Virgin Atlantic is eying Qantas’ axing of Hong Kong-London services, and a new codeshare partnership with cousin Virgin Australia, as its chance to win more of Australia’s business travel market.
Unlike the Red Roo’s post-March 2012 schedule which will rely on British Airways for onwards flights from Hong Kong to London, “when you book Virgin Atlantic you get Virgin Atlantic, and you’ll get it all the way” says Luke Fisher, Australian Country Manager for Virgin Atlantic.
“If you’re going from Sydney to London you want consistency” Fisher told Australian Business Traveller.
“You don’t want to be changing aircraft and going onto a different airline with different seating and product. The benefits of travelling all the way with the same carrier can’t be overstated.”
Fisher also cites Virgin Atlantic’s split fares – premium economy to Hong Kong and business class or ‘upper class’ on to London – as another advantage for cost-savvy travellers.
“Today’s premium economy is probably like business class was 10 years ago, with a 38 inch pitch and leather seats” Fisher explains.
“Because our flight to Hong Kong is an afternoon service, premium economy is a comfortable and cost-effective way to get to Hong Kong. Then to London you switch to upper class with a fully flat bed so you can get a full night’s sleep.”
Another factor in Virgin Atlantic’s favour is the tie-up with Virgin Australia which will see the later able to sell tickets on Virgin Atlantic’s Sydney-Hong Kong-London service.
While Fisher says “potentially there there may be other (shared routes) in other parts of the world, at this stage Hong Kong is the most appropriate and logical one because it’s the only route where we touch Australia.”
And selling business travellers on Virgin Atlantic will be made easier by what Fisher calls the ‘halo effect’ of the Virgin brand and the closer fit of the new Virgin Australia to the rest of Richard Branson’s Virgin air empire.
“Moving away from being the low-cost Virgin Blue carrier, the Virgin Australia rebranding, the new lounges and uniforms and livery will make it much easier for people to make the leap to Virgin Atlantic” Fisher believes.
“We have a lot of synergies with our lounges. Virgin Australia has premium access and valet access at Sydney, we’ve done that at Heathrow Terminal 3, where our line is ‘from limo to lounge in 10 minutes’ with direct access through security and straight into the Clubhouse.”
Unlike the publicly-traded Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic is a privately-held company that’s 51% owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and 49% by Singapore Airlines.
“Even though we are two separate companies and we are also competitors in some ways, there are benefits in trying to create brand recognition” Fisher says.
“We have been very involved in some of the Virgin Australia developments from a Virgin Group perspective.”