No lie-flat seats for Virgin America: CEO

Washington DC
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Virgin America has no plans to emulate its transcontinental competitors by putting lie-flat seats on aircraft plying business-heavy routes from New York to California, according to the airline's chief executive David Cush.

"There's a risk to not matching [competitors] ... but in my view there are bigger risks to doing something that might be knee jerk," Cush tells Flightglobal.

His comments address the escalating battle among US carriers to attract high-yielding travellers between New York's John F. Kennedy International airport and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Currently, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines fly specially-configured aircraft on the routes with lie-flat seats in business class, a product unique to domestic air travel in the US.

JetBlue Airways upped the ante on 5 August when it announced plans to operate the routes with Airbus A321s outfitted with 16 lie-flat seats, including four enclosed in "mini suites". Those aircraft will begin arriving from Airbus next year.

Cush says Virgin will continue to refine its product, but won't fall into the "me too" trap.

"These are big expensive seats they are putting on board, and [they] take up a lot of [space]," he says. "We could cause ourselves more problems by reacting to this and screwing up our cost base."

Cush thinks Virgin already has an industry-leading product. Unlike most other low-cost carriers, all its aircraft have first-class cabins, seatback televisions and wi-fi access.

He adds that more product enhancements will likely be announced in the fourth quarter.

"We are not sitting idly by," Cush says.

His comments come on the same day Virgin announced a $27.9 million operating profit during the second quarter of 2013.

Cush says the results show seven-year-old Virgin, which has never reported a profitable year, has turned a financial corner. He expects Virgin to earn a full year net profit in 2013.

He notes that Virgin is a primarily "long haul carrier" and generates a significant part of its revenue from transcontinental flying.

It flies from California to New York's Kennedy and Newark airports, Washington DC's Dulles and National airports, Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.