New London train services from Sunderland and Sterling introduced by Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains East Coast launched a new range of services to London yesterday from Stirling and Sunderland in response to passenger demand for more early morning departures, Rail Technology Magazine has reported.

A number of local dignitaries travelled on-board both inaugural services, with the rail minister, Claire Perry MP, meeting the new Sunderland service at London King’s Cross Station. She also named the Virgin Train ‘Spirit of Sunderland’.

David Horne, managing director of Virgin Trains on its east coast route, said: ‘This is a hugely exciting day for us as we launch more services, and add Sunderland to the Virgin rail map.’

Virgin Trains has also announced that with immediate effect that it will operate a new evening service between Hull and Doncaster. The new service is intended to open up new travel opportunities for customers seeking to travel to London.

Perry said: ‘It is fantastic to see the start of these new services from Sunderland and Stirling. As a one nation government, we know that transport doesn’t just help hardworking people get around, it helps them get on.

‘These new services will provide better journeys for customers and boost economic ties between Scotland, the north east and London, stimulating growth and helping rebalance our economy.’

A fleet of 65 new Virgin Trains will also be introduced on the East Coast Main Line from 2018 under the Intercity Express Programme. These trains are being built by Hitachi at its plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

TIMETABLE

 

Sunderland to London

 

Sunderland dep: 05:40

 

London King’s Cross arr: 09.08

 

Stirling to London

 

Stirling dep: 05:26

 

London King’s Cross arr: 10.52

 

Hull to Doncaster

 

Hull dep: 20:28

 

Brough dep: 20:42

 

Selby dep: 21:03

 

Doncaster dep: 21.22

Delta, Virgin announce new route between New York JFK and Edinburgh

Delta and Virgin Atlantic Airways will commence a daily service from Edinburgh Airport direct to New York JFK starting May 27, 2016.

With the addition of Delta’s service to New York, passengers will have increased choice in both direct routes to New York, as well as better connectivity across all of North America via Delta’s extensive network and Sky Team alliance at New York JFK.

Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport, said, ‘Edinburgh to New York is a flagship route between two vibrant economic and cultural power houses. The strong bonds between Scotland and America are well known and we look forward to welcoming even more inbound visitors from throughout America to Scotland’s capital city, and similarly assist more Scots in visiting North America.’

Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, Keith Brown, said: ‘Scotland and the United States share strong cultural and economic bonds, so this new direct service between Edinburgh and New York will only serve to strengthen these links.

‘Of course, we could attract more direct international flights like this to Scotland by cutting rates of Air Passenger Duty, and I once again call on the UK Government to transfer these powers to the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible.’

Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland added: ‘We are delighted that Delta has chosen to launch a direct service from New York to Edinburgh. The United States continues to be our biggest international market for inbound tourism but there is always room for growth. Direct route improvements over the last two years have helped boost visitor numbers and this new route will tap in to Delta’s vast North American network opening up even more opportunities for US visitors to come to Scotland.’

The airline will offer all passengers on-demand access to in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the aircraft. Those travelling in the Delta One cabin will also benefit from full flat-bed seats and a range of personalised dining options.

Virgin Atlantic introduces 787-9 Dreamliner on Delhi-London route

British airline Virgin Atlantic is operating its 787-9 Dreamliner on the Delhi-London route – the first European carrier to operate the larger Boeing aircraft on this flight.

Virgin Atlantic operates seven daily flights every week from Delhi to London with many onward connections, including New York.

Passengers travelling on the maiden 787-9 Dreamliner flight to London from Delhi on March 31 were offered the chance to take a ‘First Flight Selfie’ whilst checking-in and boarding the flight from Delhi IGI airport. Virgin Atlantic has recently introduced the ultimate #SkyhighSelfie on its 787 aircraft, offering customers the opportunity to check in on Facebook and share their photos from 35,000 feet.

‘We’ve been serving and delighting our customers for 15 years from Delhi and the launch of the Dreamliner, with our latest cabin interiors, further demonstrates our commitment to India and enables us to build on the success of our Delhi route,’ Nick Parker, Head of India and Middle East for Virgin Atlantic said.

