Customer Service the Virgin Atlantic Way

People love Virgin Atlantic.  If you Google “I love Virgin Atlantic” you’ll get 79,000 hits, try doing that for British Airways and the number is 50,000.  A number that isn’t too shocking until you realise that BA have ten times as many planes as Virgin.

The “I hate” figures tell a very similar story.

But why?  What do Virgin do so well?

First they are brilliant at the basics:

They are clear about what they need to be good at and then make sure that they deliver against it.  They worry about:

  • How often their flights arrive on time
  • The number of times they are short staffed
  • How clean their loos are
  • Making sure that the in-flight entertainment systems work

There is nothing remarkable here, it is just common sense, but ask yourself, are you using your common sense? Are you really clear about what is important to your customers? Are you delivering against it?  Honestly?

Secondly they overlay magic touches:

They think about what would surprise and delight their customers, and then they do that.

They have aeroplanes with names not numbers.  Have you flown with lady Penelope?

Magic Touch 1

They have special roofs in their lounges to deaden sound

Magic Touch 2

Their first class salt and pepper pots bear the legend “pinched from virgin  atlantic”

Magic Touch 3

They even have limited edition sick bags:

Magic Touch 4

Does this make sound commercial sense?

All the pazzaz creates an emotional connection with their customers.  And emotion overwhelms logic each and every time.  So when Virgin Atlantic mess up, lose customers baggage, provide disasterous food, arrive late…

Their customers forgive them.  And next time they fly, they fly Virgin Atlantic

PS Read this review from Heather D if you don’t believe me


  1. Hello James

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post of yours and learning about Virgin Atlantic. I have only flown with them once – across the Atlantic. And that trip was memorable – for no apparent reason, they moved me to first class and I will never forget that.

    The whole experience was so different to the usual airlines. The plane occured as new, clean tidy. The stewardesses were well groomed, smiley, helpful and warm. The seats were comfortable. And as you say the plan arrived on time – getting there and back.

    I had the pleasure of counting The Virgin Group as one of my clients. I visited their head office in West London – near Holland Park. The atmosphere was amazing – the environment was laid back, creative, the people smiling. They occured as people who were actually enjoying being where they were and doing what they were doing.

    One thing that made a particular impact on me? Our contact at Virgin insisted that we sit down in the restaurant whilst she went and got our lunch. Unbelievable! She served us lunch before she got her lunch. I can assure you that she and the Virgin Group got the best service from me and my team. We did ALL that we could to to accomdate their requests and do the best work possible.

    You can say that I have affection for the people who work at / with / for Virgin. And I have a positive emotional response to the brand. The other thing that struck me is that the brand values are GENUINE – not cooked up by the marketing team based on the latest opinion poll. T


  2. Hi James,
    I am a big advocate for Virgin Atlantic following how they treated my mother and father. I wrote about it in

    It’s always the little things that get remembered.


  3. You capture the alure of Virgin perfectly. They care about their customers – no matter what class they are flying in. How many other airlines can you say that about?

    By the way, so many of the salt and pepper pots you mention were stolen, that they became collectors items and Virgin had to stop using them this year. You can still buy them on eBay – for about £40. I wonder if you could be arrested for buying them (certainly for selling them)? Surely you would be handling stolen goods !

  4. James, good points well made. Paddi Lund wrote a book about operating this way and called these little touches “critical non-essentials” and they are the kind of thing that makes customers extremely loyal, so long as the hygiene factors are in place. We have a number of other great examples of this on our blog, focusing on the small things you can do in 2 minutes flat to help improve customer experience:

  5. It does indeed sound wonderful and I have had good experiences myself.

    However, consistency on the ground is really important – or should be – and in the interests of balance I thought people might be interested to read about how Virgin Atlantic slipped up in style last year with a well-known comedian about to start a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

    A Cautionary Tale: Always Assume Your Next Customer is Famous

  6. S.Carver says:

    I got to disagree on Virgin – it used to be very good but has deterioted and become poor quality and budget with low class planes. We recently flew to Grenada with them and we less than impressed with the customer service amongst other things. We paid for an upgrade to an extra legroom seat at the airport as my partner is very tall. However on upgrading we asked them to confirm that the seats were not my the toilet which the representative did. Once we got on the plane we walked down to our seats which were you guessed it – right next to the toilets. Commence 8 hour flight plus 2 hours for the stopover being trampled on by fellow passengers. Do not get the extra legroom seats – we sat in normal seats on the way back which was so much better. Asked for a refund based on the complete misinformation given to us but was told it wasn’t their policy regardless of the situation.
    It wasnt’ a problem for us but about 10 or so passengers also ended up with soaking wet seats and ended up sitting on plastic bags on sodden seats. Completely unacceptable – great if you fly premium or business – I strongly suggest to look elsewhere for economy. Used to be a really nice airline to travel on but it feels so budget these days.

  7. Thanks James! Was the inspiration for this a presentation by Paul Dawson back in 2009. Here was his presentation:

    Great content and insights.

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