Building an airline through brand values
A Virgin Atlantic case study

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Page 2: Customer service

Virgin Atlantic 3 Image 4In the airline industry, Virgin Atlantic has set the standard for excellent customer care. It has introduced a number of unique and innovative products to the business, which have become not only the hallmark of Virgin’s service values, but of the airline industry as a whole. For example, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer just two flight classes, Economy (a choice of Premium Economy and Economy) and Upper Class, a first class service at a business class fare, abandoning the former three class structure.

Virgin Atlantic has become the preferred carrier of many frequent flyers, because of its overall consideration of passenger needs, whether in-flight or in the airline’s airport facilities. Furthermore, Virgin’s own in-flight surveys have revealed that 91% of passengers in Upper Class would fly with Virgin Atlantic again and recommend the service to others.

In 1996, Virgin Atlantic carried more than 2.3 million passengers. The company has been recognised for its achievements through consistent success in winning prestigious awards. It has been voted ‘Airline of the Year’ four times by the readers of Executive Travel and ‘Best Transatlantic Airline’ by Travel Weekly for eight years running, to name but a few.


In the early 1980s, putting the customer first was still a strange concept in the airline business. Ferrying a passenger from A to B was paramount and building a reputation for customer care and quality was not considered imperative. Virgin Atlantic changed this by introducing the tenets of customer care and value for money as customary in the airline business.

The company was born in 1984 out of a proposal from an Anglo-US lawyer called Randolph Fields. Incredibly, the airline took just three months to lease its planes and start up its first operation from the UK to New York (Newark). From the outset, Virgin Atlantic’s mission was to provide the highest quality innovative service, at excellent value for money, for all classes of air travellers.

Before, long, the airline’s transatlantic routes had mushroomed to take in Miami (1985), Orlando (1986), New York JFK (1989), Los Angeles (1990), and Boston (1991). This was succeeded by flights to Tokyo, Athens, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Washington, Johannesburg and Manchester to Orlando, bringing the total number of destinations to 12. Virgin Atlantic has formed a number of partnerships with Malaysia Airlines, Ansett Australia, British Midland and Sun Air.

Virgin Atlantic, throughout its development has proved foremost in airline service with a string of ‘firsts’ in customer care. In-flight entertainment has headed the agenda, with individual TV screens provided for all passengers, whether in Upper Class or Economy. Other firsts for business class travellers have included: in-flight beauty therapists offering massage and manicures; a sleeper service with flexible meal options, known as Snooze Service; a complimentary chauffeur driven car to and from the airport, outbound and return; and at London Heathrow, the world’s first Drive Thru Check In service means passengers are checked in by their chauffeur avoiding the queues at check in completely.

Virgin Atlantic | Building an airline through brand values