Virgin Australia plans a rapid rollout of its next-generation business class seats, despite the launch being pushed back from March to an unspecified ‘mid-year’ timeframe.
The airline’s ambitious intent is that its fleet of six twin-aisle Airbus A330 jets will upgraded to feature the new seats by August.
But transcontinental travellers could face a little pain before enjoying their lie-flat business class gain, including possible cancellation of selected off-peak services and some flights operated by smaller Boeing 737s, as each of the A330s goes under the knife.
“As an aircraft goes in to get done you can fill that gap though three ways” Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti says.
“One is more flying by the existing [A330] fleet; two, substitutions on some flights with Boeing 737s; and three, there may be some services that you may not want to operate in peak times,” Borghetti tells Australian Business Traveller.
While Qantas’ pace to refit each domestic A330s at its Brisbane hangar is 30 days per aircraft Virgin Australia will be sending its six A330s to Singapore with the aim of turning them all around in no more than 12 weeks, with the new seats installed at the same time as a scheduled ‘heavy maintenance’ check.
“The shorter the reconfiguration time the better off you are to provide consistency of product, so that’s why we’re keeping our end date” Borghetti says. “The start date will now be closer to the end date but that’s actually a good outcome.”
“In some ways this is good for us” an optimistic Borghetti mulls.
“The worst thing that can happen is that you have a fleet of however many aircraft, you [upgrade] one right away and another a few months later” Borghetti reflects.
“You actually disappoint customers because they get on a plane today and it’s the new product, then they get on another plane tomorrow and it’s the old product, it’s like a lucky dip.”
Reducing the time in which travellers may see some east-west flight temporarily cancelled or swapped onto Boeing 737 jets is “another reason why you want to do [the A330 upgrades] as quickly as possible” Borghetti says.
Virgin still hasn’t revealed the brand under which the seats will be marketed, similar to how Qantas has christened its A330 product as the Business Suite, while Virgin partners Etihad and Air New Zealand have adopted the Business Studio and Business Premier tags.
“We’re playing with a couple of options, we just haven’t landed on which one yet” Borghetti says. “I have a view of what it should be,” he admits, “but we’re going through the process.”