Virgin premium economy ad banned for misleading claims

LONDON - The advertising watchdog has banned a Virgin Atlantic ad promoting its premium economy seats for misleading readers, as the bigger seats are not available on more than 40% of flights.

A magazine ad was headlined "up to 45% off premium economy" and showed an image of a premium economy seat. The slogan at the bottom stated: "Bigger seats. More legroom. Separate cabin."

A footnote stated: "Seat shown is available on 58% of all London Heathrow departures and is continuing to roll out across the rest of our Heathrow fleet. This roll out will continue across our London Gatwick fleet from 2008."

A national press ad contained a similar image and was headlined: "Our premium economy cabin. Looks more premium than economy. Costs more economy than premium."

It also stated: "Why upgrade to premium economy? Well, for a start there's the new, bigger leather seats and bags of legroom. Then there's the exclusive cabin and dedicated crew..."

The Advertising Standards Authority received four complaints about the ads from people who claimed they were misleading because the new, bigger seats and increased legroom were not available on all flights.

Two of the four complainants objected that the ads were misleading because they considered that premium economy seats on the flights they took were not in a separate cabin.

Two of the complainants objected that the national press ad was misleading because on the flights they took premium economy passengers were not served by a dedicated crew.

Virgin Atlantic defended the ads saying that they clearly stated in the footnote that the seats were not available on "all flights".

The ASA upheld all of the complaints. It considered that the disclaimer, which appeared in small text outside the main body of the ads, was likely to be overlooked by readers.

It also noted a complainant's comment that on the flight she took, the downstairs premium economy seats were situated on either side of the galley that served both premium economy and economy cabins and that, as a consequence, trolleys frequently passed between the two cabins and the dividing curtain was permanently pulled back.

There were also no toilet facilities in the premium economy cabin on some flights.

The ASA considered that the ads implied that premium economy passengers would not be required to share facilities with other cabin classes and were therefore misleading.

In terms of the complaints about not having a dedicated crew the ASA noted one complainant's comment that on the flights she took it was announced that the crew would be serving meals to both economy services and that they were absent from the premium economy cabin for most of the journey.

It concluded that Virgin's claim about a "dedicated crew" was misleading because readers would understand that premium economy passengers would have designated flight attendants who would cater exclusively for their needs.

In a separate adjudication, the ASA banned a national press ad for pressure groups AiportWatch and EnoughsEnough.org because its claims about CO2 emissions caused by aviation could not be substantiated.

The ad was headed: "60% say no to more airport expansion so why is this government flying in the face of public opinion?"

It included text that stated: "They tell us that aviation already accounts for 13% of UK CO2 emissions -- 20% if you include return flights."

The ASA received two complaints from EasyJet and a member of the public, both of which were upheld.

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