‘We know our Indian customers are going to love flying our Dreamliner. Every aspect has been meticulously designed to enhance their experience; not only seats and social spaces, inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi, but we’ve also invested in other areas that are so important to customers, including the onboard meal services. I’m delighted to confirm that we’ve increased the number of our fantastic local Indian crew on each flight, who along with our exceptional airport team, will deliver the personalised Virgin Atlantic service that our customers so love,’ he added.

The 787-9 Dreamliners are configured with 31 Upper Class, 35 Premium Economy and 198 Economy seats. Features offered onboard include access to Wi-Fi connectivity, the latest in-flight entertainment, dynamic mood lighting and cabin windows 65 percent larger than the industry standard.

 

Virgin Atlantic to offer 70Mb broadband services in -flight

Passengers travelling with Virgin Atlantic will soon be able to enjoy ultra-fast broadband services in-flight.

Global aero communications service provider Gogo has announced a partnership with Virgin Atlantic, owned by Sir Richard Branson, to offer in-flight connectivity services on Virgin Atlantic’s existing fleet of aircraft. With the agreement, the airline will become the first European carrier to offer Gogo’s 2Ku in-flight broadband solution, which offers download speeds of up to 70Mb over a local Wi-Fi network – from mid-2015.

‘Virgin Atlantic is on the cutting edge when it comes to delivering technology solutions to their passengers and we’re extremely excited to deliver the best connectivity solutions to keep their passengers connected anywhere they fly around the world,’ said Michael Small, Gogo’s president and CEO. ‘Virgin Atlantic’s relationship with Delta Air Lines will also allow us to build a seamless experience for passengers who fly both airlines.’

Reuben Arnold, Brand and Customer Engagement Director at Virgin Atlantic said: ‘We’re always looking at ways to enhance the on board experience for our customers and expanding in-flight connectivity across our fleet is just one of the ways in which we are doing this. We were impressed with Gogo’s connectivity solution and look forward to all of our customers being able to enjoy this service whilst they fly.’

The in-flight ultra-fast Wi-Fi is being launched as part of a £300 million fleet upgrade undertaken by Virgin Atlantic to improve customer experience.

Virgin Atlantic had earlier this month announced plans to update its network and make significant investment into the Virgin Atlantic customer experience. Under the plan, the airline has identified opportunities for investment into its transatlantic schedule, increasing its presence in the key UK – US travel market to maximise the benefits of its joint venture partnership with Delta Air Lines. The network changes will deliver up to five new daily transatlantic flights and see over 500 more Virgin Atlantic flights operate in summer 2015 compared to summer 2014.

Passengers and taxpayers ‘winners’ in new Virgin Trains West Coast contract

Virgin Trains, a UK-based train operator and a subsidiary of the Virgin group of companies, has claimed in a release on its website that passengers and taxpayers are the winners after its signing of a deal with the UK’s Department of Transport to operate the West Coast rail franchise.

The new deal will see Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin company operating the West Coast franchise until March 2017, with an option of a one-year extension. In return, the company is promising thousands of extra seats each day, free superfast WiFi for all customers, new direct services planned from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool, a rewards programme to add value for passengers, and payments to the taxpayer boosted by 58 percent.

2,100 net extra seats per day will be created by converting the First Class carriages of 21 Virgin trains to Standard Class. This will increase the number of Standard Class seats by 5,500 per day.

All 76 of Virgin’s Pendalino and Super Voyager trains will gain superfast Wifi, an innovation supported by rail authority, Network Rail, which intends to provide the necessary trackside infrastructure.

The new direct services from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool are expected to commence from December this year.

With the customer reward programme, customers that book tickets via the Virgin Trains website or mobile app will be able to earn Nectar points on their purchase by the end of summer.

The contract will see the Department of Transport receive a guaranteed £430 million from Virgin during the contract period, a 58 percent increase per annum. The DfT will also receive up to 100 percent of additional returns generated by Virgin Trains.

Patrick McCall, Virgin Trains executive co-chairman, said: ‘We’re delighted to have reached a deal after some tough negotiations with the DFT. It puts the problems of 2012 firmly behind us, and shows the clear benefits of a well-run franchise system.’

 

Airbnb tops traditional travel providers in online user experience

Relative newcomer Airbnb is ahead of traditional travel providers such as Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook in providing a first class digital user experience, according to independent research by user experience agency Webcredible.

