By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com
10 February 2014 | 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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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com
23 April 2013 | 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.
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.
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 »
By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com
17 October 2012 | 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 Salesforce.com’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 Salesforce.com-based 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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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com
27 August 2012 | 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.
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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By Brian Pillsbury
21 May 2012 | 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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25 September 2011 | 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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29 April 2011 | In recent years, airlines have been experimenting with a wide range of non-traditional distribution channels, a development dubbed ‘Pricing Pandemonium’ by trendwatching.com. Examples include flash sales, happy hours, Facebook and Twitter-only fares, eBay and reverse auctions, as well as vouchers offered for sale in supermarkets and newspaper kiosks.
Airlines are using these new platforms to temporarily offer heavy discounts without disturbing their main distribution channels. However, after initial experiments, some airlines also have made some of these new channels a more mainstream feature. For example, Tnooz reports that Air New Zealand has recently turned its popular reverse auction into an always-on service. ANZ’s ‘GrabASeat’ auction originally launched around three years ago and was only used ad-hoc to shift seats on specific occasions. However, as it did attract a reasonable following, the airline now offers a ticket deal through reverse auction every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day.
The latest online phenomenon that has caught the eye of airlines is Groupon, a web site and e-mail service that offers extremely discounted deals only if enough people sign up. Subscribers must first pay for a Groupon (‘group coupon’) that unlocks the deal. Typical offers include discounted hotel stays, spa treatments and restaurants and Groupon makes money by keeping approximately half the money the customer pays for the coupon. Groupon rapidly became hugely popular and is credited for making virtual coupon-clipping exciting by having offers expire after just a few hours and cancelling them if they do not attract a minimum number of buyers.
Launched in November 2008, Groupon already had over 50 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2010 and in December 2010 turned down an USD 6 billion takeover bid by Google. Meanwhile, Groupon’s success has attracted numerous competitors, including Facebook, which has just started a similar service called ‘Deals on Facebook’.
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6 January 2011 | 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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Airlines in the U.S. team up with brands to offer travellers free amenities during the holiday season
15 December 2010 | Faced with ever more experienced consumers, who routinely ignore the commercials and ads thrown at them, brands have to find new ways to break through the advertising clutter to reach and engage consumers. In the spirit of the holiday season (which in the U.S. starts at the end of November with Thanksgiving), airlines in America have partnered with brands such as Google, Microsoft and Chase Cards to offer their customers free, sponsored services that make life a little bit easier. Ofcourse, the brands hope that offering some ‘generosity’ will get them a bit of sympathy in return.
Virgin America, Delta, Airtran & Google Chrome
From November 20 through January 2, 2011, Virgin America, Delta, and AirTran offer free inflight WiFi on all domestic flights, courtesy of Google. Google offers the free WiFi to promote its Chrome Internet browser and it projects that 15 million passengers will use the free service this holiday season. The carriers were chosen because their entire domestic fleets are outfitted with GoGo’s inflight WiFi. Passengers can use any browser they wish while surfing the Web but will be invited to download Google Chrome upon landing. As part of the promotion, Delta has also just introduced ‘Delta Embark’, an online travel guide available as an Google Chrome ‘web app’.
In a similar initiative, Google last year teamed up with Virgin America to offer free WiFi on the airline’s flights from October 2009 until January 2010, and footed the WiFi bill at 54 airports across the U.S. Last year, Delta also partnered with eBay to offer free inflight WiFi during the week of Thanksgiving.
Southwest & Microsoft Windows
From December 2 until Christmas, Microsoft and Southwest Airlines’ ‘Holiday Photos on the Fly’ campaign offers passengers travelling on Southwest a free holiday photo that is captured, edited, e-mailed and/or printed using Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Windows Live Photo Gallery. A pro photographer snaps passenger’s portraits with Santa Claus or a holiday backdrop, and ‘Windows 7 elves’ show how to edit, share, and store their photos. Flyers can then print their photo at the Southwest/Microsoft photo booths or visit freeholidayphotos.com to access and share their photos online. The ‘Holiday Photos on the Fly’ promotion is held at 26 airports across the U.S. and also showed up at New York City’s Bryant Park at the end of November, where besides having their picture taken, visitors could also play with Microsoft’s new Xbox Kinect gaming console and the latest Windows-based smartphones. Read full article »
5 October 2010 | Reflecting a growing food trend among hotels and restaurants, airlines are increasingly offering local and seasonal food onboard as they emphasize their national cuisine. This development also ties in with a number of other trends such as authenticity, storytelling, and the rediscovery of national and regional identities in a globalized world. Furthermore, offering local and seasonal produce supports local businesses and in some cases also results in a reduced carbon footprint. Some recent examples from around the world.
