Virgin Blue fire sale wreaks havoc online

Virgin Blue's Web site is falling over, under traffic loads seven times normal, as a flood of users attempt to capitalize on the airline's AU$5 (US$2.53) Internet airfare sale.

Virgin Blue's Web site is falling over, under traffic loads seven times normal, as a flood of users attempt to capitalize on the airline's AU$5 (US$2.53) Internet airfare sale.

"There's just been a total overload of users trying to access the site," said a spokesperson for the airline's public relations department.

Online customers, excited by the airline's audacious offer to fly off-peak from Melbourne to Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide or Launceston for the price of a boutique beer, are likely to be disappointed by error messages telling them that the site does not exist.

However, Virgin Blue's customer service operatives simply told customers to keep trying.

David Huttner, head of Virgin Blue commercial said the level of media and consumer interest took the airline by surprise.

"We ramped things up a bit this morning but we got more [customers] than we expected," he said explaining that the promotion, though only advertised to Victorian travellers, has attracted sales nationally.

Widely regarded as a challenge to Ansett II, Virgin Blue's aggressive pricing strategy has attracted media attention from every corner of Australia. The airline opted to hold a press conference to answer media queries regarding this afternoon.

Huttner said Virgin Blue is very happy with its online booking service and drew attention to the online performance of its competitors to put criticism of its recent foibles into perspective.

"We sell two-thirds of our tickets online. Qantas would be happy if they could sell one-quarter of the amount we sell online," he said.

Having added extra servers to handle the unprecedented traffic-spike, Virgin Blue, Internet Systems manager, Matt Peters believes that the site's performance will improve.

"I believe we've copped the worst of it now," he said.

Huttner said that the site's difficulties are amplified during periods in which the number of users trying to access the site is concentrated, such as conventional lunch and tea breaks.

Virgin Blue has sold one-third of the 10,000 seats available under the offer and anticipates that the remaining seats will be sold within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Staff writer Andrew Colley reported from Sydney.

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