planning to double the complimentary baggage allowance on its domestic service, Little Red, from Boxing Day to February 2, The Edinburgh Reporter said in a report.

The baggage promotion will run from Boxing Day (December 26) to February 2 on flights between Aberdeen or Edinburgh and London Heathrow. Under the scheme, passengers traveling between Aberdeen or Edinburgh and London Heathrow can check in two 23kg bags each, plus additional sports luggage free of charge.

Additionally, Little Red flights to and from Aberdeen will be available for a sale fare from £99 for the same period, further reducing the cost over Christmas. Edinburgh return flights to Heathrow can be booked from just GBP88.

The additional baggage allowance for Little Red is intended to be helpful to shoppers, as well as those visiting family and friends over the festive period, allowing them to shop in London and transport the luggage for free.

Virgin Atlantic is also serving those last minute passengers traveling home for Christmas, with Little Red being the only public transport option for travel between London and Edinburgh on Christmas Day, with all other air and train services cancelled.

Over the past weekend, Little Red LIVE treated flyers from London to Edinburgh with a Christmas welcome from Neston based Community choir, Hip and Harmony.

The 11-strong choir’s Christmas classics included Winter Wonderland and White Christmas, complete with a beat boxing Santa Claus.

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic founder and president said: ‘We launched Virgin Atlantic Little Red this year to shake up domestic flying in the UK. Our beat box Santa and festive choir is another example of our unrivalled customer service. In true Virgin Atlantic spirit we did something a little different by providing our passengers with some additional festive cheer and fun while they fly! ‘

Virgin Atlantic Little Red LIVE was launched in August, when a series of Little Red flights between Heathrow and Edinburgh were transformed into the 274th Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue, hosting stand up performances by popular comedians, Joe Lycett and Lee Nelson, in the air.

Virgin Atlantic to charge passengers for seat reservations

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic (VA) is planning to charge passengers £25 to reserve their seat in advance from next year, according to reports.

Citing a notification on Virgin’s website, the Telegraph said that the fees of £50 for a round-trip long-haul flight will be introduced from April 1 on flights from Gatwick to Las Vegas.

The same charge will be introduced on services flying to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Australia from the beginning of May. Customers on all remaining routes will be charged for selecting their seat from June 1, 2014. Passengers flying between the UK and Tokyo will remain exempt from the charge, Travelmole said in its report

Seat reservations will remain free of charge for those looking to book their seats within 24 hours of take-off. However, if passengers want to select a specific seat any earlier they will have to pay.

‘If fewer passengers choose seats in advance we would be able to re-seat most passengers in very similar seats to their original choices,’ Travelmole quoted a VA spokeswoman as saying. She said that the charge was being introduced as it was impossible to guarantee every seat chosen in advance, due to last-minute changes in the type of aircraft operating a route.

‘So from 1 May 2014 we will be introducing a charge to choose your economy seat in advance,’ she added.

The £25 per person, per flight charge on Virgin’s long-haul services will be reduced to £8 per person, per flight on Little Red domestic flights.

Passengers will be able to reserve their seat at the time of booking up to 336 days in advance. The fee will not apply to unaccompanied minors or to disabled passengers

Virgin’s competitor, British Airways, already charges £25 per flight (£50 return) if passengers want to select their seats on long-haul flights. Ryanair has announced that all of its flights will have allocated seating from February, after easyJet made a similar move.

Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red registers 250,000 passengers in six months

Virgin Atlantic’s new domestic service, Little Red, is celebrating success after flying more than 250,000 passengers in the first six months of its launch.

Virgin Atlantic launched Little Red in March, with the service also operating from Aberdeen and Edinburgh to Heathrow, with onward links to popular destinations like Shanghai, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Mr. Joe Thompson, who has been charged with launching and operating the service, reportedly told the Manchester Evening News, ‘I’m proud of Little Red. Look at what we’ve achieved over the last six months, building a new branch of our business that customers say they are loving, that’s operating brilliantly, and seeing passenger numbers growing.’

Commenting on the launch of Little Red, Mr Thompson said: ‘When we launched it, it was something new and different for Virgin Atlantic, for us to go into the domestic routes after 30 years of long haul.

‘There was a certain amount of nervousness. What I’m really excited about is that we have managed to find a new way of flying in short haul.’

Virgin Atlantic deploys 174-passenger A320s to take four round trips from Manchester to Heathrow every day. Nearly 75 percent of all passengers catch connecting international flights.

What makes Little Red unique is its touch of ‘glamour and style,’ said Mr. Thompson, who became director of short haul and new venture performance in March. ‘You don’t see much of that in the travel arena these days.

