The Not-So-Secret Way Virgin America Will Reinvent US Air Travel

I2m_virginamerica1_2 Virgin is not in the business of music.  Or credit cards.  Or mobile phones.  Or space travel.  Though the brand has done remarkably well in translating its popularity from one business to the next – they are actually in the business of reinventing stagnant industries.  Just look at the track record of industries that they have entered and how they have done it.  Last week they announced the newest business they will try to reinvent, now that they finally have their long awaited approval in the US to start a new domestic airline.  A visit to www.virginamerica.com proves that they are already applying the "virgin way" to their business and standing out before any of their flights actually take off.  How can they do this?  Are they just smarter at marketing than the rest of the industries they enter?  Their "secret" is actually quite simple: they look at an industry that is doing everything the same way, identify the pain points for customers of all companies in that industry, and focus their business on doing those things differently.  For Virgin America, this means doing the following:

  1. Having a unique personality.  With the exception of JetBlue and perhaps Southwest, few domestic airlines in the US could be accused of having an authentic and unique identity.  Virgin America uses elements from the subtle to the explicit to demonstrate their personality.  The cabin has "mood lighting" that changes throughout the flight.  The site lays out a promise to travelers on how Virgin America will treat you.  And, of course, the Virgin brand carries a certain inherent personality of irreverance and hipness that many consumers can connect with.
  2. Enable traveller’s gadgetized lifestyles. Every seat has a power plug for laptops, USB chargers for MP3 players, and will eventually have built in ethernet for internet access.  For longer coast to coast flights, this ensures that no matter which class of service you are travelling in, you will never run out of batteries on your device.
  3. Eliminate the hand signals and call button etiquette problem. It can sometimes be nearly impossible to get a stewardess’ attention on the flight and somehow it just seems rude to ring that call button all the time and expect them to come running.  Virgin America has an online ordering system where you can order your food and pay through a cashless system (also removing the need to carry around cash or exact change). 
  4. Discounts without the discount airports.  One of the most frustrating things about "discount" airlines is that many of them use obscure airports like Sarasota or Buffalo.  So far, Virgin America flies from DC to LAX and SFO.  All big airports, all places that are not inconveniences to fly to or from.
  5. Connect with fellow passengers. One of the saddest parts of travelling sometimes is that you can sit next to someone for 6 hours or more and never speak.  The greater tragedy is that there may be other people on the plane hungry for a good conversation, but simply sitting next to the wrong people.  Built into the back of seat console is something Virgin calls a "seat to seat chat."  Presumably, it only works for passengers who put their seats into "discoverable" modes, but a very cool idea nonetheless.

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