Virgin takes on the mile-high set...

Rohit Khare (
Mon, 9 Jun 1997 18:16:17 -0400

Branson: Mile-high-a-minute ideas
Innovativeness is nothing new for Virgin Atlantic Airways. Virgin was
the first airline to install video screens in seat backs for fliers to
watch movies and play games; the only airline to have in-flight bars,
lounges, manicurists and masseuses; and its airport clubs offer hair
stylists, libraries, putting greens and swimming pools. But Virgin
isn't stopping there. USA TODAY's Donna Rosato interviewed Virgin
Chairman Richard Branson about his vision of the future of airline
"The original concept (for Virgin) was born out of the frustration of
flying on other people's airlines. Most airlines 15 years ago were a
miserable experience. We wanted to offer something better." Branson

In the air:
Flying bedrooms."You can do it on cruise ships and trains, why not an
airplane? We're going to legitimize the mile-high club," Branson says.
The plan: Build a staircase from the main cabin to the cargo hold and
install 10 to 12 private bedrooms. The bedrooms, planned for Virgin's
Airbus A340s, will have showers, Jacuzzis and double beds. No word on
seatbelts. The bedrooms would carry a first-class price tag. That's a
first for Virgin, which only offers business, premium economy and
economy-class seats. Branson says Virgin is still considering what to
charge for the private rooms to offset the loss of revenue from cargo.
"This would be the most super-duper first class in the world," Branson
Kids class. Virgin plans to create a separate section for families. On
some flights, it's already experimenting with nannies who entertain
kids with face painting and games. The kid zone would be a separate
class where children could sit with their parents. It might also be a
relief for travelers who don't like to sit next to antsy kids.
Plugging in. There's no reason fliers shouldn't be able to watch their
favorite sports match or find out what's happening in the stock market,
Branson says. Look for Virgin to wire its planes for live TV and
Internet access right at the seat. One area Virgin has lagged behind
other airlines is in its lack of in-seat phones. In the next few
months, Virgin will install phones and fax machines on its jets.
Passengers also will be able to connect laptop computers to the phones
to send faxes. But the phones will only be for outgoing calls. "There
are some people who don't want to be part of the real world," says
Seats for napping. Sleeper seats that recline aren't new on airplanes.
Virgin introduced the first sleeper seat in Upper Class in 1986, and
British Airways unveiled its "cradle seat" last year. Branson admits
that British Airways' seat is more comfortable than Virgin's is now.
But Virgin will introduce an improved version by the end of the year,
and Branson promises it will be "much more than a sleeper seat."

On the ground:
Fun centers. "The worst part of the airline experience is on the
ground. We'd like to change that," Branson says. Imagine a 20-acre
recreation center just minutes from the airport where you can bike,
hike, golf and swim - and check bags for a flight. Branson envisions an
entertainment complex where all Virgin passengers can relax and play
before being shuttled to their flight.
Faster check-in. Virgin is using hand-held computers to check-in
passengers who are waiting in line at the airport. Upper Class
passengers, who get picked up in a limo from their homes, get boarding
passes and curbside check-in, including luggage, when they arrive at
London's Heathrow airport. Soon, they'll be able to select in-flight
meals during their ride in the limo. And Virgin plans to expand the
drive-through check-in process to Virgin's eight U.S. gateways.