Pillows Get Fluffy at Virgin America as Rivals’ Seats Lie Flat

Virgin America Inc. will add more comfortable pillows and duvets in first class on cross-country flights to help hang onto passengers tempted by rivals’ offerings of low prices and lie-flat berths.

While competitors market specially configured premium cabins and convertible beds so overnight travelers can snooze, Virgin America will stick with its white-leather seats that offer lumbar massagers and a 165-degree recline, Chief Executive Officer David Cush said.

“We’re content with the seats we have,” Cush said in an interview. “We’re holding our own, there’s no doubt about it. Our goal is to hang onto our customers and price it fairly.”

Transcontinental routes include the nation’s most lucrative, between New York’s John F. Kennedy International and Los Angeles International airports. Through 2014’s third quarter, the most recent figures available, Virgin America said it ranked second in revenue for each seat flown a mile on the route, following only American Airlines Group Inc.

Over the next 30 days, the Burlingame, California-based carrier will announce changes to its cross-country service that include improved, full-size pillows and duvets. It will upgrade its first-class menu, about a year after the last changes that added items like artisanal ice cream to some of the flights.

The airline, which is partly owned by U.K. billionaire Richard Branson, declined to detail any additional planned changes.

Virgin America gained 4.4 percent to $35.71 at the close in New York after announcing its fourth-quarter results earlier Wednesday. The airline’s shares have increased 55 percent since its IPO in November.

Premium Cabins

Virgin America won’t consider transforming part of its aircraft fleet with specialized premium cabins like American and JetBlue Airways Corp.’s Mint. Those changes are costly and the plane can only be used on certain cross-country routes, Cush said.

The number of available seats for cross-country flights, excluding Virgin America, has increased 10 percent, Cush said. That has led to a “pretty significant dilution of average fares” by as much as 40 percent, he said.

“We’ve held onto our customers, albeit at a lower fare, because of the impact of Mint,” Cush said on a conference call Wednesday to discuss the carrier’s fourth-quarter results. “As of now, we are sticking to our guns.”

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