Skift Take

Richard Branson made sure that his Virgin Atlantic oozed cool and shook the aviation industry out of a bland stupor. It's good to see that dynamic brand endure in an industry where many other iconic trailblazers have faded into memory.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger will speak about how to build an airline brand at Skift’s Global Forum on October 14 and 15 in Brooklyn, New York. He will join a cadre of industry leaders who share insights and their vision of the future of travel exclusively with Skift Global Forum attendees.

In anticipation of his speech, Kreeger shared some insights with us on the job of maintaining the unique flair and style of aviation’s ultimate rebel brand while other players in the industry race to redefine and position themselves.

He also tells us why opposites attract in the partnership between hot and happening Virgin and cool and conservative Delta.

Skift: Though the theme of your talk is building an airline brand by not participating in raised-stakes for premium products, Virgin Atlantic has a well-established lifestyle premium brand. How would you describe the difference between Virgin Atlantic’s premium approach and that of airlines now leap-frogging over each other to introduce new products?

Kreeger: Over the last 30 years, we’ve been known to be the airline that has driven change in the industry, transforming the overall customer experience. We haven’t done this by looking at our competitors but by listening to our customers and putting them at the heart of everything we do. It started with the vision from Richard, seeing the need to provide a customer focused airline that could shake up the standards in the industry. Over the years we have continued to innovate and work with our customers to support their changing needs. For example, we were the first airline to develop and install seatback video, to introduce a first class service at business class price and we even created a whole new cabin, Premium Economy.

The scale of change that we’ve seen over the last 30 years will be required again over the next 30 to deliver better quality, experience, value and connectivity for customers. More recently, we’ve announced a commitment to invest £300 million into our customer experience by the end of 2018, both on the ground and in the air. This includes things like our new fleet of Dreamliner 787s, the opening of our brand new Clubhouse at LAX, Wi-Fi across our entire fleet, and enhancements to our food and wine service. Much has changed but we need to be ambitious for the possibilities that flying can offer passengers in the future.

Skift: Though your partnership with Delta is strong, there’s a difference in that airlines branding and product strategy which one could define as more conservative. Do you feel there’s any harmony or shared brand values between your two airlines that make the partnership work? How do customers perceive them?

Kreeger: We’re two separate brands and this won’t change. Each brand has its very own identity with its own personality and attributes. We may look different on the outside but what we do share is a customer centric approach; doing what is right for the customer and providing a high service level.

The combination of the strength of Delta’s network in the US and ours at Heathrow delivers a strong network proposition for our customers. It brings increased choice on trans-Atlantic routes out of London Heathrow, in particular to and from New York-JFK, the most important business travel market, offering 10 flights a day between London and New York

Our goal for the joint venture is to offer a seamless customer experience with a complementary quality product offering. For example, we both offer business customers direct aisle access and forward facing seats, reciprocal lounge access and shared frequent flier rewards.

Skift: Many passengers today have an acrimonious relationship with airlines, especially in the U.S.. What is the secret behind the positive relationship Virgin Atlantic maintains with its customers? How do you plan to ensure that it remains that way?

Kreeger: The relationship between Virgin Atlantic and our customers is really the relationship between the people of Virgin Atlantic and our customers. We encourage our people (through our hiring, training and practices) to be themselves at work and to have fun. I think that the human connection that comes from that creates a great relationship and has come to define the Virgin brand. It means listening to our customers and genuinely seeking to make their experience great. In the end, our team is our brand and our people make the relationship with our customers a genuine and positive one.

Skift: How would you define the Virgin Atlantic brand ethos today, and how does it compare to the early days of the airline?

Kreeger: It hasn’t really changed over the last 30 years, we want to be the airline most loved by our customers and we will achieve this by putting the customer at the heart of everything we do. We have driven change in the industry, transforming the experience for the customer and plan to continue surprising and delighting our customers for the next 30 years and beyond.

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Tags: sgf2015, skift global forum, virgin atlantic

Photo credit: Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger at the launch of the new 787 Dreamliner at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia. Virgin Atlantic

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