Virgin Australia mulls 'economy plus' extra legroom rows

By David Flynn, December 29 2016
Virgin Australia mulls 'economy plus' extra legroom rows

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.

The Space+ rows on Virgin Australia's Boeing 737-800
The Space+ rows on Virgin Australia's Boeing 737-800

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.

Also read: Virgin upgrades Boeing 777 premium economy to 'business lite'

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 574

They just can't shake the LCC vibes!

28 May 2016

Total posts 128

Exactly, VA will never be able to compete efficiently against QF until they drop their LCC feel.


VA can't blame restructuring costs for a lack of profits forever. 

27 Jan 2016

Total posts 53

Great idea, and a good differentiator for VA. 

23 Feb 2016

Total posts 34

Just what everyone was asking for! Further fragmentation of VA's cabin classes and watering down of VFF benefits!

Yaf
Yaf

02 Nov 2012

Total posts 35

Guess, they want their frequent fliers to fly less with them

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Jan 2016

Total posts 61

This is a bit of a non news story.  Virgin are considering doing this, and have focus group tested it.  That said,  if it does happen, and If history is any indicator.  I strongly suspect that Virgin will announce that everyone has to pay for the seats.  Then a week later after the outrage from peeved platinums announce that plats will get them free..  which would at least make a small improvement on a fairly woeful top tier program. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 33

I agree; this isn't an article to react too strongly or do spit takes on. One would think if they were more serious about the idea they might have placed the focus groups under NDA.

It's just a fishing exercise, which sometimes involves putting out all kinds of bait, from super to stupid.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2395

These types of focus groups typically are conducted under an NDA, but if an attendee chooses to breach the NDA that is their decision (and if we believe the material warrants reporting as a news story, we'll do so – although we don't always report on such things).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2012

Total posts 304

Virgin Blue Mach II. They really need to figure out what they want. LCC or Wannabe Premium 

28 May 2016

Total posts 128

Typical VA, no consistency and further diluting FF benefits. A product like this works in markets with a large population (Such as the USA) and will have little positive effect to VA's bottom line.


Who knows, maybe in 12 months time VA will announce another restructure, has any airline picked up the 'DJ' flight number code? VA might want it back :P

23 Feb 2016

Total posts 34

There are arguments to be had but a large population isn't one of them. You'll get the same random set of pax regardless of how big the population is.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2014

Total posts 157

Space+ includes priority boarding?


I paid for it a couple weeks ago to Melbourne ... nothing on my BP to indicate priority boarding and no announcements. Ended up boarding with everyone else.

As an aside, doesn't Air NZ offer a similar product on its short haul services (with 35" legroom instead of normal 32"), which it provides for free to Gold and above members?

27 Jan 2016

Total posts 53

I have noticed it recently calling out Space+ with Plat and Gold.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 184

Yes, on Air NZ domestic A320 jet services has Seat+ from rows 2 to 12 with seat pitch ranging from 83cm to 86cm. If seated in DEF from rows 2 to 9 the seat pitch is 88cm.

Rows 13 to back of aircraft is 76cm seat pitch.

On A320 international short haul services seats ABC from 1 to 10 with 83cm to 86cm pitch

Seat+ is only available to Star Alliance Gold, Gold Elite and Koru members and those passengers who pay full economy fare or J fare on Air NZ co-share partner airlines.

27 Jan 2016

Total posts 53

I would love them to take this one step further and remove 2 rows and just give back an extra 2-3 inches to everyone else. Given their sub par loads and reducing pitches all round, including QF, it would be an interesting proposition to a lot of people who feel the pinch in Y.

Space+ seems a sensible offering to have given its presence on their 777 fleet. I wonder if they'll extend it to the A330s. 

QFF

19 Sep 2013

Total posts 160

Great idea! As the article indicates, other airlines already offer at least the first bulkhead row or the last few rows for rear boarding at a slight price increase, and I'm quite happy to fork out a few extra $ for these seats.

15 Jan 2015

Total posts 4

Its a great idea, everyone's plat these days. Platinum get enough freebies! they can have row 4 for free! was their free lounge entry food and drinks on an economy ticket not enough for them? 

23 Feb 2016

Total posts 34

"was their free lounge entry food and drinks on an economy ticket not enough for them?"


Hahahahaha "free"

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

05 Nov 2014

Total posts 26

The problem with Delta (and United) employing a similar model is that people buy all the window and aisle Extra Comfort and Economy Plus seats.


The high tier elites then have a choice between the inferior legroom seat they already have or an "upgrade" to Extra Comfort/Economy Plus which takes them into an unsold middle seat.

It's a sound business model in the quasi-monopoly US domestic market, but it's an act of self-harm here if it funnels  high value passengers to Qantas.

20 Feb 2012

Total posts 65

A really good point that the people buying would buy the window and aisle seats only leaving the middle seats to the elites.

That being said I believe that in both cases the Platinums get to select the seats earlier and with United Gold gets to select at booking.
I believe it can be a win-win if Platinums get to select it for free at booking and Gold gets to select it 72hrs before.
The ability to provide product differentiation other than Business and economy is a good thing in my opinion.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 20

This would work for red eyes aka Perth or long trips like Bali... But doubt it would be popular for routes like the golden triangle...

13 May 2016

Total posts 32

As a VA Gold member who flies to Sydney to Perth on a regular basis, this is exactly what I was thinking.


When flying on the golden triangle I usually pick a seat towards the rear of the plane as I'm more likely to get a row of 3 seats to myself.

20 Feb 2012

Total posts 65

It all depends how they price it. In America an upgrade to economy plus can be $19 and an upgrade to first (our business) can be $70.

I flew Space+ back from Auckland. The NZ ground crew had no clue, and told me of priority boarding "we'll let you through but next time you have to wait".


Personally I think it's a bad idea for domestic flights, because of the Platinum backlash, but on international (LAX or short haul) and Perth flights I really like the concept.


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