Virgin Australia's new owners Bain Capital hope to reboot the airline's inflight WiFi service as part of its new "customer service proposition", although the shape of the WiFi packages – and how they fit into the airline's value-centric 'hybrid' model – remains to be seen.
Bain has severed Virgin's contract with connectivity partner Gogo, which is in the process of selling its commercial airline business to satellite colossus Intelsat for US$400m to focus on business jet connectivity and 5G air-to-ground networks.
However, Virgin reportedly remains in discussions with Optus, which carried the airline's inflight Internet signal on a fourth-generation Optus D2 satellite launched in 2007.
"Since we entered voluntary administration in April, all contracts and agreements across the Group have been reviewed, renegotiated or repudiated in order to exit administration with a competitive cost base," a Virgin Australia spokesman told Executive Traveller.
A spokesman for Optus said the telco does "not publicly disclose details of potential or customers discussions due to confidentiality."
Virgin Australia launched inflight WiFi in April 2017 – the same month as rival Qantas – although while Qantas pitched its service as being fast and free for every passenger, Virgin settled on a combination of free and paid access.
The basic WiFi connection was earmarked as "suitable for lightweight Web browsing, email and social media at around 1Mbps", the airline said at the time, although many travellers noted free speeds in the vicinity of 10Mbps.
For $12, passengers could reserve a fast connection for what the airline described as "higher-bandwidth applications such as video streaming and downloading large files or attachments."
However, Virgin beat Qantas to the punch in offering WiFi on international flights, with costs starting at $7 per hour to New Zealand and stretching out to a $20 'flight pass' to or from Los Angeles.
Virgin's inflight WiFi has been switched off since the airline collapsed into administration but is expected to be one plank in the new Virgin Australia 2.0 platform.
This will see the Bain-owned Virgin Australia adjust its course away from being a full-service competitor against Qantas and become a mid-market "hybrid airline offering great value to customers by delivering a distinctive Virgin Australia experience at competitive prices," a spokesman for Bain Capital told Executive Traveller.
One option for Bain would be to restart the previous tiered plan, albeit with stricter speed limiting enforced on the free service.
Another would be to dial back the free service to cover only messaging apps – such as WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, along with the chat programs of Apple and Android devices – in line with several overseas carriers, among them Virgin's US partner Delta Air Lines.
Virgin's incoming CEO Jayne Hrdlicka is expected to detail the airline's new value-based offering in the coming weeks.