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Virgin America elevates mobile strategy with in-flight social network

Virgin America airlines is partnering with the Here on Biz mobile application to create an in-flight, geo-aware social network to connect business travelers.

The new service will roll out on all domestic Virgin America flights by the end of February, making it the first in-flight social network, according to the companies. As the number of mobile-equipped business travelers continues to grow, the new social network is being positioned to ensure tech-savvy professionals do not have to stop networking just because they are 35,000 feet in the air.

?As the only airline headquartered in Silicon Valley, our Virgin America guests tend to be a very entrepreneurial and connected bunch, and the partnership we announced today with Here On Biz allowed us to respond to a need that some of our most frequent travelers had identified to us: In a 2013 survey of our Elevate frequent flyers, the ability to network in-flight with other flyers was a top requested feature from these guests,? said Jennifer Thomas, director of corporate communications at Virgin America, Burlingame, CA.

In-flight networking
Virgin America decided to launch the in-flight social network after a survey of frequent flyers found that the ability to network in-flight was something these customers are looking for. Additionally, nearly a quarter of respondents said their top requested need was in-flight Wi-Fi.

The airline reports that on some of its long-haul flights, a third or more of guests on board are using Wi-Fi during the flight.

The Here On Biz app enables users to see business professionals nearby and chat with those they are connected to. The app provides the real-time location of a user's contacts through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and those in a user's address book who also use the app.

The new service will use Virgin America?s Gogo In-Flight Wi-Fi network, which is available fleet wide, and APIs that identify an aircraft?s location in the air to enable Here On Biz?s own geo-location technology to connect users with contacts on the same flight, contacts on other Virgin America flights in the air or fellow travelers at their destination.

Here on Biz alerts users when their business contacts are nearby.

To use it, professionals log in, create an account and authenticate their social networks so that Here on Biz can create a geo-aware list of contacts also on the app. Once this has been done, users can start receiving alerts when their connections' travel paths cross with their own.

The app is available for free from the Apple App Store.

Twitter promotion
Between February and July 2014, customers on all domestic Virgin America flights will be able to access the Here on Biz app for free through the Gogo network.

Through the app?s privacy settings, users are able to shut off or limit their visible connections to others onboard.

To encourage flyers to download the app, Virgin America is launching a Twitter promotion that invites flyers to share their dream business travel connection and describe how they would break the ice using the hashtag #PlanePitch.

A weekly winner will receive a complimentary Gogo Wi-Fi pass and one grand prize winner will win Virgin America Elevate Gold status, six Main Cabin Select business class flights and an annual Gogo pass.

The airline is further promoting app downloads with an offer of a 25 percent discount to the Virgin America Loft at the Los Angeles Airport to flyers who download the app through July.

?Mobile is obviously very enormously important for our guests,? Ms. Thomas said. ?In our survey we also found that more than 50 percent of the Virgin America guests surveyed use a laptop, tablet or another electronic device to get work done on every flight they take.

?And nearly a third of the frequent flyers we surveyed said they used Wi-Fi on every Wi-Fi enabled flight they take,? she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York