by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, March 9, 2018
Virgin Atlantic is the latest airline to introduce a cheaper baggage-free fare in an attempt to woo budget travellers and millennials.
The carrier founded by Sir Richard Branson announced a revamp of its economy fares in the same week that rivals British Airways said it would be expanding its existing “basic” option to include transatlantic services.
Virgin, which competes with BA to destinations such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles, has split its economy offering into three - Delight, Classic and Light - with the most basic including only hand luggage and restricting refunds and booking changes. It does, like BA’s, still come with a meal.
The rise of these stripped-back fares pits the traditional carriers against low-cost counterparts such as Norwegian and WOW air, two airlines growing in stature by offering cheap seats to long-haul destinations.
“We know that one size doesn’t fit all, and from spring our customers can afford to be choosy and still travel in the UK’s leading economy cabin,” said Craig Kreeger, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, who also announced a £300million investment into renovations in the airline’s catering, new check-in kiosks at Gatwick and Heathrow, and the addition of 12 new Airbus A350 aircraft.
Virgin said its Economy Delight fare is an antidote to the trend of airlines “packing seats onto planes” and amounts to the “leading economy product of any UK airline”, offering seats with a 34-inch pitch, priority check-in and seat reservations, while its Economy Light fare would “always offer Virgin Atlantic’s lowest fare - making long-haul travel affordable and accessible for millennials”. The three economy classes will be in addition to the existing Premium Economy and Business cabins.
Sir Richard Branson said: “When I started Virgin Atlantic I wanted to challenge the status quo and make flying amazing - regardless of which cabin you’re in - and that’s still true today.”
The fares are not yet live so it remains to be seen how the prices compare to rivals such as BA and Norwegian.
Virgin has a long-standing rivalry with BA, which at times has descended into personal animosity between Branson and Willie Walsh, chief of IAG, the parent company of BA.
In December a five-year bet over whether the Virgin Atlantic brand would still exist came to a head, with Branson claiming victory. However, Walsh refused to concede, claiming that Branson “no longer owns or controls the business”.
With neither accepting defeat, the spoils - a knee to the groin of the loser - were left unclaimed.