Virgin America’s demographic includes some of the world’s tech-savviest passengers, many of whom have already adopted cutting-edge gadgets. How have you designed RED to serve these customers’ ever-evolving needs?
RED is always evolving. We just recently launched RED 2.0 which includes features that came directly from the system’s suggestion box. For example, passengers asked to be able to control what music they listen to while playing video games on the system. We have over 3,000 music mp3s on RED, so the system now asks players whether they want to override a game’s default music and listen to their own custom playlist.
How have passengers responded to your new inflight wireless service?
The response has been really good. Our social media team has been seeing a lot of positive buzz from bloggers and customers. A lot of times people will tweet us from the air and tell us how much they like the service. It’s a great way for us to respond to our passengers’ needs in real time.
A recent Wall Street Journal article suggested passengers were hesitant to pay for another service in flight. You currently charge for WiFi as well as traditional audio/video on-demand programming. Do you think these services will eventually be folded into the cost of the airline ticket?
It would be nice if one day it was all contained in the price of the ticket. But right now it’s kind of hard to make a passenger who’s not going to use the Internet or doesn’t want to watch a movie pay for it. Maybe they bought a magazine or bought a book to read instead. I think you need to give customers the option to pay or not.
What impact do you think inflight WiFi will have on the RED system? Won’t a lot of Red’s features—chat rooms, e-mail, even streaming video—become redundant when people have their own connected laptops on board?
I haven’t seen a hit to our movie or TV sales since we launched WiFi fleetwide. The bandwidth that you get on the aircraft is really fast, but streaming video is always going to be buffering. If you want to sit back and have an immersive entertainment experience, I think RED is still the way to go.
Are there any plans to integrate your fleet’s inflight connectivity into Virgin America’s business operations? For example, by providing passengers information on connecting flights or irregular operations in real time?
These are plans for that down the road. But right now our WiFi is not connected to RED. When it is, we’ll probably start off with something nice and easy like the ability to connect to your Twitter account through the system. Eventually, we’ll be able to feed passengers information on connecting flights and all that stuff. But that’s more like a RED 6.0 idea!
What opportunities are there for partnerships and branded content through RED?
There is a ton of opportunity. We’ve already had Banana Republic sponsor one of our TV channels where they aired a lot of original content from their fashion shows. We also have a partnership with Virgin Mobile coming up.
What else is on your wish list for RED?
I’m currently trying to improve our repertoire of games. I’d like to see a 3D-type game like what you would see at home on your Xbox or Wii. I’d also like to have multiplayer games where passengers can play against each other or as a team. I’d like to see people get together with their buddy across the aisle and blow stuff up! I’d also like to have a section on RED devoted to documentary films.
Speaking of films, how do you take into account the Transumer mind frame when selecting movies and TV shows for RED?
It’s really about finding out what the passenger wants to watch. I used to work at Frontier Airlines so when I came to Virgin I started to incorporate what I learned there. But I soon learned that the passenger experience is very different at Virgin America, which leads to very different viewing choices.
At Frontier everyone wanted to watch romantic comedies. At Virgin people are into darker stuff like action films and movies like The Hangover, which is doing tremendously well right now. If I put on an R-rated film at Frontier people would be complaining left and right. At Virgin people figure it’s par for the course. It’s what we do.