Virgin prepares for battle with online-friendly terminals

Virgin Atlantic has never been one to let its rivals hog the limelight, but owner Sir Richard Branson will have a tough job diverting attention away from the new home of British Airways, Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

But the wheels of the slick Virgin PR machine have started turning in a bid to draw attention to its own base at London’s busiest airport.

“Tough competition” to BA and its £4 billion T5 – as most associated with the project call it – will emerge from a rejuvenated Terminal 3, Virgin has said in recent weeks.

BA has pushed T5 as a state-of-the-art terminal for modern travellers, designed on the principle that more consumers will carry out previous and often time-consuming functions, such as checking in, via the web.

Not to be outdone, Virgin says its new check-in area – part of an overall rebuild of the terminal by Foster and Partners, the team behind the new Wembley Stadium – will cater for its own new breed of passenger. Around 80% of Virgin Atlantic customers will be checking in online ahead of their journey or at kiosks, rather than traditional desks, by the end of 2008. The airline also has ambitious plans for its high-end passengers, with a chauffeur drop-off point inside the terminal.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway is already building the rhetoric ahead of the opening later this year, ahead of T5’s in March 2008. He said: “We estimate it will take our passengers less than 15 minutes to check in and get to departures and even less time for our Upper Class passengers to get to the Clubhouse.

“This is in contrast to most of BA’s long-haul passengers, who will have a longer journey through the vast T5, with huge distances from the kerbside to lounges and to the aircraft.”

It seems the offline battle for the online consumer is only just beginning.

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