For airline passengers, getting stuck in the middle seat has long been like drawing the short straw. The flip side for airlines is a tough sell: asking customers to pay the same as their aisle and window neighbors but offering neither a view nor easy access to the lavatory.
The middle seat is so undesirable that only 1% of passengers would voluntarily choose the middle seat, according to a recent social media poll by Virgin Australia.
But that may be about to change. Virgin Australia has just launched the Middle Seat Lottery, a special raffle with big weekly prizes that’s open only to passengers willing to sit in the middle seat. The promo will run for six months, through April 2023, with the total prize pool of about $230,000 AUD, or roughly $145,000 US.
Here’s how it works: One prize winner will be randomly selected each week from those who flew in the airline’s middle seats. Some of the possible prizes include: a helicopter pub crawl; flights and tickets to a favorite Australian Football League team’s away games in 2023; a VIP package to the AFL Grand Final (the Super Bowl of Australian rules football); a Cairns adventure package including hotel, flights, and a range of adrenaline-pumping activities, including bungy jumping, giant swinging, river rafting and tubing.
Passengers flying this week in the middle seat will be entered to win a six-night Caribbean cruise for two with Virgin Voyages, including roundtrip flights to the US.
Next week’s prize is a year of platinum status in the airline’s Virgin Velocity frequent flyer program plus one million points. That could buy several roundtrip flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles or from Sydney to San Francisco.
On a Monday flight from Melbourne to Adelaide, Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka kicked off the campaign by doling out Virgin Voyages cruises worth about $6,000 each to unsuspecting middle-seat passengers. Those in the aisle and window seats received 10,000 complimentary Velocity points.
“We’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg in what’s possible,” said Hrdlicka in a press release. “We are doing our best to leave a positive difference every time our guests fly with us.”
The Australian carrier flies a Virgin-branded flag but is owned by private equity firm Bain Capital, which bought the struggling airline in 2020 for $3.5 billion AUD ($2.5 billion US). Bain is also a joint-venture partner in Virgin Voyages.
Virgin Australia recently reported revenue of $2.2 billion AUD ($1.4 billion US) in the year that ended on June 30, failing to offset soaring expenses on fuel and staff, which resulted in losses of $387 million AUD ($245 million US). Hrdlicka has said the airline will be profitable in 2023.