The research followed a preliminary survey of over 500 British travel buyers, which found that 85% prefer to book their holidays online. Of these, 60% have eventually given up on their purchase and 79% have switched to a different travel provider due to challenges in the user journey.

In response, Webcredible conducted a review comparing how different types of travel providers deliver customer experience for users researching and booking holiday travel and accommodation online.

In its Travel Industry User Experience report, Webcredible mapped the online user journey and evaluated the usability of top travel providers’ websites and mobile applications. From a user’s perspective the travel providers were benchmarked against eight heuristics. The eight user experience heuristics were divided into a three step user journey, from discovery and inspiration to making a decision and then booking.

Under ‘Discovery and Inspiration,’ aspects covering researching for travel, providing review and recommendations as well as integration with social media channels were assessed. ‘Decision Making’ reviewed features such as providing accurate and timely travel information and product detail, e-mail marketing and the use of consistent branding across all channels and devices. And finally, ‘Booking’ assessed the site usability and the online booking process.

Against each heuristic, the travel providers were assigned a score and ranked in a travel user experience index.

Airbnb ranked first overall due to their exceptional website usability, simple booking processes and research options. Whereas traditional travel provider Thomas Cook came last due to the lack of brand interaction, poor use of email marketing and confusing booking processes. Other travel providers evaluated include Hotels.com, Virgin Atlantic, TripAdvisor, lastminute.com, Expedia, easyJet and Kuoni.

Webcredible Founder and CEO, Trenton Moss says: ‘Brands are generally providing a very high standard of online and app usability. There is room for improvement in some areas particularly among traditional/longstanding providers, possibly due to more complex internal operations. With mobile and social usage only set to increase, there is a new generation of providers ready to fill the niche in the online travel market.

‘It is no longer enough to simply have an online presence. The travel industry needs to capitalise on the vast opportunities available to interact and guide the consumer at every digital touchpoint and stage of their journey when booking a holiday.’

Virgin Holidays to challenge hotel liability claim

Virgin Holiday is appealing the court decision by a holidaymaker who claimed compensation for injuries after walking into a plate glass door in her bikini, The Telegraph has reported.

Moira Japp, was on the balcony of her suite at the Crystal Cove Hotel, in Barbados, and was wearing only her swimsuit, when she accidentally walked into the closed French windows leading into her room. The glass shattered and she suffered deep cuts all over her body.

Mrs. Japp sued Virgin Holidays in 2012. The operator was ordered to pay the 53-year-old £24,000 in damages, as it was judged that it should have ensured that the hotel was safe.

Virgin Holidays is challenging the decision at the Court of Appeal, saying that if upheld, the judgment would ‘create great difficulties for the tourist industry’ in applying British health and safety standards to foreign countries.

Sarah Prager, the lawyer representing Virgin Holidays, said in the Telegraph: ‘Travel agents, when they send people off abroad, if they are told that facilities have to comply with English notions of reasonableness that is going to create great difficulties for the English tourist industry in general.

‘Exporting English standards of reasonableness would give rise to lack of clarity – some nations are more risk averse than others.’

However Andrew Spencer, representing Mrs Japp, argued, saying: ‘When people book a package holiday, they are entitled to expect that the facilities are not unsafe.’

Mrs Japp, from Worthing, West Sussex, said: ‘It was a very small balcony and I am a very small person, and you don’t get much momentum going by walking about three feet. I was cut all over.’

Simon Lomax, a specialist in travel law, reportedly said that the cost of such claims was likely to be passed on to consumers in the form of price increases by holiday groups.

Judges are set to decide on the appeal at a later date.

 

Virgin Atlantic to resume daily direct flight from London to Cape Town

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic will resume its seasonal service to Cape Town, with daily flights connecting to London, on October 27.

Virgin Atlantic operates flights from Johannesburg to London throughout the year, and from Cape Town to London from October to March, when British holidaymakers plan to visit Cape Town’s warm beaches.

The airline has also improved its service schedule with the introduction of larger Airbus A340-600 equipment for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday flights from Cape Town. With the new service, Virgin Atlantic will offer almost 5,000 more seats on the Cape Town-Heathrow route than last year, and over 8,000 seats more than originally planned.

