Virgin America

Virgin America lets people waiting at bus-stops explore its mood-lit cabin via Google Streetview

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This case appears in the upcoming December 2015 edition of the Airline Marketing Benchmark, a monthly report by and Simpliflying that identifies the latest innovative marketing campaigns recently launched by airlines around the world. Learn more »

Virgin America has turned bus shelters in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Chicago into digitally-immersive, out of home advertisements with the help of Google Street View. This campaign plays right into Virgin America’s popular image as the hip and edgy airline in the North American market.

The bus stops are completely covered in Virgin imagery and branding. People waiting at the special bus stops can use also huge touchscreen to navigate through one of Virgin America’s aircraft in precisely the same way they are used to doing on Google Street View (which now features similar interior views for airlines such as Emirates, Air France, British Airways and SAS).

The 360-degree virtual experience lets bus-takers explore an A320 cabin from front to back galley, and even enter the rows for a realistic “seat view.”

Virgin has blended the visual impact of large-scale out of home advertising with the futuristic allure of digital. When trying to impress people in a world saturated with marketing messages, sometimes more is more.

Virgin America’s ‘Seat View’ can be found on the airline’s website and is accessible through Google Maps – one simply need type in “Virgin America” plus the code of an US airport they service.

A web campaign aims to drive traffic the new feature. Clickable banners directing people to the feature have appeared online at The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc.

Virgin Atlantic launches Google Glass and Sony Smartwatch ‘wearable tech’ trial

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By Raymond Kollau,

Rapid developments in consumer technnology are a driving force behind many of today’s airline product and service innovations. For example, besides equipping their inflight pursers with tablets, airlines such as British Airways, Qatar Airways and Qantas have equipped their lounge concierges with iPads in order to offer a more personalised service to passengers on the ground.

London Heathrow Clubhouse
Now Virgin Atlantic is upping the technology ante and has started a six-week trial, together with airline IT provider SITA, to learn how wearable technology could improve the passenger experience and speed up the check-in process. “2014 is shaping up to be the breakout year for wearable technology, and Virgin Atlantic is the first to bring its vision to reality,” commented Jim Peters, chief technology officer for SITA, on the initiative.

The trial will see Virgin Atlantic concierges at its London Heathrow Clubhouse lounge getting equipped with wearable tech devices in an effort to give employees more information about Business Class passengers arriving at the ‘Upper Class Wing’, the airline’s premium entrance at Heathrow Airport dedicated to Business Class passengers.

Virgin Atlantic staff are equipped with either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch 2, which is integrated to both a purpose-built dispatch app built by SITA, and the Virgin Atlantic passenger service system. The dispatch app manages all task allocation and concierge availability. It pushes individual passenger information directly to the assigned concierge’s smart glasses or watch just as the passenger arrives at the Upper Class Wing.

The technology will enable staff to identify a customer, see their flight details and preferences, and then immediately starts the check-in procedure of the passenger. During the escorted process, weather and local events at their destination, including translating any foreign language information, will be given to the passenger until they reach the lounge. The personalised service can also store preferences for future trips, and eventually could tell Virgin Atlantic staff their passengers’ food and drink preferences.

SITA and Virgin Atlantics will also deploy Sony Smartwatches so that supervisors can evaluate staff requirements and availability.
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Virgin America lets passengers buy fellow flyers a cocktail via the IFE system

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By Raymond Kollau,

Virgin America’s in-flight entertainment and communications (IFEC) platform, known as Red, may very well be the world’s most feature-rich IFEC system. For example, the high-definition touch screens on each seatback feature live satellite television, the first ever seatback digital shopping platform, an open tab service, and interactive Google Maps with terrain view that tracks the flight’s location. Passengers can also use the system to chat with other passengers, play 3D games such as Doom, offset carbon emissions for their flight, or purchase snacks, meals, and beverages from their seats via Red. Flight attendants receive the orders via a tablet device and bring the ordered items to the seat.

Seat-to-seat delivery
The latest innovative feature Virgin America has added to the Red platform is a ‘seat-to-seat’ delivery service (images here and here), which lets passengers use their seatback touch-screen to send a cocktail, snack or meal to a fellow traveler onboard their flight using a digital seat map. Similar to the ‘open tab’ function on Red (passengers only have to swipe their credit card once per flight to make purchases), this is a smart way to increase the onboard sales by adding an element of fun to the experience.

