The wraps are off, the new-look Virgin Australia stands revealed. On Wednesday 18 November, Virgin Australia's new CEO Jayne Hrdlicka offered a comprehensive overview of what Virgin Australia 2.0 will look like. Rather than the full-service carrier which stepped into the ring against heavyweight Qantas, and which caused the airline's financial distress, Virgin Australia will become a hybrid.
"Australia already has a low-cost-carrier and a traditional full-service airline, and we won't be either," said the former Jetstar CEO. "Virgin Australia will be a mid-market carrier appealing to customers who are after a great value airfare and better service."
"We know that leisure travellers, small and medium businesses, and many corporates are now emerging from COVID-19 wanting better value. They are hungry for flexibility and choice, a trusted brand that resonates with their values, and great prices, along with the premium features they value most. We've announced a plan that will ultimately give our customers what they value without the big price tag: premium lounges, a new and fresh retail offering onboard, a choice of cabins, better digital technology and a more streamlined check-in experience."
While the rebooted Virgin targets all segments of the travel market, the focus is on its customers who have demonstrated long-standing loyalty. According to Ms Hrdlicka, this includes price-conscious corporate travellers, small to medium businesses, premium leisure travellers and holidaymakers.
The onboard experience
Virgin's Economy X seating will remain.
Virgin will operate as a three-tier airline, with business, economy and economy x seating, for those looking for extra leg room. Business class is set for an "end-to-end review" prior to a relaunch in 2021.
All flyers will get one free checked bag with a new self-service and assisted check-in and baggage drop facilities at airports. Coffee, tea and water will be free for all onboard but economy flyers will now have to pay for in-flight snacks.
In-flight WiFi and entertainment are currently under review with suggestions from Hrdlicka that both might disappear, with a decision to take account of feedback from flyers.
Expect some route changes. Ms Hrdlicka highlighted the uncertainties and disruptions caused by the current pandemic, saying "This is an environment where you really do have to plan for the worst but hope for the best so you can navigate through whatever comes your way. We're really hopeful for a national framework to manage this crisis because I don't think we can keep this up for another 12 months as a country where we're stopping and starting all the time."
A travel bubble with New Zealand would be a positive for the airline said Ms Hrdlicka, "But I think it's going to be a bit tricky because … we really shouldn't be opening up at all if we're not really confident we can manage it. We shouldn't open it up and then shut it down, open it up and shut it down, because people around us in the world are losing confidence. We're hungry to get domestic to some sense of scale and borders open, because that's a first step, and then we're hungry to start to test other market opportunities but there's a lot that has to be ready and in position for that to work."
Much unloved Tiger Australia, Virgin's low-cost brand, will be mothballed, with a possible rebirth subject to a pickup in the demand for domestic leisure travel when the pandemic loosens its grip.
Business class lounges
Some Virgin business-class lounges are closing, particularly in northern parts. The Darwin, Mackay and Cairns business lounges are all for the chop while those at Perth T2, Wellington and Alice Springs were all previously slated for shutdown. The future of the Canberra lounge is under review. The Virgin business lounge in Brisbane is open, soon to be joined by those in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth T1 and the Gold Coast.
The Adelaide lounge, originally scheduled for April 2020, has been pushed back to 2021. In the words of Ms Hrdlicka, Adelaide will serve as a template for the other business-class lounges as they are progressively upgraded, with an "experience and aesthetic more aligned to the Virgin brand".
The fate of Virgin's The Club lounges, with admission by invitation only, instituted by previous CEO John Borghetti as a response to Qantas' Chairman's Lounge, is yet to be decided. In the meantime The Club lounges remain closed.
Business flyers whose lounge memberships expired during the coronavirus shutdown will have their memberships extended for 12 months beyond the original expiry.
The frequent flyer program
No changes are planned for Virgin's Velocity frequent flyer program, which must bring a big sigh of relief from its 10 million members. When international travel resumes, Virgin Australia expects to restore partnerships with traditional airline partners according to Ms Hrdlicka, most notably Singapore Airlines.