Simon Newton-Smith, the Virgin Atlantic general manager for South Africa, said that Virgin Atlantic is delighted to return to Cape Town with daily flights from the very start of the season. ‘We are returning with a larger ‘peak day’ aircraft than originally planned. The extra seats will provide a welcome boost to the Western Cape economy with the incremental income from international visitors expected to reach nearly R50m,’ he said.

Last October when Virgin Atlantic resumed its direct flights from Cape Town to London, Newton-Smith said, ‘Cape Town is one of the key tourist destinations in South Africa, with its beautiful beaches and surrounding wine estates. We want to make it easier for international travellers to visit the city. By introducing the direct flight for summer, we believe this will drive additional tourism to both London and Cape Town by offering convenience along with the unique Virgin experience our passengers love. The direct route also cuts down costs, whichever way you’re flying.’

Thulani Nzima, South African tourism chief executive officer, said that an additional airlift into South Africa is always great news. He added, ‘Tourist arrivals growth to South Africa has been consistently strong and European markets are recovering well after the global recession. Virgin Atlantic’s increased capacity directly from London into Cape Town is a boost for Cape Town Tourism and is an indication of consumer confidence in our destination.’

 

Virgin offers Upper Class ground service to all

Virgin Atlantic has decided to offer its Upper Class ground service to all passengers.

The company has introduced its new ‘Guest List’ product designed to offer a VIP travel experience for passengers in Economy and Premium Economy cabins before boarding the aircraft. Starting at £240 per person or from £340 per couple, passengers can enjoy ground-service benefits including limousine transfer to the airport, fast-track security and entry to Virgin’s Clubhouse lounges, services that are regularly offered to Upper Class passengers.

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Heathrow Terminal-3 was voted the world’s best airline lounge in the recent Ultratravel 100 awards. The facilities there include a spa that offers complimentary treatments and haircuts, a complimentary bar and full catering facilities.

The Upper Class ground service also includes ‘whisked through check-in’, use of the Upper Class Wing drop-off at London Heathrow or Curbside drop-off at London Gatwick, and to have passenger baggage tagged as Upper Class.

The service is available at London Gatwick, London Heathrow, New York JFK, Newark, Boston, Washington and San Francisco.

As cited by Telegraph Travel, for a November flight from Heathrow to New York, a one-way economy-class fare costs from £814.15; a premium economy-class fare costs £1,601.15. Upper Class fares for the same flight cost £4,751.15. Meanwhile, the outbound cost of a return journey between London and New York over the same period would cost from £278.65 in economy; £536.65 in premium economy; and £1,343.15 in Upper Class.

Last month, Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines unveiled a code-share agreement across 108 routes across North America and the UK.

 

Virgin Atlantic postpones delivery of A380 superjumbos

Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited has decided to delay taking the delivery of six A380 superjumbos that were ordered from Airbus SAS (EAD) over a decade ago, according to Bloomberg.

Virgin Atlantic, which placed an order for the double-deckers in 2000, has ‘deferred them yet again,’ with the first delivery now due in 2018 rather than 2017, said chief executive officer, Craig Kreeger. Among the first carriers to order the A380, Crawley, England-based Virgin was originally due to take the model in 2006.

However, the programme delays at Airbus and the global economic slump have prompted the airline to evaluate its own business model and assess whether it still required the world’s largest jetliner. ‘It’s hard but not impossible to see a world where we want to take the aircraft,’ Kreeger said, adding: ‘It’s not a clear choice.’

While most airlines are opting for new planes such as the A380 for fuel efficiency, Kreeger said that Virgin is focused more on the introduction of Boeing’s 787, with the first of 16 Dreamliner aircraft due in September 2014.

Boeing had several operational problems with the model, which was grounded for three months earlier this year following battery glitches. It was also undergoing investigation after a fire on an Ethiopian Airways Enterprise jet at London Heathrow on July 12.

‘We can’t ignore the technical issues Boeing has faced,’ Kreeger said, adding that any further anomalies would likely be sorted out by the time Virgin gets the plane.

He also said that the regulatory approval for an antitrust-immune joint venture with Delta Air Lines, which holds a 49 percent stake in Virgin, should be received before the year’s end.

Kreeger, who took over as CEO on February 1, is currently pursuing a turnaround plan for the ailing company to revive earnings by 2015.