“Get Lucky”
In true Virgin style, the airline is playing the flirting card to promote its new seat-to-seat delivery service, encouraging passengers to “send an in-flight cocktail to that friendly stranger in seat 4A – and then follow up with a text message using the seat-to-seat chat function also on Red.”

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson also helped introduce the new seat-to-seat feature with a tongue in cheek video called “Sir Richard Branson’s Guide to Getting Lucky at 35,000 Feet.” Read full article »

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Virgin America goes social and personal with new IFE system

By Raymond Kollau,

Virgin America, probably the most tech-savvy airline in the industry, plans to revolutionise its approach to customer service. Next year the airline will further upgrade its already advanced RED IFE system with a service built on’s Chatter social messaging tool. This will allow passengers to interact with the carrier via the entertainment screens on the back of seats during the flight to deal with “real-time problems that need real-time answers”, according to the airline’s CEO David Cush. Virgin America already allows passengers to message each other during a flight, but with Chatter they will also be able to interact with Virgin America support staff on the ground.

How it works
A CRM dashboard provides Virgin America customer service agents with information about each customer’s last three interactions on social media and their flight history, which allows them to send a targeted message.

For example, a customer tweeting about being worried about missing a flight will be served up a response via Chatter on the screen in front of their seat with information on how they can make their next connection. Customer service personnel on the ground could also take pro-active action to alert a passenger to a potential problem, such as a bag not having made it on the flight, through a pop-up alert on the screen.

Passengers, meanwhile, will find a personalized environment on their IFE system. For example, Virgin America is looking to not just give passengers details about their frequent flyer points, but also suggest entertainment and food & beverage choices on what they have watched before or eaten on previous trips, as well as airport maps of where they go to make connecting flights. The system also gives all passengers brief profiles on other passengers as a conversation starter for the seat-to-seat chat function.

Furthermore, passengers can contact Virgin America’s customer service staff via the IFE system to ask if they have been upgraded on the next leg of their travel and get quick feedback. When watching a movie, the IFE screen will signal passengers that they have received a notification from the airline.
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Virgin America passengers can register for the US elections at 35,000ft

By Raymond Kollau,

Virgin America on 14 August celebrated  its new service between San Francisco and Reagan National Airport in suburban Washington, D.C., with an election-themed inaugural flight. Along for the ride were presidential impersonators Jim Gossett as “Mitt” and Reggie Brown as “Barack,” who spent the flight chatting with travellers en route to the capital of the USA as they handed out American flags.

Another reason why “Barack” and “Mitt” joined passengers onboard the first flight was to help “get out the vote” at 35,000 feet, as part of a partnership between Virgin America and Rock The Vote, the largest non-partisan voter registration organization in the USA.

QR codes
In an effort to sign up 1.5 million new voters, Rock the Vote has been using non-traditional ways to engage the public, for example by placing QR codes on T-shirts, and as part of the registration drive with Virgin America, fliers on all Virgin America flights now can scan a QR code on the airline’s in-flight entertainment system in order to register to vote.

How it works: Passengers tap on the screen of Virgin America’s ‘RED’ seatback entertainment platform to select the voter registration page in the ‘Make a Difference’ section on the system. They then connect to the in-flight Wi-Fi system with their mobile phone and scan the QR code on the IFE page in order to receive an election registration app on their mobile device. Passengers can then choose either to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi and sign up immediately, or wait until they land to access the app and sign up to vote. Passengers can also make a donation to Rock the Vote by swiping their credit card, while on the inaugural flight each passenger received a Rock the Vote t-shirt.
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Innovative Airlines 2012: #7 Virgin America

By Brian Pillsbury

Number 7 on our 2012 list of the world’s most innovative airlines is ‘no-frills chic’ carrier Virgin America. Easy to recognize thanks to its iconic cabin lighting and hip and forward-looking approach to airline travel, Virgin America has firmly established itself as a favoured choice among the urban, tech savvy flying demographic. The ‘un-official airline of Silicon Valley’ is also the only U.S. carrier to install power and USB outlets in all seats, and was the first U.S. airline to offer in-flight Wi-Fi on all aircraft in the fleet. True to its brand image, one of the aircraft in the fleet pays homage to the late Steve Jobs by painting his famous quote “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” on the side, while another aircraft is named #nerdbird, thanks to the large number of Wi-Fi users travelling on the San Francisco-Boston route.

