In December of 2014, a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Boston introduced flyers to a brand new experience. The timing couldn’t have been better, either – the flight took place just four days before Christmas.
To commemorate a new partnership with Microsoft, Virgin had a host of celebratory, holiday-inspired treats in store for passengers. Not only were travelers given a special holiday dinner, but they each received a free Windows tablet pre-loaded with fun apps, including a Santa tracker and a live messenger that they could use with the available WiFi. Santa Claus himself also made an appearance, preceded by a mock live broadcast of him landing his sleigh on the top of the plane and coming in through the cabin door. Once he arrived, he handed out more presents to guests.
The experiment showed Virgin just how engaged passengers can be with one another and the staff, even during a long flight. Lessons learned during that trial led Virgin to plan future in-flight entertainment and services. For example, during one flight, London-based band Rudimental performed live and the show was streamed from over the Atlantic. During another, Google Glasses were given out for free to improve interaction between the flight attendants and the passengers. Virgin has even improved the pre-flight experience by putting complimentary magazines and newspapers in the waiting area at Heathrow Airport.
While technically a big brand and a worldwide airline, Virgin has fewer than 20 departures daily and their customers fly with them just once or twice a year. They understood that their customers would not benefit from a loyalty or rewards program. They had to find a different way to keep their customer relationships strong in between flights and to make infrequent trips memorable enough to increase customer loyalty.
Virgin seemed to have figured out how to meet both the functional needs of their passengers as well as the emotional needs. While that Christmastime scheme was mostly about announcing the Microsoft partnership, and while these extras weren’t going to become part of every Virgin flight moving forward, it showed how dedicated the airline is to to improving the customer experience.