Virgin takes battle to UK airports

Dozens of air passengers wearing clothes emblazoned with pro-rail messages have converged on leading British airports in the latest round of the commercial battle between airlines and trains.Virgin Trains stepped up the intense consumer war with airlines operating between Manchester and London by sending “guerillaÊmarketing” teams on flights and into airports to underline that train journeys are the best way of travelling between the two economic powerhouses.

Some 40 airline passengers, all representing Virgin Trains, infiltrated Manchester Airport and then took to the skies using four early morning business flights operated by British Airways (BA) and British Midland Airways (BMI).

Business travellers losing valuable working time in check-in queues, airport lounges and on the planes were treated to a display of bold and simple product messages printed on Virgin Trains t-shirts. For example those passengers waiting idly in the departure lounge were able to note the following: “Passing Time? You could be passing Stafford by now”.

On the planes themselves, the fun really started to build up with team members using their own body dimensions to emphasise the advantages of rail travel. One particularly tall member displayed the message “Stretch your legs. More room on Virgin Trains” while another of more than ample girth proclaimed on her t-shirt “Bigger seats on Virgin Trains!”

The messaging sequence, mainly using t-shirts but also employing suitcases and a chef’s hat, carried on right through the fragmented air journey finally finishing in the taxi queue at Heathrow with a message “Land in the City Centre. And get there earlier!”


The aim was to engage directly with airline passengers in an amusing way that more traditional forms of advertising could never match, and after their in-flight success the passenger teams caught Virgin Trains for more relaxing journeys home to the north-west.

Craig Inglis, Virgin Trains Sales and Marketing Director, said after the successful completion of the guerilla marketing event: “Our summer and winter Return of the Train marketing campaigns have both been very successful in winning over hearts and minds but we wanted to take our messages right into the heartland of the air business travel market. Our current Plane Relief promotion offering air passengers free First Class tickets is proving very popular, and today’s activity reinforces that with serious messages executed in a typically irreverent Virgin way.”

The campaign’s media strategy was handled by Manning Gottlieb OMD with creative development by The Works and RKCR.