Virgin Atlantic: a UX Case Study

Hélène O'Brien
Jan 5, 2018 · 8 min read

An ‘all in one place’ app providing access to pre-flight and inflight services

Reading time: 9 minutes

Methods: competitor analysis, screening survey, user interviews, affinity mapping, feature prioritisation, user flow, user journey, experience mapping, paper prototyping, sketches, wire frames, usability testing, digital prototyping.

Tools: Sketch, InVision, sharpies, post-its and paper.


At the beginning of the 4th week of General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI), I was delighted to be given the task of making Virgin Atlantic inflight services easily available via an app.

For this two-week project, I worked in a team of three. We received a full brief outlining the core problem to solve, must-have features and key deliverables.


Virgin Atlantic

From left to right — mood board, onsite visit, Virgin group’s brands and values.

Our first objective was to find out more about the business’ brand, services, values and key user groups.

To do this we visited flight centres, conducted staff interviews and online research.

Our key findings:

  • Virgin has a strong brand associated with excellence, fun and premium customer care
  • Extensive inflight services
    Wifi available onboard
    -Premium services include extra legroom, exit row seat and champagne services
    -Extensive inflight entertainment includes a large selection of movies, TV shows, music and games
  • Human-centered values
    -Customer needs come first
    -Mission statement: “embrace the human spirit and let it fly”
  • Key user groups
    -Young financially independent individuals (25–35 years old)
    -Families (36–45 years old)
    -Baby-boomers (45+ years old)

Competitor Analysis

Sample research on competitors’ booking apps (grey=yes; blank=no)
Sample research on competitors’ inflight entertainment apps

We then conducted an extensive competitor analysis, covering key features available on both booking and inflight services apps including ratings.

This allowed us to identify opportunities for our client to break into that space.

Our key takeaways were that very few competitors offer:

  • Free inflight wifi
  • An ‘all in one place’ application (that offers pre-flight and inflight services)
  • An inflight services app accessible prior to take-off to pre-select movies and music

Key User Groups

Key user groups

After establishing a stronger understanding of the business and its market, we were ready to turn our attention to users.

Our three key user groups, represented above, are Virgin Atlantic’s target customers.

Recruiting Participants

We then built an ‘Airline Experience Survey’ to help us identify interviewees for each group as well as collect demographic data.

The survey was shared via social media and direct messaging.

We obtained 85 responses, of which 67% overall were from 25 to 35 years old, with 60% overall from women. 81% used smart phones on the plane and 71% had travelled long haul at least once over the past two years (full report available here).

Further to that we contacted suitable users and ran five interviews for each user group in order to affinity map their needs, pain points and goals.

Our key findings, users…

  • Focus on price, safety and airport convenience when choosing an airline
  • Want to book, check-in and access inflight services all in one place
  • Prefer apps — offering smoother navigation than even the most responsive websites
  • Travel with their smart phone
  • Want comfort, entertainment and to feel special
  • Are annoyed by queuing for the toilet

Affinity Map v.1

Affinity map v.1 based on our three user groups

We then grouped and affinity mapped our interview findings in order to identify common pain points, needs and goals.

This allowed us to start developing a solution for Virgin Atlantic passengers.


Given the results of our screening report, we decided to focus on the first key user group — young financially independent individuals.

Above is a summary of Lucy, the persona we crafted the product for.

Lucy’s main goals are to feel special, to relax and not be kept waiting.

She wants a seamless and enjoyable flight. Her frustrations include being bored, uncomfortable and uninformed during the flight.

Her main influences are the air crew, the other passengers and the movie selection.

Affinity Map v.2

Affinity map.V2 based on Lucy’s persona

After running another five sessions with ‘Lucy like’ interviewees, we ran a second affinity map exercise to narrow our scope.

As you can see above, main pain points included lack of entertainment, lack of comfort and a feeling of not being looked after.

Feature Prioritisation

We then moved onto a feature prioritisation exercise in order to determine which features to include in our Minimal Viable Product (MVP).

We focused on the features located in the top right hand corner as per above.


Above are scenarios we put together in order to design a solution that would best address Lucy’s pain points.

User Journey and Experience Map

[Reformat and brand the map below]

Once we better understood our key users, we could transpose this into an experience map.

This allowed us to flag when, where and how pain points were occurring, helping us identify opportunities for experience improvement.

Design Studio and Sketches

Sketches v.1

This is where our two-day design sprint started.

Our objective was to sketch, test and design a working paper prototype in 48 hours.

To meet our objective we used the design studio technique which consisted of sketching six versions of a designated screen individually.

Each team member then presented their screens, and voted for two of the 18 screens before iterating one more time and agreeing on a final sketch.

We repeated this exercise for each of our main screens.

You can see above the sketches that led to our paper prototype.

User flows matching our scenarios

To make sure we were not missing any screens, we had to build the user flows that matched our three scenarios.

This also allowed us to narrow our scope and structure our product.

Wireframes sample

We next designed additional screens, for example ‘set up’ — allowing users to easily connect to the plane wifi and set their phones on air plane mode.

We were now in a good position to decide on the architecture of the app and build the sitemap.

Above is the final version of our sitemap, which was constantly updated throughout our process.

In total we recruited 15 users, matching our persona’s profile, to conduct usability testing.

We used Please click here to view our paper prototype.

The extensive user feedback and insights were most valuable, informing our changes.

Key iteration 1 — keep the connexion between the cabin crew and the passengers.

We had first created a screen allowing users to make a request.

This was informed by their confession to being somewhat nervous about pushing the help button.

However throughout our usability testing, we realised people were not comfortable with this approach either, being more concerned that their requests would not be noted.

For that reason, we decided to remove the ‘need something’ screen and replicated the ‘call cabin crew’ button, as on the plane.

To meet users’ desire to feel special we also created a ‘crew’ section to help build a connection with staff.

However, this section did not require a click for separate screen.

Hence we renamed it ‘your cabin crew’, placing it below ‘call cabin crew’ button.

This ultimately streamlined the design of the screen.

Key iteration 2 — find a new point of entry for inflight services app

To initiate our design we spent considerable time looking at Virgin Atlantic’s current app.

Our challenge was to find the relevant point of entry for our ‘inflight services’ mini-app.

We originally kept the current homepage, but throughout testing we noticed that users were confused by this, asking “Why would I book a flight when I am onboard?”

With this in mind, we decided to use our main screen as a homepage, reviewing the navigation bar and simplifying it.

Key iteration 3— revamp the navigation bar

The navigation bar would now show just three buttons:

  • One for bookings — to allow passengers access the existing app
  • One for inflight services — to allow passengers access inflight services
  • One for passengers’ list — to allow passengers select music or movies prior to take-off.

This design was informed by users as they were keen to access pre and inflight services all in one app.

We also locked this bar at 57px height so passengers would always know where they are in the app.

Final screens

After implementing all our user feedback, we rendered our design to hi-fidelity and uploaded it in InVision.

You can see the final screens above.


Please click on the following link to launch the prototype:


Here are a few of the next steps I would recommend for the business to consider.

  • Test onboard Virgin Atlantic flight and understand how the app interacts with current plane features and crew
  • Live tracking feed that provides a full travel guide to the countries that passengers are travelling over
  • Screen syncing with your partner and onboard screens



For more information, please visit:

Me in action. From left to right: sketching, experience mapping, affinity mapping, wireframing.

Hélène O'Brien

Written by

UX Designer with a love of research, prototyping and testing.