‘We really think about what the customer wants. The basics are there – we operate on time, with good connections, but there are also the twists and quirks that really surprise people. These include handing out Love Heart sweets, an extra piece of free hold luggage, and a free sports gear allowance too.’

Mr. Thompson, who was previously in charge of the global airport operation, added that Virgin Atlantic will also increase capacity on its long haul flights from Manchester.

‘Manchester is a growing market and we are always looking at future opportunities. There are a wealth of possible destinations and we are not ruling out direct routes to China,’ he said.

Virgin and Delta Airlines set to commence commercial venture

Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic are set to commence their commercial venture, sharing revenue and flights between the UK and USA, after receiving antitrust immunity from the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

Accordingly, the two airlines will jointly offer a total of 32 flights a day between the UK and the US starting next spring. These include a new schedule of flights between Heathrow and JFK from March 30, 2014, with seven direct services a day on the route. Three of these will depart Heathrow in the morning, followed by three afternoon departures between 14.00 and 17.35, with another leaving in the evening.

On the return leg, one will depart JFK at 7.40, followed by evening departures every half hour between 18.30 and 20.30, and then two hourly departures until 22.30.

Of the 32 total flights, 24 will operate between Heathrow and popular destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington. The services will be complemented by two daily flights between Newark airport and Heathrow.

In their filing to the DOT, Delta and Virgin Atlantic said nearly 60 percent of the slots at Heathrow were controlled by British Airways and American Airlines partnership. ‘By combining Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow slots and U.K. brand strength with Delta’s powerful US network, the joint venture will offer significant competition in the market and benefit consumers on both sides of the Atlantic,’ the filing said.

Following the approval, Ed Bastian, Delta’s president said: ‘We are delighted that the Department of Transportation recognises that the immunised partnership offers significant advantages to customers. The freedom to cooperate fully with Virgin Atlantic will initiate a new era of greater competition in the New York to London market where it is much needed. We have a proven record in making joint ventures succeed and we look forward to building our relationship with Virgin Atlantic.’

Craig Kreeger, Virgin’s CEO, added: ‘Today represents a huge opportunity for both Virgin Atlantic’s passengers and our business. Our partnership with Delta means we will be able to offer convenient aligned schedules and a much broader network, giving the best possible travel choices and on board experience to trans-Atlantic passengers.’

Virgin Atlantic launches new World Elite MasterCard credit card

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic and Bank of America have announced the launch of the new Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard credit card and the long-term renewal of their co-brand partnership.

The new Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard credit card rewards cardholders with three miles for every $1.00 spent on Virgin Atlantic purchases, and 1.5 miles for all other purchases.

‘The new credit card programme allows us to give our customers an extraordinary experience, both on the ground and in the air,’ said Chris Rossi, senior vice president, Virgin Atlantic North America. ‘Joining forces with Bank of America and MasterCard ensures our international travellers can use their credit cards easily-whether they’re in London, our other worldwide destinations or their own neighbourhoods.’

Cardholders can earn miles every day that can be redeemed for rewards that include upgrades, Virgin Atlantic flights and partner flights with Delta Air Lines and Virgin America. Specific Flying Club miles earned through the card include:

Three miles per $1.00 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases

1.5 miles per $1.00 spent on all other purchases

Up to 40,000 bonus miles in the first year

20,000 bonus miles after first purchase

Up to 15,000 annual bonus miles after every anniversary

Up to 5,000 bonus miles for adding additional cardholders to existing accounts

Tier points to help achieve or maintain Flying Club Silver or Gold status

Jeff Norwine, affinity banking executive at Bank of America, said, ‘Bank of America is proud to continue its long partnership with Virgin Atlantic. We recognise Virgin Atlantic’s need to deliver an outstanding value proposition to Flying Club members, and this new World Elite MasterCard programme will allow travellers to journey farther and enjoy more of what the world has to offer along the way.’

MasterCard is the exclusive US network for the Virgin Atlantic co-brand portfolio.

Craig Vosburg, group executive of U.S. Market Development for MasterCard, said, ‘Travellers have told us that acceptance matters. This understanding of core traveller needs-combined with MasterCard’s global acceptance footprint-serves as the foundation for a strong value proposition for Virgin Atlantic flyers.’

Those Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members that earn miles will also have access to MasterCard Priceless Cities, which is a programme that brings consumers closer to their passion points by offering access to handpicked experiences and offers in their home cities and around the world, including access to concerts, restaurants, museums and sporting events.

Virgin Atlantic opens Ceviche pop-up at London Heathrow

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic has partnered with ‘Ceviche,’ one of London’s most popular restaurants, to offer the first ever pop-up restaurant at an airport.

Housed in the loft area of London Heathrow’s award winning lounge, the pop-up will be available to Upper-Class customers travelling through Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse from August 12 to August 18. ‘Ceviche’, which is London-based, is a Peruvian restaurant in Frith Street, Soho.

