Jayne Hrdlicka began her first day as Virgin chief executive doubling down on the reborn business’ plans to become a mid-market ‘hybrid’ and not a budget airline.
“Australia already has a low-cost carrier and a traditional full-service airline, and we won’t be either,” said Hrdlicka. “Virgin Australia will be a mid-market carrier appealing to customers who are after a great value airfare and better service.”
Scurrah’s surprise exit last month was significant because he was synonymous with the airline’s plan to operate as a mid-market ‘hybrid’ rather than reverting back to being a low-cost carrier like predecessor Virgin Blue.
However, Hrdlicka started her first full day in the job by unveiling details of Virgin’s relaunch and strongly insisting it would fill the gap between Jetstar and Qantas.
“The travel environment is changing and so are our customers’ preferences,” said Hrdlicka. “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.
“Today, 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.”
The airline also reaffirmed its plans to open a domestic lounge network that include Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast.
It also said business-class would continue, but will first undergo an “end-to-end review’ before relaunching next year alongside its premium economy service.
Significantly, the airline will now use self-service and assisted check-in and baggage drops, though it said “guest services agents can come out from behind a desk and provide a more concierge-style service for passengers”.
Finally, the airline also seemingly rebuffed Alan Joyce’s claim that Virgin’s relaunch would allow it to increase its market share by 10 per cent, insisting it plans to maintain its pre-COVID market status.
“We emerge today stronger, more competitive, and ready to face the challenges ahead,” said Hrdlicka. “We removed an enormous amount of complexity from our business, greatly improved our cost base, and have an extraordinary team on the ground and in the air to deliver our new plan.
“We are more resilient than ever and have the backing of Bain Capital who are deeply invested in seeing us succeed over the long term. As we have seen with the recent issues with South Australia, the travel market remains uncertain. We are however seeing some positive signs of recovery. Borders are beginning to open and a potential vaccine is on the way.”
Bain has resolutely defended the appointment of incoming chief executive Hrdlicka, arguing that she would provide a “different form of leadership” needed to survive, despite a bad relationship with unions.
“We need a hands-on CEO with deep aviation, commercial, operational and transformation experience,” said Bain Capital managing director Mike Murphy in a statement. “She has extensive airline experience and I know she, alongside Bain Capital, wants nothing more than to see Virgin Australia prosper and thrive well into the future.”
Yesterday, Australian Aviation reported how Scurrah has insisted his departure as chief executive of Virgin was mutual and said Hrdlicka is the “right person” to deliver on new owner Bain’s plan.
The comments were released hours before the business formally exited administration in a candid interview with the Curveball podcast.
He went on to insist he would be “cheering from the sidelines” and said he was very good at restructuring firms while taking the staff on board with him.
“As hard as it was to ask a lot of people … to leave the company, through no fault of their own … [it] didn’t have to come with being callous or brutal,” Scurrah continued.
“And we did it in a way where people who have left have all expressed their gratitude to the way they were handled. And that’s something I’m particularly proud of.”