Virgin America’s Up to Something with Premium Seating

I received an email from a subscriber yesterday asking why she couldn’t book premium seats on Virgin America for her trip in October. (Premium seats are defined as the bulkhead and exit row in coach, and they’re currently sold for a few bucks extra.) Apparently, the seats are all blocked in the system and reservations agents were telling her that they were in the middle of making some changes. Needless to say, this had me intrigued, so I sent a note over to the airline’s spokesperson Abby Lunardini and received the following response.

We’re currently evaluating a restructure of our main cabin seating selection, so in the interim we are holding select seats and guests will be unable to buy seats in the affected areas for travel past October 1.

We will announce the new offering later this month at NBTA [National Business Travel Association Convention the last week in July] and the affected seats will open up for sale in mid-September for October travel (travel dates prior to October 1 should be as normal right now and open for booking). We apologize for the inconvenience to guests, but hope they will be patient and appreciate the improved offering we will soon announce.

Very interesting. Let the speculation begin. Why would you block off these seats until the middle of September?

I can think of a couple reasons. The one that I find most interesting is that the airline is finally planning on defining their frequent flier program. You may not have noticed, but while you can earn frequent flier miles on the airline, you can’t actually redeem them for anything. They also haven’t told people how much will be necessary to redeem for free flights. Helpful, right?

Well, NBTA would be the place to define your frequent flier program, because the attendees are the ones who will be earning the most miles. This makes me wonder if there will be some sort of elite program where seats are blocked for the best customers. This would be a very interesting development, and it’s one that no low cost carrier has taken on before. I think this would actually be a very smart move on their part.

Of course, there are other possible reasons. Maybe they’re looking at adding more first class seats, so they’re blocking these off since they may disappear when the plane is reconfigured. That would actually be another good move on their part.

Or there’s always the more boring reason. Maybe they’re having technical problems they need to work out. (That wouldn’t be surprising at all.)

All kinds of interesting possibilities, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see the real story at the end of July.

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