Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti says the airline’s new business class is the leading product on trans-Pacific routes and will help the airline achieve better returns on fares in what is a very competitive market.
The airline has officially launched its new business class cabin on board its Boeing 777-300ER fleet, which currently serve Los Angeles from Brisbane and Sydney, as well as operate the Sydney-Abu Dhabi route.
The first reconfigured aircraft took to the skies April 30 and currently three of Virgin’s five 777s feature the Tangerine London-designed and B/E Aerospace-manufactured business class seats.
Borghetti says the new business class will allow the airline to charge a premium on its previous fares for the seats at the front end of the aircraft.
“It puts you in a position where you can sustain a better pricing structure because people will demand an aisle seat and they do,” Borghetti told reporters on board one of the airline’s reconfigured 777-300ERs, VH-VPD, at Los Angeles Airport on Wednesday (US time).
“If you are not competitive on product you have to discount your price.”
Borghetti said the pricing on its business class fares would be “a couple of hundred dollars higher” once the reconfiguration program was complete.
The Australia-US market has experienced a surge in new capacity in recent times, with American bringing its own aircraft on the Sydney-Los Angeles route, while Qantas has returned to San Francisco and Air Canada launched Brisbane-Vancouver. And across the Tasman both United and American have started flights to Auckland from San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, and Air New Zealand started flights to Houston.
While Borghetti acknowledged the growth in available seats, the veteran aviation executive noted the impact had been mostly at the economy end of the aircraft.
“That’s why you saw such pricing,” Borghetti said.
The seats, which are also on Virgin’s six Airbus A330-200s that fly between Perth and Australia’s east coast capitals as well as to Fiji, were being installed at Chennault International Airport in Louisiana. All five 777s were expected to feature the new business class, refreshed premium economy and Economy+ extra legroom mini-cabin by September.
Overall, the cabin changes have resulted in a reduction of 22 seats on board Virgin’s 777s, from 361 seats under the old configuration to 339 under the new configuration.
While Virgin’s 777 premium economy cabin, which is being renamed to “Premium” was shrinking to 24 seats at 41-inch pitch, from 40 seats currently at 38in pitch, the business class cabin was increasing from 33 seats currently in a 2-3-2 layout to 37 seats in a 1-2-1 layout.
There is also a 10-seat reduction in economy, from 288 seats to 278 seats. The figure includes Economy+.
Meanwhile, Virgin also announced at its Los Angeles launch plans to equip its 777, 737 and Airbus A330 fleet with in-flight internet wi-fi from mid-2017.
The airline said it would share more details about the in-flight wi-fi offering, including technology partners and business model, before the end of 2016.
Qantas said in February it planned to begin trials of on board wifi on a 737-800 in late 2016, with a view to rolling out free wi-fi internet access on domestic flights from 2017.