Virgin Atlantic sees free WiFi in its future, and not just for Upper Class

Get Connected recently had the pleasure of experiencing the new Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 firsthand, including that onboard Inmarsat GX powered WiFi. During the flight, we had the chance to catch up with Vice President of Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic, Daniel Kerzner, to talk about the airline’s current and future inflight connectivity offering.

Virgin A350 flying
Virgin could offer free WiFi, and not just to premium passengers. Photo: Virgin

The Virgin Atlantic A350 WiFi offering

Right now, the WiFi on Virgin’s A350-1000 is available for a fee. However, unlike some carriers, Virgin Atlantics paid-for WiFi is subscribed on an unlimited basis.

Passengers can get access to messaging only connections for as little as £2.99 / $3.95, going up to a cost of £20.99 / $26.95 for a high-speed connection for the entire flight. While the prices for these aren’t bad on the face of it, when you consider that this is a completely unlimited connection, it seems like an absolute bargain.

Unlimited means that data consumption is not measured at all. Passengers who have paid to stay connected all flight will never run out of data or find their connection restricted, regardless of what they are using it for.

Virgin A350 WiFi pricing
Virgin’s A350 WiFi pricing. Photo: Jo Bailey/Get Connected

GetConnected caught up with Daniel Kerzner, Vice President of Passenger Experience, who told us why Virgin had decided on this. He said,

“Unlimited is really important and has become so much more important today because the devices we use have changed. Now, as soon as you connect to the internet, your device is updating behind the scenes and using data to replicate itself, so even before you go in you’ve used so much data. If you’ve only bought 150MB of allowance, you’ll have gone through that in moments.

“At Virgin, we believe in giving our customers the best experience in the sky. We want them to be able to share that with others and we also wanted it to be a seamless customer journey between being on board and being on the ground. You don’t chew through tiny allowances of data at home or in a hotel anymore, so why do you do it in the air?”

Will it ever be free?

Daniel was clear that free WiFi is certainly on the menu for Virgin Atlantic at some point in the future. He noted that the airline has been trialing free WiFi since the launch of the aircraft, to see how the system responds to a heavy load and to understand better how customers will use it. He told me,

We’ve been trialing free WiFi to see whether our customers want it, how does the network perform with 300 people connected all at once and what are people using it for. I think it’s safe to say that we envision a day when Wi-Fi is going to be free on board all our aircraft.”

Virgin Atlantic Free WiFi
Free WiFi may not just be for those in the swanky new Upper Class cabin. Photo: Virgin

While some airlines already offer free WiFi to their premium passengers, Virgin Atlantic don’t think it will be this clear cut for them. Daniel explained,

“I think it’s less about Upper or economy and more about customer journeys. Some of our top flyers travel in premium, some of the most valuable customers we have only ever fly economy, so when we think about rewarding them, whether it’s free Wi-Fi or giving them some of those other added features in the future, we try to look at it through the lens of the customer journey. We want to add value for our best customers, so it’s likely the rewards will be more customer-specific rather than cabin specific.”

It’s an interesting concept, and very Virgin, to reward those who fly the most and not those who simply spend the most. Loyalty at its best.

How is it performing so far?

We were fortunate enough to test drive Virgin’s WiFi on board the A350-1000 on a transatlantic trip recently. While firewalls prevented us from running a regular speed test, we did, without doubt, have a connection through most of the flight. It wasn’t the fastest, but it wasn’t a normal flight either. Because this was a celebration flight, Virgin had given all the passengers free access to WiFi, which meant the useage was probably a lot heavier than it usually would have been.

During the flight, several people managed to FaceTime friends and family on the ground, and browsing, emailing and even sharing pictures was completed without trouble. Considering how new this aircraft is to Virgin, and how fresh the Virgin-Inmarsat partnership is, it’s a great start to global coverage for both parties in this program.

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