I finally had my first opportunity to travel on Virgin America Airlines this past Thursday, July 23, from New York to Los Angeles. I’ve flown from NY/NJ airports to the West coast countless times over the years and typically at the 3 hour mark into the 5+ hour flight I’m counting the minutes until touchdown no matter how many books and how much busy work I have brought with me. The only past exception? A flight to Las Vegas on a private jet with some friends who are NetJets members. I didn’t want that ride to end. This flight on Virgin America was almost that good.
How do they pull it off? In fairness, the well-publicized cabin decor, the high-tech dashboard at your seat (you order your food on the touch screen in front of you and it is swiftly brought to you), the fresh and delicious food really help to craft the experience. And the wi-fi internet service enables you to spend 95% of your onboard time doing exactly what you want to do to be productive, it really helps accelerate your experience of the time.
But all of this would still not deliver the high experience that has won the Virgin America brand its considerable accolades and pricelessly awesome word of mouth. What is the final x-factor that really gets it done? Clearly, a highly trained staff both at the gate as well as on the plane that takes the providing of great experience very seriously, but does it in a way that is completely UNserious.
They get to improvise at times, like when the captain stands at the front of the plane after you board, in full view of the passengers, introduces himself by his first name, welcomes you on board, says he’ll be flying you to Los Angeles, and sets up a friendly tone for the flight. I’m guessing all the VA captains do this intro from the cabin and not the cockpit. And he didn’t give us a weather report that only a meteorologist could understand.
Also, they use language simply and effectively to have you feel like an honored guest, not just a piece of inconvenient, biological freight. All the other cabin announcements refer to the flying customers as “guests”, which immediately and unconsciously embeds within you a total unwillingness to ever be called a passenger again, i.e. you’ll fly other airlines as little as possible. On landing, the announcement was that “we hope you enjoyed your experience with us today”, as opposed to “your flight” or the quirky JetBlue line “jetting with us”.
Why use the word “experience” at this moment? Well, Virgin America delivers an experience worthy of the hospitality standards at Danny Meyer’s New York City restaurants. But even more, with VA’s quite reasonable fares, what people will always pay most for is an experience, and when I think about my experience (plus let’s not forget they got me across the country) with Virgin America and what I paid for it, not only is the value great, but I notice that I am a loyal customer after just one flight, I can’t wait to fly with them again, and I hope they add many more destinations ASAP.
Virgin America has done an amazing job of differentiating themselves and taking the commodity out of air travel. So yes, I am impressed with the experience, the authentic staff who generate it, and thus, the brand.
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