Under a strategy unveiled by CEO John Borghetti in Singapore yesterday, Virgin Australia will redesign the cabins of its A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft from March next year, to better meet the needs of the corporate traveller.
The plan will see business seats on board the 777s grow from 33 to 37 as premium economy and economy seats are cut by 25.
A330s will retain 250 “cheap” seats and lose four business seats to allow room for 20 new suites featuring lie flat beds, privacy screens and extra workspace.
Mr Borghetti said the strategy would deliver a greater return per seat for Virgin than the current format because of expected higher fares for the new suites.
The cabin reconfiguration would mean up to 42 economy class seats would also get more leg space, Mr Borghetti said.
“There will be some seats in economy where there’ll be enough enhancement in the seat pitch to allow us to sell it for a premium,” said Mr Borghetti.
“The business case shows very strongly that the result will be improving. We wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.”
The strategy follows on from Qantas’ announcement last year of a new business class suite on its A330s being rolled out later this year.
Mr Borghetti said the Qantas design had given Virgin new ideas about its own redesign, which he believed would give it the upper hand.
“I think what we’ve come up with is exceptional,” he said.
“What we want to do is not just maintain the leadership in the products we’ve established, we want to leapfrog, we want to go one step further.”
The travel industry welcomed the innovation and ongoing rivalry between Qantas and Virgin.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents CEO Jayson Westbury said in a competitive environment the seat could “often be the factor that influences a business class passenger”.
“You would be surprised how Australians gravitate to business class — particularly when it is a good product,” said Mr Westbury.
Acting Tourism and Transport Forum chief Trent Zimmerman also welcomed the plans unveiled by Virgin.
“Innovation and improvement are critical in the extremely competitive world of global aviation and this Investment will ensure Virgin Australia can continue to offer world-class service and comfort,” said Mr Zimmerman.
Qantas’ new suites will beat Virgin to the marketplace and the airline remained confident of retaining the lion’s share of the corporate dollar.
“The great thing about competition is that customers get to decide which product they think is better, rather than relying on all the hype,” said a Qantas spokeswoman.