Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic raises the bar with new Upper Class ‘Dream Suite’

Having been one of the most glamorous airlines around for many years, as it challenged the dominance of UK’s flag carrier British Airways, Virgin Atlantic has seen its onboard experience slip somewhat in recent years. With the arrival of new aircraft – Virgin will take delivery of seven A330-300s during 2012 as part of a GBP 2.2 billion aircraft investment program – the airline has just unveiled its new ‘Dream Suite’ business class, which it promotes as “a first class experience for a business class fare.”

Competition
Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class ‘Dream Suite’ made its debut on April 21 on the airline’s London to New York JFK morning flight. Virgin Atlantic has invested GBP 100 million in its new business class product as the long haul-only carrier looks to increase its share of the business traveller market. “Fifty percent of our business is across the North Atlantic and the London-New York route is highly competitive because BA and AA have joined together,” Greg Dawson, a Virgin Atlantic spokesman, told Bloomberg earlier this year. “Whilst we’ve maintained our market share quite well, we want to keep innovating because our clear point of difference is product.”

The onboard enhancements to the initial New York service are supported by a refurbished Manhattan-themed Clubhouse at JFK Airport, which opened on March 5.

‘Upper Class Dream Suite’
Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class ‘Dream Suite’ is described by Australian Business Traveller as “a stylish evolution of the current design. It ditches Virgin’s trademark purple leather seat for darker chocolate-black tones accented by wooden veneer and brushed metal,” while Virgin summarizes the new interior as follows, “The cabin has a fabulous new look, with a stylish, uplifting interior, flashes of our famous red, and Swarovski crystal accents for that touch of Virgin Atlantic sparkle.” The new Dream Suite is more spacious than Virgin’s current Upper Class design and offers an extra 3.8cm of seat’s width while folding out to a massive 218cm long lie-flat be, which Virgin says is the longest offered by any airline. Other new features include a ‘literature pocket’ for stowing books and magazines plus a flexible LED reading lamp which snakes down from the top of the divider wall (images here and here).
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Green is the new black: ANA trials hydrogen fuel cell vehicle as limousine service

Airports are fast becoming sites where alternative fuel-powered vehicles are tested, as the trials can be carried out within an contained area or on standard routes, for example between the city and the airport. We have covered the use of environmental-friendly vehicles at airports before on airlinetrends.com (“Airport vehicles go green”), for example KLM has been testing the ‘AirPod’, a zero-emission vehicle that runs on compressed air, to transport people and light cargo at Schiphol Airport.

Another promising green technology are hydrogen fuel cells, which combined with oxygen in the air, produce electricity to power vehicles, with water as the only emission. If the electricity used in producing the hydrogen is generated by wind, water or solar energy, the result is a zero-emission energy source.

All Nippon Airways
At Tokyo Narita Airport, All Nippon Airways (ANA) has teamed up with Toyota to test the latest version of the Toyota Highlander ‘FCHV-adv’ (which stands for fuel cell hybrid vehicle-advanced). During February and March 2011, the vehicles will be used as part of ANA’s ‘Welcome-Home Limousine Taxi Service’ for premium passengers returning to Japan on flights from Europe or the U.S., as well as for the airline’s early morning pickup service. The Toyota’s operated by ANA will be used to collect data on the performance of the fuel-cell, such as fuel efficiency and consumption, both in the city-style as on the highway. Toyota plans to have a consumer-ready version of the FCHV-adv available on the U.S. market by the end of 2015.

Virgin Atlantic
The initiative by ANA and Toyota follows a similar trial by Virgin Atlantic and General Motors in 2008. As part of GM’s ‘Project Driveway’ zero-emission trial, Virgin Atlantic used three hydrogen fuel cell-powered Chevrolet Equinox SUVs to provide complimentary ground transportation for its ‘Upper Class’ passengers in Los Angeles and New York.
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In-flight magazines increasingly find a niche audience

With audio and video on demand (AVOD) a standard in-flight entertainment feature today, and with travelers increasingly carrying their personal entertainment devices with them onboard, passengers may start to lose their interest in in-flight magazines amidst all the media overload. To make in-flight magazines more relevant to both passengers and advertisers, a number of airlines have begun to publish special-interest and route-dedicated in-flight magazines.

