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No seatback screens? Virgin sticks with eccentric policy

May 15, 2014 Aviation, Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

egtmedia59While the world’s airlines offer their customers seatback video screens presenting an expanding array of movies, games, music and interactive experiences, Virgin Australia is flying in another direction.

The airline is sticking with the unusual – some say eccentric – policy of not having any seatback video screens at all.

The carrier doesn’t even offer the type of screens that fold down from the ceiling or pop up from the armrest. It has none fitted and no intention of changing its policy.

Mark Hassell, Chief Customer Officer, Virgin Australia

Mark Hassell, Chief Customer Officer, Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia, which is keen to attract corporate business, relies on customers bringing their own tablets or smartphones aboard. They must download an app before they fly to make the systems work and receive Virgin’s Wi-Fi entertainment.

The airline keeps “a limited number of in-flight Entertainment Tablets available for use by selected guests”, as its inflight magazine puts it. Some of those have pre-loaded movies, TV shows and music; others rely on the plane’s Wi-Fi in-flight entertainment.

Some families are surprised and dismayed to discover these facts while flying from say, Sydney to Denpasar. Not all are carrying smartphones and tablets, or have downloaded the app. The flight lasts nearly seven hours.

“We have got absolutely no problem with people using their own phones and their iPads to access entertainment,” Virgin Australia’s chief customer officer, Mark Hassell, said at the weekend.

Hassell told assembled media at the ATE International Media Marketplace in Palm Cove that the origins of the Virgin brand came from the entertainment world and the airline prided itself on innovation, and “doing things a bit different”.

“Last year we rolled out in Asia Pacific the first e-cabin Wi-Fi proposition. We went down the road of people bringing their own smart devices and accessing 300 hours of entertainment through those devices.

“A lot of people said, ‘everyone expects them on the seatback, people don’t expect to have to bring their own smart devices to be able to access the entertainment’,” Hassell admitted.

“But in this country, 90% of the guests who fly on our aeroplanes have got one device and 70% have got two.”

Even so, the experience of watching a blockbuster movie on a little handheld smartphone just isn’t the same as watching it on a decent-sized seatback screen.

Later, Hassell conceded that other factors also came into the equation. The cost of equipping the Virgin Australia fleet with a seatback in-flight entertainment (IFE) system would be astronomical – and it takes time to install the devices, which is ground time for the planes. Then there’s the weight. All those screens and boxes weigh quite a lot, and anything that weighs, costs.

Finally, passengers become disappointed and annoyed if their seatback screens don’t work. If they bring their own, they have little to complain about.

So will Virgin come around to the mainstream thinking or is its course the right one? Time will tell. In the meantime, anyone flying Virgin Australia should bring their own screen device and download the relevant app beforehand. Or just bring a good book.

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. John Hollins says:

    I applaud Virgin Australia’s policy of no seat back entertainment.
    Why would you follow the crowd when you can have a point of difference?
    As mentioned, most people carry their own entertainment system anyway.
    Australian airlines have for too long, followed what “the mainstream” airlines are doing without looking at their bottom line.
    A good example of this is the need to join one of the global alliances.
    This is not necessary and in many ways, quiet detrimental to a carrier’s fortunes.
    We are a small but lucrative, off the beaten track market.
    We need to be different to survive.
    Well done Virgin and whatever you do, just do the opposite to Qantas and you’ll flourish.

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