Now, Virgin Atlantic has revealed how it’s responding to competition from the likes of Norwegian and Wizz Air. Incredibly, it is adding free perks to economy.
Bringing the glamour back to air travel, Virgin’s three new seat options, Economy Light, Economy Classic and Economy Delight, let passengers get choosy with what they want to pay for.
Virgin Atlantic’s Mark Anderson explained: “The thinking really was, how do we give people more choice, without taking anything away.”
Economy Light is hold luggage only, making it cheaper by around £60 per ticket.
Classic keeps the hold luggage but adds the option of reserving your seat before check in.
And Delight gives you all that, plus priority check in, priority boarding, and 34-inch legroom seats.
Across all economy options you still get two meals, snacks and all the drinks you want.
I flew from Heathrow to New York to test out the new seats, as well as get a sneak preview of the new and improved dining service on board.
Flying Economy Delight, the smug experience of waltzing to the front of the queue with priority check-in was definitely a plus.
Extra legroom meant even when the seat in front was pushed back, I could enjoy the inflight entertainment without being too cramped.
All of Virgin’s economy seats also come with a USB charging port, speedy wifi at a reasonable price, a pillow, headphones and blanket.
And with classic Virgin flair, it also previewed an extra touch of luxury.
First up, freshly made barista-style coffee will soon be available on board.
The high-tech touch-screen coffee trolley we tested let passengers pick the strength and milk content of their coffee by swiping a finger over an on-screen coffee cup.
Soft-serve ice cream stands are also to be installed in the galley at the back of the plane, where passengers can make their own custom Wall’s desserts and add toppings.
WHAT THE RIVALS OFFER
- Food & drink: Drinks, snacks, four- course meal, plus a light meal, or afternoon tea with prosecco. Some routes to soon include fresh coffee machines and ice cream stand.
- Luggage: One bag up to 10kg.
- Wifi: Available on all for an extra fee.
- Food & drink: Drinks, snacks, a four-course meal, lighter snack. Some routes include ice creams and British tuck box favourites. Meals can be upgraded for £15 to £18 per person.
- Luggage: One cabin bag up to 23kg and one handbag/laptop up to 23kg.
- Wifi: For an extra fee, not yet available on all planes.
- Food & drink: Available – extra cost.
- Luggage: One carry-on bag plus one small personal handbag/slim laptop case, combined max weight of 10kg.
- Wifi: Extra fee, not yet on all planes.
- Food & drink: Available – extra cost.
- Luggage: One carry-on bag plus one small personal handbag/slim laptop case up to a combined 10kg.
- Wifi: None.
Mark told me: “We’re looking at the flying experience and asking what customers value on the ground and how we can recreate that in the air.
“We have a thriving coffee culture on the ground.
“You’ll start to see some changes in terms of how we do that in the air.”
Just before landing we were given another preview of celebrity French chef Eric Lanlard’s signature afternoon tea, coming to all Virgin’s day flights across all cabins.
The Master patissier himself was on board, stuffing us full of macarons and fresh sandwiches.
“People were starting to get annoyed,” he joked. “By the third time I went up the cabin, everyone was so full they couldn’t look at another cake.”
While guests won’t have the pleasure of being force-fed by Eric, the 38,000ft high tea will feature plenty of his sandwiches, scones and macarons when it launches this summer.
And for the first time, it will even include prosecco as well as tea or coffee, even in economy, adding yet another touch of glamour.
By the time we landed in New York, I’d more than overindulged in the ice-cream, fresh coffee, free prosecco and Eric’s fantastically fancy high tea.
Virgin is definitely bringing the romance back to flying economy, the only trouble will be finding anywhere that can match the service, or price, when you land.
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