Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd will split its coach class into three ticket grades in an effort to head off the challenge presented by an emerging low-cost, long-haul sector led by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.
The UK carrier plans to introduce an “economy light” fare for passengers prepared to take hand baggage only and happy to have their seats allocated at check-in, it said in a statement Wednesday.
The new category is aimed at “millennials and customers jetting off on city breaks,” it said.
At the same time, Virgin will offer an “economy delight” product with a 34-inch seat pitch—three inches more than standard—priority boarding, checked luggage and seat selection at any time. A third “economy classic” grade offers the same perks, bar priority boarding, but with the smaller berth.
The changes, which include accommodating 24 to 36 of the bigger seats on each plane, are part of a $417 million investment program that represents the biggest change to Virgin Atlantic’s economy-class cabins in more than a decade, Chief Executive Officer Craig Kreeger said. Cheaper fares should mean Virgin is immediately more visible as an option when the most price-sensitive travelers are booking tickets, he said.
“It gives us an opportunity to win back some customers that might not have found us,” Kreeger said. “Some people are clearly most interested in the lowest entry-level price point and are willing to pack light and adjust accordingly.” Prices will be revealed when tickets go on sale in the spring.
Virgin Atlantic is facing a new breed of competitor as Norwegian Air builds London’s Gatwick airport into a major base.