Based out of San Francisco International Airport, Virgin America has expanded from its initial focus on domestic long-haul point to point service to now include intermediate routes as it adds more destinations in the US. It also now flies to three popular holiday destinations in Mexico. The privately-held airline (an IPO is planned in 2013) airline has strived to transform the standard domestic air travel experience from something that often is a ‘mass-produced’ purely functional experience into something much more evocative and stylish. Starting with the check-in areas at many Virgin America terminals (such as at LAX), one immediately notices the soft beat of club music and distinct lighting that set the tone for a unique travel experience.

Quality instead of size
Virgin America continued to drive significant growth in 2011, expanding its fleet from 34 A320s in January 2011 to 51 aircraft in May 2012. The airline has not turned in a profitable year since beginning operations in 2007 and experienced a net loss of USD30.8 million for the fourth quarter of 2011 in which revenues rose 45 percent to USD276.8 million.

Nevertheless, Virgin America has aggressive expansion plans in mind and is targeting a number of new destinations in key US metropolitan areas. According to the airline’s CEO, David Cush, Virgin America was designed to be an airline for business travelers and, as such, wants to be present in the primary and dominant US business markets. Cush cited the influence of frequent flyer programmes and corporate sales programs as being the two greatest hurdles for a growing company like Virgin, but stated that, despite a tight economy and stiff competition, he believes that Virgin will prosper because of its unique services and amenities.
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Virgin America goes ‘hybrid’, adds wireless IFE into its RED entertainment system

Besides the growing number of airlines that are rolling out (or about to roll out) broadband Internet on their aircraft (e.g, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, SAS, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic), these days the buzz in in-flight entertainment is all about bringing media tablets such as the iPad into the cabin (e.g, Jetstar) and/or installing wireless IFE systems (e.g, American Airlines and Gol).

Further upping the ante, Virgin America – probably the most tech-embracing airline in the world – has announced it will roll out what it calls a “hybrid IFE&C platform.” Besides offering entertainment via embedded, seat-centric screens, the airline will also offer passengers wi-fi connectivity through their seatback system and their own personal devices, as well as offer wireless access to content stored on an onboard server.

Virgin America has selected Lufthansa Systems’ new BoardConnect platform for the next iteration of its Red in-flight entertainment and communications (IFE&C) platform. The new Red system, slated for a late 2012 release, includes larger, high-definition touchscreen seatback monitors, full wi-fi connectivity and four times more entertainment content. It will also allow passengers to connect their own electronic devices to the system pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight. “For example, if a passenger did not finish watching a film or TV show in-flight, they could save and download to their iPod and finish at their hotel,” said Abby Lunardini, VP of corporate communications for Virgin America.

Virgin America’s CEO David Cush said the system will allow the airline to offer passengers “the best of both worlds.” “Just offering a larger wi-fi pipe with no seatback entertainment as some of our competitors are doing is limiting given wi-fi bandwidth,” Cush said. “We want to give our travelers more options instead of fewer, including the ability to multitask across platforms – just as they do in their lives on the ground.” […] “Our focus on innovation is a core part of our business model and guest offering, and BoardConnect will allow us to […] pace the larger consumer trends in mobile technology.” Adds Virgin America’s Lunardini “This is a significant investment for us. “We want to stay ahead of the path … a lot of people fly with us because it. We’re an entertainment-driven brand.”
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Innovative airlines 2011: #8 Virgin America

Number 8 on our list is boutique low-cost carrier Virgin America. Launched in August 2007, the airline just reported its first net income and currently operates 34 aircraft with another 17 to be delivered in 2011. Virgin America has also just placed a 60-plane order which makes it the launch customer for the Airbus’ new A320neo jet, and expects to have a fleet of 80 to 110 planes by 2016.

With its iconic mood lighting, RED inflight entertainment system and social media savviness, Virgin America has quickly established itself as a hip operation tuned into the ‘digital lifestyle’. The ‘un-official airline of Silicon Valley’ is also the only U.S. carrier to install power outlets in all seats, and in May 2009 became the first U.S. airline to offer inflight WiFi fleetwide. In the past two years, Virgin America has also teamed up with Google to provide its passengers free WiFi during the holiday travel season. 

Further emphasizing its tech roots is Virgin America’s inflight entertainment system, called ‘Red’. Passengers can use ‘Red’ to watch live satellite television, chat with other passengers, play 3D games such as Doom, and offset carbon emissions for their flight. The system also alloes passengers to purchase snacks, meals, and alcoholic beverages from their seats via Red. Flight attendants receive the orders via a tablet PC on the food cart and bring the ordered items to the seat, thereby eliminating the traditional food and beverage service. 

