Virgin Australia’s new hybrid model means it will drop free snacks for economy passengers from today but will retain complimentary tea and coffee.
Chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said snacks “aren’t valued by our guests” and will allow the business to keep ticket prices down.
The airline has been adamant since it emerged from administration that it will not return to its Virgin Blue budget routes, giving the decision over food onboard greater significance.
While free food has been scrapped for economy, customers will still be able to buy meals from an onboard menu, which will initially include cheese and crackers and Australian wine, before expanding later in the year.
A new business class menu, still included within the ticket price, includes “simple, modern, fresh and contemporary dishes” made using locally-sourced produce.
“Dishes include a range of hot meals, healthy salads and Australian classics, served on tableware, including crockery, glassware and cutlery, providing a quality in-flight experience and further reducing single-use packaging as part of the airline’s continued commitment to sustainability,” said Virgin in a statement.
The business class offering will rotate bi-monthly and includes alcoholic beverages.
Virgin also says its cabin crew have been retrained to “new hospitality standards” that focus on “customer engagement”.
“Today’s customers are more conscious about what they consume than ever before,” said Hrdlicka. “We like to choose what we eat and what we drink throughout the day – we are simply extending that choice onboard as well.
“By removing snacks that aren’t valued by our guests we’re able to structurally reduce airfares making it even cheaper to fly. We’ll continue to offer complimentary tea, coffee and water on all flights and the opportunity for guests to purchase their favourite menu items at a reasonable price.”
The new menu comes shortly after Virgin launched its ‘lounge of the future’ in Adelaide in February.
The contemporary design features a breeze block feature wall, canopy ceilings, large light-filled spaces and sustainable furniture.
The airline said the 1,097-square-metre space, which can hold up to 283 guests, is a “relaxed, inviting and uncomplicated place” that is “delightfully Virgin”.
New menus and lounges will be seen as a reaffirmation that Virgin will continue with its plan to become a mid-market, and not budget, carrier.
“Australia already has a low-cost carrier and a traditional full-service airline, and we won’t be either,” said Hrdlicka on her first day. “Virgin Australia will be a mid-market carrier appealing to customers who are after a great value airfare and better service.”
However, the TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, told the Australian Aviation Podcast that the “jury is still out” on Virgin’s plan to become a hybrid carrier.
“Virgin needs to get better at articulating what the hell mid-market means,” said Kaine. “Because it’s a source of great concern to the workforce that that’s not able to be done.”
Kaine reiterated that he believes Virgin’s intentions are genuine but hinted more work needs to be done to make it a success.
“There’s one thing crazier than having a full-throttled go at Qantas at the very, very top of the market, it’s thinking that you’re going to beat them at the bottom of the market,” Kaine said.
“Yes, you need to hit the sweet spot in the middle. But the sweet spot in the middle means that you still have to have an offering that is attractive to the Australian leisure and business markets.
“They want lounges, a good frequent flyer system, a system of points that connects beautifully with international travel when that’s available again. And they want the capacity to travel regionally.
“And if Virgin wants political support in its endeavour to become a really, really vital airline in Australia, again, it needs to make sure that it hits all of those marks.
“This all means that mid-market means something more than kind of hedging your bets. You’ve got to be viable, and at the moment, the jury’s still out I think on that point.”