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Convene, 237 Park Avenue, NYC - November 22, 2019
Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel - December 2,
St. Regis Hotel - December 2, 2019
Virgin Atlantic's Yuli Thompson talks:
Virgin Atlantic VP of North America Yuli Thompson is nearing the end of her first full year as the leader of commercial operations, including sales, in the U.S. and the Caribbean, and she'll add Brazil to her responsibilities when the carrier starts service between London and Sao Paulo next year. She spoke with BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker.
BTN: What's the update on your combined venture with Delta and Air France-KLM?
Thompson: We've been a JV with Delta for about five years, and we are waiting for full approval from the U.S. [Department of Transportation] in joining the two JVs across the transatlantic. We received provisional approval from the U.S. DOT for us to go ahead with this. Provisional approval means the final approval will come fairly soon, so it looks to be on track.
BTN: You have been aligning some of your services with Delta, such as the recent announcement regarding Corporate Priority. Is more of that on the way?
Thompson: We are working alongside Delta making sure the benefits they are offering in the U.S. are aligned across corporate customers. When people have connecting itineraries, Net Promoter Scores are a little less than if you have a straightforward itinerary. When you transfer from one airline to another, the policies and procedures are a little different, so it's not a seamless experience for you. We're working on making it all seamless, and the Corporate Priority program will help us do that. Being able to offer the right benefits to our corporate customers requires [some] technology developments, and I think we'll be able to come up with a full story later this year, in Q4. We [also] are allowing cross-check-in on our mobile app across Virgin and Delta, so when you book with Virgin on a codeshare with Delta, you can go to the Virgin app and check in with Delta. We just launched that on Aug. 1, and it's both ways.
BTN: Does it include seat selection, as well?
Thompson: Not at this point, but we'd rather work in a way when we can implement things in an incremental fashion rather than wait until we have everything sorted.
BTN: What's new in network growth?
Thompson: We just announced earlier in the year that we are going to [be] flying from Heathrow to Brazil. We’ve got two other new routes coming this year: Tel Aviv [in September], as well as Mumbai [in October]. My role covers all of the Americas, and 70 percent of Virgin Atlantic flying is to the U.S. Much of my role is focused on the U.S. and making sure our commercial and revenue performance is up to speed, as well as overseeing the overall operations. The most significant thing is the focus on JFK-Heathrow. London-New York is our biggest market. This year, we take delivery of our first [Airbus] A350 aircraft, and the first market we are putting it on is New York. The first flight is [in early September].
BTN: What's the take been on the new economy fare options you introduced last year?
Thompson: When we launched the different brands last year, we had underestimated how much our customers in the U.S. like the [Economy] Light product. If you are traveling for short periods and don't need to check in a bag, you want the best price possible. Close to a quarter of our economy bookings from the U.S. are in Light.
BTN: You had a milestone in your use of biofuels last year. What other sustainability initiatives are you working on?
Thompson: Sustainability continues to be on our agenda. At [the Global Business Travel Association convention] this year, we worked with Delta and Air France-KLM to carbon offset all the travel to GBTA. It's the first step, dipping our toe in the water, in terms of trying to assess and talking to our customers and opening dialogue to what's important to our corporate customers.
BTN: Delta is working with a handful of corporate partners to include offsets as part of the corporate agreement. Will you do the same?
Thompson: We will look at that. Delta has signed with three different corporates. We are in dialogue with them on that path. If customers tell us that's important, we can reprioritize things and make sure we can offer carbon offsetting alongside Delta. Airlines will always have a carbon footprint based on today's technology. We think the best way to reduce our carbon footprint is to fly aircraft that use less fuel. One of the things we do actively: In all our aircraft orders, we consider that and look at more fuel-efficient aircraft. With our new A350, as well as A330neo, order, in the next 10 years, we'll be able to reduce our CO2 emissions by about 30 percent.
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