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Virgin Atlantic ‘committed to omnichannel but NDC is coming’

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Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said the airline is committed to “remaining omnichannel” in the way it provides its content but that “ultimately, we all need to move to NDC”.

Speaking at the Business Travel Association’s Spring Conference in London on Monday, Weiss said the carrier and its joint venture partner Delta Air Lines had taken a “more considered approach” to the introduction of NDC than other airlines, without singling out American Airlines’ aggressive approach to NDC adoption.

“We are not the leaders of the revolution,” said Weiss. “It will catch up to all of us but I think we have all got confused about the impact of NDC and what the objective of NDC actually is. It’s not just to reduce the cost [to airlines], it’s actually to introduce better ways for you to see our inventory and to move to a retailing model where you can sell more products and we can share in that economic environment. We, with our partners, have moved slower and we will not surprise our trade partners.”

He continued: “We cannot stop progress and progress is about the distribution model and the ability to unbundle and present multiple offerings for corporate customers. But right now there is a lot of confusion about what NDC is supposed to be and what it will be. Why are there differences between player A and player B when they’re supposed to be aligned? Progress will be made and when we are ready to announce something we will.”

The airline has made “good progress” on its Virgin Atlantic for Business programme launched a year ago but Weiss said there is “more to be done”. He noted the carrier is seeing through its commitment to put “our best products into our most important markets for business”, naming Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

Virgin’s corporate business reached 75 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes in 2023 and is expect to climb to 80 per cent in 2024. Weiss said that the geopolitical environment and new working patterns are affecting corporate recovery which continues to lag leisure travel growth.

Weiss reported a slight increase in more profitable, short-lead bookings of less than 20 days and highlighted a “fantastic” sales performance in the United States. “On certain days last week sales in the US exceeded those in the UK. I’ve never seen that in my 10 years at Virgin,” he said, attributing it in part to its joint venture relationships.

In a wide-ranging interview, Weiss also said that its home hub, London Heathrow, “is the most expensive airport in the world but doesn’t provide the best service in the world,” noting that Virgin is based in a 60-year-old terminal building. “I have my eye on Terminal 2. There are possibilities there,” he added. “We need to create the home of Virgin Atlantic and partners at Heathrow.”

Weiss said that Virgin is the fastest-growing carrier at London Heathrow, having added more slots at the airport in the past two years than any other airline and moved all its London Gatwick operations to the UK’s hub airport. “But we can’t keep that up,” he said. “Slots are expensive and they don’t come up very often. We are constrained. That’s why we originally supported the [construction of a] third runway [at Heathrow] but maybe that’s not relevant for the next 15 to forever years.”

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