With its innovative approach to doing business, it’s no surprise that Virgin Atlantic Airways is going strong after 30 years, and the past year has been no exception. 2014 saw the UK-based airline receive the first of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and that aircraft was put into operation between London Heathrow and Boston on the east coast of the United States. Virgin Atlantic is set to receive 15 more Dreamliners over the next three years, which will total 60% of its fleet by the end of 2018. It’s been a difficult few years in Africa for Virgin Atlantic, with the dropping of its Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya) routes, but the airline still has a strong presence in two of the continents biggest economies – South Africa and Nigeria. Rachel Coffey is the Country Manager of Virgin Atlantic’s West African operation, and she took time out to answer some questions for Business Traveller Africa, including the benefits of the new Premium Economy cabin and the airline’s joint venture with Delta Air Lines.
Q: What new routes has Virgin Atlantic added to its network in the last 12 months?
A: We have recently added some routes in the U.S. We launched flights to Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2014, and Detroit, Michigan, will follow around June 2015, which our passengers will get to experience from Lagos via London.
Q: Is Virgin Atlantic exploring any new African destinations/routes?
A: We have announced a new flying programme from 2015, which includes new services from Lagos to the US via London. We have no current plans for new destinations in Africa, but our route network is under continuous review and we are always open to new opportunities on the continent.
Q: What benefits have you seen from the joint venture with Delta Air Lines?
A: The joint venture with Delta Air Lines is on the trans-Atlantic routes and has proven to be very popular and beneficial to our customers. From a Lagos perspective, it has given us many more connections into the U.S, both destinations and frequencies.
Q: How has Virgin Atlantic’s Premium Economy cabin been received by customers?
A: The Premium Economy cabin is extremely popular amongst our corporate and leisure travellers. Our customers really love the exclusivity of a separate cabin and the added extras that they get from the Virgin service.
Q: What perks does a Premium Economy ticket offer?
A: With our Premium Economy cabin, passengers get to stretch out with extra leg room and relax in luxurious leather seats with 38 inches pitch room. Passengers also enjoy dedicated check-in and bag drop, and priority boarding.
Q: What improvements or changes have been made to Virgin Atlantic’s cabins in the last year?
A: We have begun a fleet modernisation programme that will see 60% of our fleet replaced over the next four years. Our new fleet of 787s brings many benefits. It is quieter, has greater overhead locker space, is equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity, and an improved cabin altitude will leave passengers feeling refreshed after a flight.
Q: How has the spread of the Ebola virus affected business?
A: Virgin Atlantic is monitoring the situation with regards to the Ebola virus both internationally and at a local level. We always follow the advice of the World Health Organisation in such matters. The safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is our number one priority. Our staff in the region received awareness training to spot symptoms as soon as the outbreak was announced and they will take action where appropriate. The situation is constantly under review and our medical team remain closely involved in case any further action is required.
Q: How does Virgin plan to stay ahead of the ever-changing needs of the modern business traveller?
A: Business travellers are a hugely important part of our business and we are always looking for ways to continue to improve their experience. True to the Virgin Atlantic brand, we try to do this in an innovative way. For example, last year we trialled, and have now implemented, the use of Google Glass technology at our Upper Class check-in area at Heathrow. We have also just announced a partnership with celebrity chef Lorraine Pascale to produce our Upper Class meal services. Along with these large initiatives, we also run small magic moments to keep our business traveller’s experiences fresh, such as the specially-designed Virgin Atlantic ‘Onesies’ that were available on board for a limited time this past summer (June-August). There will be more to come in 2015, including a new Upper Class Clubhouse in Los Angeles.