Virgin America begins service to Orlando tomorrow. Remarkably, the three-year-old airline has stayed off my radar, when it comes to customer complaints. I asked David Cush, Virgin America’s chief executive, how he’s done it.
First of all, congratulations on adding service to Orlando. I live here, so I’m pretty excited about having a new airline in town. At the same time, I’m curious about your reasons for coming here. Orlando isn’t exactly a lucrative business travel destination. What’s the appeal?
Orlando has an incredibly strong year-round tourism economy and a great deal of convention traffic. The addition of Orlando also helps us address seasonality in our still growing network. As we grow we do have to balance out our network for seasonal traffic patterns – adding a sunny warm weather destination like Orlando helps us balance our winter schedules.
How is the Virgin America flying experience different from that on one of the legacy carriers?
Well, you have to fly with us to see the difference yourself! When you do fly you’ll notice the focus on guest service and see that the look and feel of the cabin is unlike anything else in the domestic skies.
Our planes are all new and undergo extensive modifications, with features like moodlighting system that transitions through 12 shades based on outside light and is designed to soothe guests and gradually awaken them on a red eye. It sounds goofy, but there is something about lighting that really changes the experience for people.
We have custom-designed leather seats with a more comfortable design – and we have a lot of high-tech features like standard power outlets near every seat and touch-screen personal entertainment platforms. In 2009, we became the first airline to offer WiFi on all flights. Red offers 30 movies, live TV, Google Maps, music videos, videogames, a seat-to-seat chat system so you can even chat to other guests onboard. In July we launched a digital Shop section, so you can shop from your seatback touch-screen. Probably the most innovative thing we have onboard is our on-demand menu — so guests can order a cocktail or meal right from their seatback screen any time during a flight. We’ve also won some major awards for the quality of our food, which is lighter and has more of a focus on organic ingredients.
How do you differentiate yourself from one of the discount airlines, with which you’ll be competing in Orlando?
We have a bit of a different focus. Our business model is based on providing travelers unrivalled value. People are looking for more for their money – and we believe that we offer the best value in the skies, with low fares and award-winning service and the best in-flight entertainment.
Virgin is known for entering industries where consumers are not getting a fair shake – and changing the equation by creating a better product at a great price. And when you give people a better product at a great price – you are going to do well, and that has followed for us. We’ve developed an incredibly loyal following of fliers and our load factors are very high.