May 18, 2024

Virgin Atlantic CEO promises to move slowly on NDC

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss promised the airline and its Joint Venture partner Delta will “take a more considered approach” to NDC when he spoke at this week’s Business Travel Association Spring Conference in London.

Speaking to the airline’s TMC partners, he said: “We are not the leaders of this revolution but we’ll all have to move on it.”

He said the Virgin Atlantic and Delta have “moved slower” and “will not surprise our trade partners”, without alluding directly to the more heavy-handed approach of rival airlines.

“We have made our commitment to be omni-channel and we want to be able to unbundle and present multiple offerings to your corporate customers,” he said.

“Ultimately our objective is to have the ability to present our product, through you, to our customers, and if we can reduce friction and cost along the way, even better.

“We’ve been taking more feedback and now is the time to think how we’ll integrate it into our systems and the Delta systems. Progress is being made and when we have something worthy of launch, we will announce it.”

Weiss said Virgin Atlantic’s corporate volumes reached 75% of pre-pandemic volumes in 2023 and were expected to hit 80% this year.

“Will we get back to 90% or 100%, I don’t know, but I have no doubt we’ll be more than the 50% that some predicted,” he added.

He said Virgin Atlantic’s US sales were performing strongly, exceeding those in the UK on some days earlier in March.

Weiss spoke after an earlier session on NDC where British Airways Head of Distribution Sam Robinson urged TMCs to embrace NDC.

“A lot has changed and we want you to give it a go and tell us where it’s not working. If you don’t tell us where it’s not working, we can’t fix it,” he told the audience.

He said BA and its partner American Airlines were “on the same journey and work very closely” on the topic of airline retailing but stressed they have “slightly different commercial strategies”.

“We’re very aligned with the vision and where we want to get to, but how we get there is very different,” Robinson claimed.

Representing travel buyers, Deborah Short, Global Head of Travel, Expenses, Meetings and Card Payments at GSK, criticised American Airlines for the timing of its aggressive push towards NDC.

“We were all just getting back to travel and American Airlines ripped the plaster off. Maybe it was the wrong timing,” she said.

Short called for more industry collaboration to smooth the transition.

“Airlines are trying to maximise their revenues, TMCs are having to pivot and spend millions on NDC integrations and OBTs – I don’t even know what planet the OBTs are on. Noone is speaking to each other. We need to work as one team instead of going off in different directions.”

Short expressed concern about the financial impact of NDC on her organisation’s business travel, servicing issues and also around Duty of Care.

“We could be sued tomorrow if we fail on Duty of Care and the airlines aren’t making it easy for us,” she explained.