Taking the RED system to a next level, Virgin America in mid-2010 added a number of innovative features to the system, including the first-ever seatback digital shopping platform, an open tab service, and Google Maps with terrain view. Virgin America worked with Panasonic and software firm CoKinetic to take Red to the next level, but the ideas came from Virgin America. Says Virgin America’s CEO David Cush. “If we were relying on CoKinetic and Panasonic to generate the ideas then everyone is going to have it. Inflight entertainment is a differentiator for us. We have creative people here, who probably think a little different than others.” 
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Virgin America uses location-based social network Loopt to promote new routes

We recently reported how airlines, airports and hotels are experimenting with the latest social media phenomenon, geo-social networks such as Foursquare. For example, Air New Zealand rewards Foursquare ‘mayors’ of the 12 regional airports in its network with free access to its lounge. 

Virgin America recently used location-based rewards network Loopt Star to draw attention to its new routes to Mexico. On 1 January 2011, the airline will start non-stop flights from San Francisco (SFO) to Cabo and from Los Angeles (LAX) to Cancun. In addition to a three-day fare sale, Virgin America on 31 August offered people who used Loopt Star to virtually check in at SFO and LAX airports and two taco trucks in LA and San Francisco, two tickets to Mexico for the price of one, while supplies last. The taco trucks also offered two-for-one tacos for USD1. 

To promote the offer both brands notified their Twitter followers and Facebook ‘likers’ via posts and tweets and generated an enormous buzz (video here). “By 11 a.m., we had hundreds of people already in line. We had a bride-to-be who was going to honeymoon in Cancun who came down to check in. We had whole groups of college-aged folks spilling out of minivans saying, ‘We all heard about this and we’re going to get our tickets for Spring Break [2011],'” said Alice Lankester, VP of marketing for Virgin America. In San Francisco, 1,300 people checked in, and 80 percent of those people have already bought tickets on Virgin America for flights. According to the airline, the Loopt promotion helped make it the fifth highest sales day in its history. Loopt has more than four million users, despite the fact that it is covered far less often than the smaller Foursquare. Read full article »

Virgin America raises the bar (again) with new IFE features

Virgin America has upgraded its ‘Red’ in-flight entertainment system with a number of innovative features, including the first ever seatback digital shopping platform, an open tab service, and Google Maps with terrain view. Already on Virgin America, passengers can use the IFE system to watch live satellite television, chat with other passengers, play 3D games such as Doom, and offset carbon emissions for their flight. Passengers can also purchase snacks, meals, and alcoholic beverages from their seats via Red. Flight attendants receive the orders via a tablet PC and bring the ordered items to the seat. 

The boutique airline is the first U.S carrier to eliminate the traditional Skymall print shopping catalogues, moving it to the seatback screen instead. Called ‘The Red Store’, passengers will be able to buy a range of products – some unique to Virgin America – via the touch-screen display or the Qwerty keyboard in the armrest. Products range from the Sony PSP to the latest Michael Kors tote, and shoppers also earn ‘Elevate’ frequent flyer points. To pay, passengers swipe their credit card through the reader in the IFE system and their purchases are delivered to their home or destination address seven days later. Read full article »

Free Wi-Fi on Virgin America flights, courtesy of Google

At a time when air travelers face fees for just about everything, Google and Virgin America are bucking the trend. The two companies are teaming up to provide passengers free Wi-Fi on all Virgin America  flights during the holiday travel season. Courtesy of Google, Virgin America will offer free inflight Wi-Fi for almost two months (from November 10, 2009 to January 15, 2010), which covers the three major travel periods in the U.S. (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year). Virgin America’s Internet service itself is delivered by in-flight broadband provider GoGo, and normally sells between USD6 and USD13, depending on the flight time and type of electronic device used. 

Virgin America hopes the free service persuades more new users to try out the Internet service, which the airline estimates currently 12 to 15 percent of its passengers are using. Email is the most popular activity, followed by working remotely and social media. For Google, picking up the tab for two months is a smart marketing move because it generates tons of good will among Virgin America passengers, a trend dubbed ‘Free Love’ by As Google explains: “The fundamental power of the Internet is in connecting people, and we hope this makes it a bit easier to stay connected with family and friends while you’re up in the air.”
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