After 30 years of trying, Virgin Atlantic this month launched U.K. domestic service on a new brand called Virgin Atlantic Little Red, with flights from London Heathrow to Aberdeen, Manchester and Edinburgh (the U.K.'s busiest route). Aboard the inaugural flight to Edinburgh, Kate Rice talked with Virgin Atlantic's new CEO, Craig Kreeger, about Virgin's plans.
Q: You've got a two-years-to-profitability plan. How does Little Red fit into that?
A: One of the competitive challenges that Virgin Atlantic has is to capitalize on its great customer service and its great people without historically having a lot of connecting opportunities. So we're trying to create more loyal customers, and to do that we need access, we need to be able to offer them services to where they want to fly or where they live. And we think of Little Red -- and Delta similarly, in this regard -- as being able to offer a whole new set of customers access to what I believe they will find ... a preferred experience flying our airline.
So if you think of [it] from the U.S. perspective ... those customers who would like to try Virgin Atlantic -- and we think if they do, they'll want to come back -- will be able to take our service across the ocean and connect on to Scotland or Aberdeen or Manchester and fly Virgin Atlantic the whole way. We think that'll get us access to a larger customer base. And, of course, from Scotland and Manchester, we feel confident we'll be able to offer those customers the world [from Heathrow].
Q: How does your joint venture with Delta Air Lines fit into this?
A: The logic of the relationship with Delta from a U.S. point-of-sale perspective is that Delta customers will be able to use Virgin Atlantic services, and on a Delta code, and earn Delta or Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer miles, utilize their corporate discount. ... And presumably we'll work together to sell to and work with travel agencies both in the U.S. and the U.K. as one transatlantic joint venture.
Q: What else are you doing to keep your competitors on their toes?
A: I love the sort of energy and spirit with which this company does things, whether it's how we handle press conferences and inaugural events or, you know, April Fool's jokes like glass-bottomed airplanes or just the way in which our people interact with our customers. That, frankly, is the single most important thing.
I think we are always looking to trying to find something to create a difference when you walk onto one of our long-haul aircraft. Whether it's the light or the bar or the smiling person in a red uniform, there's something magical about the way in which our customers are able to experience our service, and I'm just delighted to be part of it.
Q: You previously worked for American Airlines. How does it feel to go from a staid network carrier to one of the coolest brands in travel?
A: Well, I knew this company obviously as a competitor and I knew it actually as a customer, having flown paid tickets with them trying to get places where the companies I worked for didn't fly. So I certainly had a sense beforehand that I was joining a [cool carrier] -- and I use the word cool quite frequently to describe this brand -- and, in fact, it feels great.
As you might suspect, working for another carrier, we didn't consider ourselves staid and boring at all. But I will say that there is no doubt that working for a smaller, more nimble airline and an airline that's truly focused at the very personal, individual employee level on taking care of our customers is absolutely a joy.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.