With Second Virgin PR Rep Sacked, Where is Virgin Going?

A mere month ago at an aviation gathering, I sat next to a Virgin Blue PR rep who was still distraught over the previous week’s firing of the group’s GM of Public Affairs, Heather Jeffery. The move occurred only three days after former Qantas executive John Borghetti took over from founder Brett Godfrey, a timing that was no coincidence. With trepidation but always loyal to the airline, the PR rep said they would simply have to move on. Today however she became the latest person Virgin Blue would have to move on without.

“I’ve been told by the new management that moving forward my services are no longer required and my role is redundant,” she writes in a message. Last week Travel Weekly reported Borghetti hired former Qantas GM of Government and International Relations, Qantas’s former head of pricing, Will Owens, and previously hired Creative Holidays MD Justin Montgomery to be Virgin Blue’s GM for sales.

This industry’s revolving door can be sped up during management turnover. So far Borghetti’s changes are a hallmark of Qantas, unsurprising since he came from that carrier, but noteworthy for the negative effect industry sources say such shakeups had on Qantas. There was distancing between management tiers, loss of camadere, and detachment from the airline. The at times lackluster employees and service did not resonate with passengers.

Will this be fun-loving, easy-going Virgin Blue’s fate?

It’s too early to say, especially since major announcements about positioning the carrier up market with a business product, reviewing destinations, and uniting the brand are all forthcoming.

Airline markets elsewhere in the world might be finding new lows to reach–the US domestic market in general, “standing seats”–but in this small region there is still class, and Virgin Blue has exemplified it since its 2000 launch.

If Virgin Blue wants to lose this passenger-oriented position, can it sustain itself with higher yielding fares, or against the cheaper Jetstar and Tiger? Could the latter vamp up their identity and fill the void? Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson talks about the provocative effect the group has achieved of using “Virgin” in a brand name, but there’s always more to a name. With whatever more Borghetti adds, will passengers use their wallet to vote in favour?


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