SWISS ‘Taste of Switzerland’
As part of its ongoing ‘Taste of Switzerland’ program, started in 2002, SWISS offers premium passsengers on medium and long-haul flights signature dishes from its cantons (regions). Every three months a new Swiss canton is selected (currently Vaud), and local produce is used as much as possible. Thanks to a recent collaboration with the country’s ‘Kaseunion’, Appenzell, Gruyere and Emmental cheeses are also served on board.
Lufthansa ‘Discover Flavour’
On a similar note, Lufthansa’s ‘Discover Flavour’ catering concept, offers regional German specialities on board. The current program, ‘Discover Slow Food’, held in cooperation with the Slow Food organization, serves Business Class passengers on select long European flights four regional specialities, such as the ‘Diepholzer Moorschnucke’ (a rare breed of sheep from Lower Saxony) and the ‘Bamberger Hörnla’ (an old variety of potato grown near Bamberg). On domestic routes, Lufthansa currently serves marinated North Sea crabs on scrambled egg, and Hamburg vinegar-marinated meat as part of a ‘Discover Hamburg’ theme. Read full article »
9 September 2010 | 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 ,’” 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 »
29 July 2010 | 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 »
13 May 2010 | Catering to increasingly sophisticated passengers who want to try something new besides the generic soda and alcohol brands on their trip, a number of airlines are serving local niche beverages on board their flights. By adding an exclusive homegrown product to their in-flight beverage selection, these airlines also put an authentic element and a bit of storytelling to their brands, while at the same time supporting the local economy. Local drinks are often served on smaller airlines such as Virgin America, Porter and Brussels Airlines, as it is easier for local breweries to guarantee supply.
Virgin America since December 2009 offers locally-made micro-brew beers ‘21st Amendment’ and ‘Gordon Biersch’, as well as premium alcoholic drinks from California, such as ‘VeeV Açai Spirit‘ and ‘Karma California Brut‘. Earlier in 2009, Shaun O’Sullivan co-founder of San Francisco-based micro-brewery ‘21st Amendment’ was onboard a Virgin America flight tweeting about the carrier’s in-flight experience and offered his ale as a potential menu item. As a result of his post and passenger requests for a larger onboard beer selection with more micro-brew options, the carrier added the California-made beverages to its inflight drink menu.
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10 February 2010 | Southwest Airlines’ ‘Share the Spirit’ program encourages employees to embrace local charities and nonprofits in every destination across the carrier’s network. To pay tribute to its employee volunteers, Southwest Airlines is introducing a new program called ‘Tickets for Time’ (T4T). The T4T program is an addition to the Share the Spirit program and provides one complimentary, roundtrip ticket on Southwest Airlines for fund-raising or transportation needs for every 40 hours a Southwest volunteer dedicated to an organization. A nonprofit organization may receive up to six tickets a year through T4T and the hours can be accrued by one or more volunteers.
T4T puts a nice twist on corporate volunteering programs, since rather than simply match donations, Southwest is offering their employees the opportunity to earn tickets for nonprofit organizations of their choosing. In Southwest’s words: “We know that our employees do so much for so many organizations and T4T is a great way for Southwest to applaud and encourage employee volunteerism.” Last year Southwest staff collectively volunteered more than 35,000 hours to nonprofit organizations across the country, about one volunteer hour to every Southwest employee.
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17 November 2009 | All Nippon Airways (ANA) has selected Panasonic Avionics’ eX2 in-flight entertainment (IFE) system for its Boeing 777/767 aircraft. ANA says the audio video on demand system will feature 160 programs including movies, videos, music and games, as well as iPod connectors, USB ports and power outlets on all seats. The deal is part of ANA’s strategy to launch new products and services under its new brand positioning ‘Inspiration of Japan’, which will be first rolled out from February 2010 on its new 777-300ER aircraft.
Furthermore, starting in April 2010, passengers in ANA’s First and Business class can order their meals and drinks directly from their seat from a touch-screen on their personal TV monitor. Passengers can have their meals when they please, and create their own menu from more than 30 a la carte choices.
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10 November 2009 | Inflight Wi-Fi seriously took off in the past year in the U.S, with about 600 domestic aircraft currently equipped with inflight broadband (for the majority provided by Aircell’s GoGo). To make the flying public familiar with the new service, GoGo and U.S. carriers have been handing out complimentary promotional codes, so passengers can try the service first for free. AirTran gives passengers that buy one inflight Wi-Fi session their second session for free. And GoGo and Delta offered free Wi-Fi on National Breast Cancer Day (October 31), donating USD1 for each free session that day to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
While these one-off offers might get some passengers interested to pay between USD6 and USD13 to stay connected in the air, airlines and advertisers are teaming up to offer inflight Internet for free. Part of a trend, dubbed ‘Free Love’ by trendwatching.com, brands pick up the tab to offer passengers free inflight Wi-Fi. Everyone wins: travelers get free access, brands are able to reach an audience in a new way and airlines are able to build awareness about the Wi-Fi service via a new channel. Read full article »
20 October 2009 | 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 trendwatching.com. 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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