Wine
LAN Chile has just launched an in-flight magazine, called ‘in-Wines’ targetted at wine lovers traveling in business class. The first edition of in-Wines includes essays by Chilean master sommelier Héctor Vergara, serving and pairing tips, a wine-tasting class, wine reviews and Chilean and Argentinian wine routes. Connecting with passengers “on a lifestyle subject they are passionate about” is the driver behind LAN’s launch of the wine-dedicated in-flight magazine. Says LAN’s manager in-flight entertainment Violeta Garcia, “the magazine gives us the opportunity to reinforce our credibility as wine connoisseurs”. According to Spafax, which also publishes LAN’s regular ‘in magazine’, “in-Wines is already a huge hit with readers and advertisers – with over 20 major brands buying space in the first edition.”

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Delta upcycles aircraft seat covers into fashionable bags

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials, which would otherwise go to landfill, into new products or materials of better quality. Companies like Tierra Ideas in the U.S and WornAgain (slogan: “Every product has got a story to tell”) in the UK work with large corporations to create fashionable upcycled products. The benefits are three-fold: waste is recycled, companies add an eco-friendly touch to their brands, and many consumers like the story behind the upcycled product. 

Tierra Ideas  just announced its new 2010 ‘Aero’ bags collection in partnership with Delta Air Lines. Delta has donated worn and retired seat covers, blankets and curtains from its aircraft as well as from all Northwest aircraft that were refurbished when Delta acquired Northwest in 2008. After separating the fabrics by pattern (frequent fliers will recognize the different Northwest and Delta patterns) Tierra Ideas has turned them into messenger bags (price: USD219), laptop sleeves (USD55), and duffle bags (USD62). 
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Airlines team up with the general public to ‘fly their ideas’

Since airlinetrends.com is all about product and service innovation in the airline industry, what better topic is there than how airlines and airports are teaming up with the general public in order to generate ideas for new products and services. Air New Zealand, KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Airbus all recently launched co-creation/crowdsourcing/customer-made intitiatives. 

Air New Zealand ‘Aviation Design Academy’
Air New Zealand’s ‘Aviation Design Academy’ is asking the public to add a few finishing touches to the offerings in the airline’s all-new cabin. Participants can sign-up to create a mid-flight snack for travelers in Economy; a signature cocktail for Premium Economy customers; or a stylish eye mask for Business Class passengers, and ANZ will turn the winning ideas into actual products. The winner for each category will also win two free tickets on the inaugural flight of ANZ’s new B777-300 aircraft from Auckland to London in April 2011. The competition is open to people across the world, and submissions have to be in before 26 April 2010. 
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Virgin Atlantic asks its Facebook fans for feedback on inflight Internet

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Lufthansa recently announced that it will reintroduce its ‘FlyNet’ broadband Internet on long-haul flights. Emirates also revealed it is studying the business case for Ku-based broadband Internet. Currently, the airline offers AeroMobile’s basic cellphone connectivity on about 60 aircraft. Virgin Atlantic is possibly the next long-haul airline to offer inflight Internet. The airline will renew its fleet between 2011 and 2013 with the arrival of several A330, A340 and B787 aircraft, and is currently working on the introduction of new products and services.

In what is a first for the airline, Virgin Atlantic used social network site Facebook to get feedback on what they would like to see in terms of inflight connectivity on the new aircraft. Last week, it asked its 21,000+ Facebook fans a few questions about their connectivity desires. Facebook users could respond to questions like “What are your wireless Inflight Entertainment expectations for Virgin Atlantic?”, and “How would you prefer to pay for the usage of Internet onboard?”.
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Virgin Atlantic links up passengers to share a taxi

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Virgin Atlantic has launched a new service, called taxi² that helps passengers find other travellers to share taxi rides into city centres across the world. The airline says the reason for launching the service is that “we think it’s crazy that people often wait in line and then get one taxi each. Most people go from the airport in a similar direction, so it’s a great waste.” 

How it works: Passengers log onto the service and enter their flight and destination details and the website will match them with a suitable travelling companion. They are then sent the details of the matched traveller and can decide whether to agree to the match and make arrangements of where to meet upon their flight arrival. Passengers can also print off a taxi²  sign from the website so they can locate each other at the airport. The system also matches female travelers who only want female travelling companions. The program is not limited to Virgin Atlantic customers and passengers on other airlines can share rides as well.
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