Talking about the growth in places like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai, David Hodges, Country Manager, India, Virgin Atlantic, says these cities offer some exciting new opportunities for direct flights. He goes on to talk about India as a viable source market for the airline.
Peden Doma Bhutia
Q Are you starting any new routes from India?
We have been flying from Delhi for 18 years and it’s been a fantastic route for us. We are certainly proud of the heritage that we’ve brought to this market. We have a partnership with Jet Airways which provides a much greater reach to customers in India and those from UK travelling to India across connections via Delhi to a number of cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala, Amritsar etc. We are really excited about the growth that we see in India.
Q What kind of growth are you talking about?
The growth is through our expansion in the partnership with Jet Airways and the codeshare partnership that we have in new cities. I think there is some real opportunity for potentially more direct flights and that’s what we are evaluating at the moment. If you look at the growth in places like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai there is some really exciting new opportunities for direct flights. These cities are seeing a lot of growth from both business and corporate travellers. So there’s real opportunity in the future going forward in those cites but at the moment our growth is certainly here for our partnerships.
Q Are you planning to venture in the Mumbai market once again?
Right now we see Mumbai as a great market to strengthen our partnership with Jet Airways and their three services a day. We got the best Trans Atlantic connections that you can have onwards from India. Our partnership with Delta Airlines connects places like New York, San Franciso, Seattle, Atlanta and many other cities.
Q How have you fared in terms of passenger load?
The passenger load factor has been very strong in 2017. Our load factors are well into the 80%, which is pretty high, but we need to grow and we see a market that’s growing strongly.
Q How viable is India as a source market for you? How important is the Indian travel trade in this?
It’s very viable, we see a lot more people wanting to explore, travel and see the world. The Indian market is growing as the economy is continuing to grow. Travel trade is really important for us and through our sales team we are working day to day with the different segments of that market. They will remain important for the long-term future of Virgin Atlantic in India.
“There’s a real vibrancy about the Indian economy and that vibrancy translates into how people use technology, which is creating a desire for more people to travel”
Q Virgin has always been at the heart of innovation, being the first ones to introduce flat beds, the first to introduce premium economy and the first to put television at the back of the seats, across all cabins. Now you have introduced three new ways to fly for Economy passengers. Tell us more…
We are always looking at how the customer will benefit and what is the new innovation that can help them. And we looked into the economy cabins in particular to give more choice to the economy passengers. So, what we have done is that we have introduced effectively three different options in the economy section that work for people with different needs and it’s quite a big change because while most airlines are looking at how they can cramp people into the aircraft we have actually taken some seats out of our economy cabin to give people the choice to buy our new Economy Delight product which is effectively giving them much more legroom, premium check-in, seat assignment and some other benefits. We see value in that choice for the customer, the Economy Classic product is very similar to what we had earlier for economy, with some extra things like free seat assignment and finally, the Economy Light product is for people who don’t want to take check-in baggage and want to have the lowest fare at all time.
Q How big is the market for no-baggage in India?
We’ve introduced the sales and there’s a definitely a market for all three. The market for no-baggage in India might be smaller than most markets but there are still corporates who travel for a very short time.
Q With Indian LCCs planning to fly to European routes, do you think of them as competition?
Any airline that comes into the market and flies on your route is a competitor to some extent, but as the growth of international travel is increasing the potential for low cost carriers to fly long haul is also growing. We offer competitive prices for the service we render. I think people would want to continue to fly with us. Whatever the competition is, I haven’t seen an airline that can deliver to the customer what we do.