Virgin Atlantic Actively Supports An Inconsistent Fleet – Here’s Why

Virgin Atlantic’s fleet is one of the more inconsistent around. The A350-1000 has a game-changing Upper Class and is pretty good through its other two cabins also. However, the 787s are almost due for renewal (and are quite different from the A350) and the A340s are different again. Yet, Virgin says that they are not concerned about this inconsistency; indeed, the airline goes so far as to say it actively supports it. Here’s why.

Virgin A350
Virgin Atlantic lacks consistency across its fleet, but is that a bad thing? Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Inconsistency is an excuse to be lazy

I had the opportunity to chat with Virgin’s Vice President of Customer Experience, Daniel Kerzner, about the lack of consistency in Virgin’s fleet. What he told me surprised me:

“People ask, are you afraid of inconsistency. I think consistency is an excuse to be lazy.”

While that might sound like a rather outlandish opinion, Mr. Kerzner certainly has good reason to put it out there. Virgin Atlantic is well known for innovating, for optimizing and for doing things a bit differently. For them, they see an inconsistent fleet as a trademark of how they are constantly trying to improve.

“For us, it’s about pushing ourselves. It’s about ‘can we do this better; can we make people feel more comfortable; can we give back the customer; can we give more to our people’. We wake up every morning doing that. In the end, it does provide an inconsistent experience but it provides a better experience for our customers.”

Upper CLass on the Virgin Dreamliner
The current Upper Class on the Virgin Dreamliner. Photo: Virgin

I saw evidence of this myself onboard the A350-1000 when we took Upper Class for a test drive last month. Despite being a brand new aircraft and an experience that had been many years in the making, the Virgin team was already looking at how it could do better. Rather than packing the plane with vanilla-flavored yes men, they brought on board some of the edgiest, most controversial journalists in the industry. They wanted us to be critical.

And it didn’t stop there. From inviting our somewhat picky perspective, the team were looking at how they could improve, and not just on future cabin iterations. Less than a month after receiving the first A350, Virgin has already begun installing redesigned tray tables in Upper to overcome an issue raised by so many reviewers.

Virgin Atlantic A350 seat review
Upper Class on the Virgin A350. Photo: Virgin

I don’t doubt that the feedback from the A350 will feed into the development of the Dreamliner cabins too, and will see something even more special being developed. Something different; inconsistent, if you like.

Managing customer expectations

Having an inconsistent fleet presents some challenges in terms of what customers are expecting. While many airlines strive to develop a more consistent fleet, actively managing a fleet that does not have that consistency will surely lead to dissatisfaction among customers. I pressed Mr. Kerzner on this, but he responded with his trademark positivity and optimism.

“I think that I would rather trade-off enhancements for our people and our customers over consistency. Of course, that comes with educating our customers on what they going to get; it means managing their expectations, but in some ways, they do that themselves.

“It’s a big change that happened, and that’s how customers are able to educate themselves in ways that we couldn’t have five years ago. Five years ago, you would maybe have had a brochure from a travel agency, and that’s all you knew. Now you’re reading a review about the flight that you’re going to be flying and you know exactly what to expect.”

Virgin Upper Class 747
The soon to be retired 747s Upper Class. Photo: Philip Capper via Wikimedia

And he’s right, you know. Anyone who really, truly cares about what they’ll find when they board the aircraft will already know inside out what they’re going to get. For those who are a little less geeky about the PaxEx, they won’t know there was another choice, and probably won’t care.

Where the consistency comes in

Despite all this talk of inconsistency, believe it or not, Virgin Atlantic is pushing for consistency, just not in the way you thought. So the seat might be variable, the recline a little different and the IFE changeable from one plane to another, but something will always stay the same. That, my friends, is the inimitable fabulous service and attention to detail that only Virgin Atlantic is able to provide.

Mr. Kerzner put it best when he said,

“Our customers expect us to give the best. If we are ever faced with the choice to give more to our customer or our people, then the answer is yes, let’s figure out how to do it. That’s where Virgin does have consistency.”