Stars (and stripes) in our eyes
Juha Jarvinen, Chief Commercial Officer is back for the next of our Leadership Team guest blogs, as we mark the one-month anniversary of US borders reopening. We caught up with him to find out more about Virgin Atlantic’s restart and commercial strategy as we start on the road to recovery.
Monday 8th November will remain a historic day for Virgin Atlantic and the industry. After more than 600 days, the US borders finally reopened to fully vaccinated UK travellers. It’s a day that will stick with me for the rest of my career as it signified the start of Virgin Atlantic’s recovery and a new era in our history. I felt especially lucky to not only be at Heathrow on the day to join in the celebrations across our home at Terminal 3, but also to fly out to Atlanta that afternoon for meetings with our partners at Delta, knowing my flight was full of people looking to reconnect with friends, loved ones and colleagues in the US after so long apart.
It was a powerful moment for me as I sat in our Gatehouse – the airside facility our crew and pilots meet in before their flight – overlooking the runway. To see aircraft queuing, one behind the other, used to be such a normal sight but we had not seen it for almost two years. Suddenly, we were back. That feeling was so special. Magical in fact.
Celebrating the US borders reopening on 8th November at our home in Terminal 3
One month on and our busy flights to the US are working the teams hard, whether on the ground or in the skies. As Chief Commercial Officer, full flights are obviously a vested interest of mine, but they mean more than ever as we emerge from the most challenging period I hope we never have to repeat.
For our leisure customers, we know there is a huge amount of pent-up demand as travellers look to make up for lost time. A recent parliamentary research paper found household savings as a proportion of household disposable income increased 5pts to 14% from 2019 to 2020¹, and these consumers want to spend their savings on experiences not ‘stuff’. Virgin Atlantic is well placed to capture the demand for premium leisure, with our longstanding foundations in serving the Caribbean and market leadership in the Florida market. Our recent Black Friday campaign evidenced this with very strong performance for Barbados and Orlando, and many customers choosing to upgrade to our Premium and Upper Class cabins. Just last week, we took delivery of our seventh Airbus A350 which will serve these routes. The first of this aircraft type to have our reimagined leisure traveller configuration, including additional seating in Economy and the innovative new social space for our Upper Class customers, ‘The Booth’.
Our new onboard social space, 'The Booth'
A number of our routes have proved vital in reuniting loved ones, even at times when the toughest travel restrictions were in place. Most notably with air traffic to our destinations with a high level of diaspora, like India, Pakistan, Jamaica and Israel. It would be naïve to believe that an airline is just an airline. There’s a deeper meaning to what we do, and that is the power of connecting people. The emotional stories we have heard throughout the pandemic are endless; from bringing together families who have sadly lost loved ones, to enabling grandparents to meet their grandchildren for the first time, and reuniting couples who’ve been apart for years. This market has and continues to be a key revenue stream for us as the power of human connection often outweighs the challenges of navigating changing travel restrictions.
However, no source of revenue has been more vital than that of our Cargo business. At a time when we didn’t operate any passenger flights for three months in 2020, our cargo operations provided a lifeline and kept our planes in the sky, transporting everything from salmon to life-saving medicines. The team has continued to build on their successes from 2020, delivering the best ever monthly flown cargo revenue in November 2021. They have broken records, set new records, and then shattered those records again time after time, and we will be challenging our amazing teams to do the same in 2022.
Despite business travel proving unsurprisingly slower to recover than other areas of the market, some encouraging trends are already being seen in the States. US domestic corporate travel has recovered to 50% of the levels seen in 2019 which is a positive indication of the potential opportunities in this area. There will always be a fundamental need for businesses to meet customers; to build new relationships; and to reenergise economies around the world. Our extensive global route network – supported by our expanded joint venture with Delta, Air France and KLM - is set up well to cater for this market and we continue to optimise our destinations to best meet demand.
In some ways, we’re restarting Virgin Atlantic from scratch and that’s really exciting. However, the vision to become the most loved travel company remains, across the airline, Cargo and Virgin Atlantic Holidays. We are ready for the challenge, no matter what obstacles the pandemic continues to present, and we’ll do so with that unique Virgin spirit. With our people, the planet and communities in which we serve at the heart of what we do. The future is looking very red.
Juha hiking the Hollywood Hills on a recent trip to LA
1. Coronavirus: impact on household debt and savings (House of Commons Library) – accessed 07 December 2021