Fred Reid, the founding CEO of Virgin America, spoke today at the Skift Global Forum.

At Virgin America, a post he left in late 2007, Reid banned the use of words such as “passenger” and “employee” in favor of “guest” and “teammate,” for substantive reasons that go to the core success or failure of an airline, and not just for public relations spin.

A business strategist who currently sits on the boards of Thayer Ventures and travel startup GetGoing, Reid has served as CEO of Virgin America, president of Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa, and also did stints at American Airlines and Pan Am.

Reid’s talk “Creating a Radically Guest-Centric Airline” explored what would happen if the passenger came first. Here are four things we learned:

  • “Buy, borrow or beg but try to get new airplanes” when starting a new airline because of the need to reduce fuel costs, for reliability and scalability. “They also smell good.”
  • “Ease of use was the first thing I said” as Virgin America’s first CEO, and initiatives included ordering food on board wirelessly, and cashless transaction. If Reid would merely start to say “eee” then his team would break into the “ease of use” mantra.
  • Arilines should “forget the website and concentrate on the mobile app,” Reid says he “tends to get thrown out of the room when he gives carriers this advice.
  • Airline websites should “make buying simple,” and not be like one big airline where the homepage of its website featured 26 fields and prodded customers to buy cruises on the first page.
  • “Good airlines tend to have good people,” and bad airlines often have hostile people. The answer is “really caring” about employees. “People can tell whether you are really caring or not.”

Keep track of all the activity at today’s Global Forum by bookmarking our #skiftforum tag.


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Tags: sgf2014, skift global forum, virgin america

Photo credit: Fred Reid speaking at Skift Global Forum in New York City on Oct. 9, 2014. Skift

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