EXCLUSIVE | Virgin Australia is looking at adding an 'economy plus' section to its domestic Boeing 737-800 jets, providing passengers with extra legroom at an extra price in the first three rows of the economy cabin.
This would be an evolution of Virgin's current Space+ option, available from $20 at the emergency exit rows of Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737-800s and other domestic aircraft.
Space+ pairs the extra legroom of those rows with priority boarding and 'preferred' access to overhead lockers, but Virgin is now considering converting the first three rows of economy into a similar Space+ zone.
Virgin floated the idea across a series of closed-door focus groups held with its Velocity Frequent Flyer members earlier this month.
An Australian Business Traveller reader who participated in one of these invitation-only workshops said the proposed premium economy zone would see the first three rows of economy seats (directly behind the business class cabin) moved further apart to deliver up to 34 inches of pitch – a substantial gain over the 31 inches of Virgin's regular economy seats.
However, the airline's ponderings will trigger an amber alert among top-tier Velocity frequent flyers who enjoy free preferential access to those seats as part of their Platinum status.
Their concern: would Velocity Platinum frequent flyers be able to pre-select any of these seats free of charge; or would they be granted a free upgrade to the extra-legroom rows at check-in or upon boarding only when some of the Space+ seats remain unsold?
Virgin's idea takes a leaf from the playbook of domestic US airlines where passengers can pay an additional fee to be seated in an Economy Plus, Economy Comfort or Main Cabin Extra row at the front of the economy cabin and enjoy extra legroom, priority boarding and dedicated overhead luggage space (as well as being among the first passengers off the flight).
The move also fits the airline's focus on 'up-selling' under newly-minted group executive CEO John Thomas, who joined the airline in September this year as a right-hand to CEO John Borghetti to oversee Virgin's domestic and international arms.
Approached for comment, a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller that while the airline regularly seeks feedback from travellers across a range of issues it had no plans to announce regarding the addition of Space+ rows to the front of economy class across its Boeing 737 fleet.