The Ceviche pop-up will serve Peruvian dishes to passengers from 12 to 12:30 pm for one week only. The menu includes Drunk Scallops, which is king scallops serviced with pomegranate, Pisco and coriander oil and Ensalada de Quiona.

Commenting on the development, Mark Murphy, Clubhouse food and beverage executive for Virgin Atlantic said: ‘Our aim at Virgin Atlantic is to constantly surprise our customers when they travel with us. Ceviche is famous as one of the most exciting new cuisines around and we are so pleased to be partnering with them to open the first ever pop-up restaurant in our Clubhouse at Heathrow. It’s our aim to offer Upper Class customers an ever-changing experience and this will give them the chance to enjoy the tastes of Lima with the buzz of Soho before they fly.’

Martin Morales, founder of Ceviche said: ‘At Ceviche we love doing things people have never done before. Innovation is key in what we do and above all it’s fun to do new stuff. We love serving Peruvian food, dishes and cocktails and so we are excited by our collaboration with Virgin Atlantic. There has never been a pop-up at an airport and we think the combination of our world-class food with Virgin Atlantic’s world-class Clubhouse is perfect. It’s only on for a week so it’s a real one off treat for us all.’

The Virgin Atlantic Heathrow Clubhouse also claims to provide a top class pre-flight experience for customers, including a range of Dr Hauschka treatments in the spa, a haircut, a game of pool in the Den, or a cocktail at the 14 metre long bar.

Virgin Atlantic brings live entertainment to flyers at 30,000 feet

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is set to launch Little Red Live, a series of live in-flight entertainment slots at 30,000 feet, for some of its passengers travelling on the Virgin Atlantic Little Red domestic service.

Passengers on selected Little Red flights from London Heathrow to Edinburgh and Manchester will be treated to exclusive live music and comedy sets from some of the rising stars in entertainment.

Little Red Live will be launched with a series of stand-up gigs during the popular Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Virgin Atlantic will also be bringing Little Red to the Fringe, with the sponsorship of Venue150 @ EICC, one of the festival’s largest venues. Then, in September, Little Red Live will launch a series of secret acoustic music gigs, honouring Scotland and Manchester’s rich music scenes.

Little Red service flies from London Heathrow six times daily to Edinburgh, three times daily to Aberdeen, as well as four daily round-trips between Manchester and Heathrow.

The Little Red LIVE line-up will be announced during August on Virgin Atlantic’s facebook and twitter channels, but the flight details will remain a secret, making it a unique and surprising experience for passengers.

Besides entertainment, Little Red will offer Virgin Atlantic’s customer service, including a free checked-in baggage allowance of 23kg, free carriage of sports equipment, pre-assigned seating, complimentary snacks and drinks and also hot breakfasts on early morning flights. Tyrrells will provide special Little Red ‘Plane crisps’ made from miniature potatoes, Bacardi Martini will provide a variety of exclusive miniature spirits, and Scotland’s favourite soft drink, Irn Bru, will be available on flights to and from Scotland.

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic founder and president, said, ‘We launched Virgin Atlantic Little Red to shake up domestic flying in the UK and this latest activity highlights why our customer service is second to none. In true Virgin Atlantic spirit we’re doing something a little different and providing our passengers with a line-up of gigs to ensure we offer a truly unforgettable flying experience on Little Red.’

Virgin highest rated travel company on Sunday Times Top Track 100

Virgin Atlantic, a trans-Atlantic air carrier and part of the Virgin group of companies, is the biggest selling travel company for 2012 on the Sunday Times Top Track 100 list.

The Sunday Times league table ranks Britain’s top 100 private companies with the fastest growing sales over the last three years. Along with its sister company, Virgin Holidays, Virgin Atlantic increased its sales by five percent to a total of £2.9 billion in 2012, and while these sales figures could not prevent the company from registering a £35 million loss for the period, they were good enough to achieve 12th position on the Sunday Times list, higher than any other travel related company.

Other notable travel company listings were Acromas, the parent company of Saga Holidays and the AA, which was in 20th place due to a sales increase of 15 percent to a total of £2.1 billion; and Merlin Entertainments, an attractions firm, which achieved 48th position in the table with sales of £1 billion. Bourne, Leisure, the parent company of British holiday icons, Butlins, Haven and Warner, dropped from 67 on the list to 71, with £839 million in sales last year, while Monarch Holdings, the parent company of airlines Monarch and Cosmos, registered a sales increase of nine percent to £825 million, and claimed 73rd position on the list.

The report concluded, ‘With signs of gradual economic recovery at home and lucrative opportunities in growth markets overseas, it will be a busy year for all the companies in this year’s Top Track 100.’