April 18, 2024
My
first airline was started out of frustration. As a young record
executive, I travelled the world flying by other airlines, but found the
experience dreadful. So in 1984 I chartered one second-hand Boeing 747
and offered flights between London and New York. People thought we were
mad and bound to fail quickly. Instead, we focused our airline on the
touches so many travellers were looking for: better food, better
entertainment, flat beds in Upper Class. And we built a loyal following.
That airline was Virgin Atlantic, and today it is still thriving when nearly all of its original rivals have gone under.

Richard, virgin america

Image from Virgin America
We
have done the same in Australia, where 16 years ago we set up Virgin
Blue to challenge the dominant position of Qantas and provide a much
better service for the travelling public. We approached building the
airline in the same way with wonderful crew and better value flights.
Now Virgin Australia provides real competition across the board to Qantas.

Our US airline, Virgin America,
also started out of frustration. As more airlines consolidated and grew
larger and more focused on the bottom line, flying in the US became an
awful experience. Despite moves to block our airline from flying, Virgin
America began service in August 2007 – with the goal of making flying
good again.

Virgin America Highlights

Virgin
America became the first airline to offer fleetwide WiFi, soothing mood
lighting, touch-screen seatback entertainment, an on-demand food
ordering platform, and power outlets at every seat on every flight. Our
unique and stylish product and brilliant customer service have won every major travel award.
The airline has also done something almost inconceivable in the airline
industry: Virgin America won the hearts and fierce loyalty of consumers
around the country. People love this airline.

Guests on Virgin America are offered more choice and control and
friendly customer service in an otherwise demoralising commercial
airline environment. Flying is no longer a dreaded chore: it is
something to look forward to. Virgin America has brought new
competition, lower fares and a focus on creating an enjoyable in-flight
experience to the US. Our innovative, stylish, guest-focused product and
experience (and even our safety video)
have made such an impact that our little airline forced the big legacy
airlines to step up and find ways to compete – including by updating
their fleets after years of ignoring customers. Airports where
competition was stifled and prices prohibitively high – in cities like
Dallas, Newark, Chicago and Denver – have opened up and customers have
more choice. Because of Virgin America, the industry finally had to
consider the customer.

richard serving drinks onboard virgin america

The
commitment to create a truly guest-focused airline and the dedication
and will to make it happen – through some of the most challenging
economic times and anti-competitive obstacles – has resulted in a
financially successful business that achieved record profits last
year. But the real winner is the customer. Today, the flying public has
lower fares and better options. When Virgin America launched, fleetwide
WiFi was considered a radical idea, and so was touch-screen
entertainment at every seat, and brand new and beautifully designed
cabins. Airlines have had to invest in better products to try to
compete. That is a testament to the entire Virgin America team.

richard_america_staff.jpg

Image from Virgin America
In
2007, when the airline started service, 60 per cent of the industry was
consolidated. Today, the four mega airlines control more than 80 per
cent of the US market. Consolidation is a trend that sadly cannot be
stopped. Likely feeling the same competitive pressures as Virgin
America, Alaska Airlines approached Virgin America with a proposal to
merge. The board of Virgin America has accepted an offer from Alaska, and if the merger is approved by Virgin America shareholders and regulatory authorities, the two airlines will become one.

vx_safety_video.jpg

Image from Virgin America
I
would be lying if I didn’t admit sadness that our wonderful airline is
merging with another. Because I’m not American, the US Department of
Transportation stipulated I  take some of my shares in Virgin America as
non-voting shares, reducing my influence over any takeover. So there
was sadly nothing I could do to stop it.

Our Virgin airline has much more to do, more places to go, and more
friends to make along the way. The important thing now is to ensure that
once Alaska witnesses first-hand the power of the brand and the love of
Virgin America customers for our product and guest experience, they too
will be converts and the US traveling public will continue to benefit
from all that we have started.  

richard_dont_fly_like_cattle.jpg

Image from Virgin America
As
an entrepreneur, I’ve had the privilege of being among brilliant people
who as a team create something extraordinary and purposeful. And it is
truly a privilege to find yourself in the right place and time with the
kind of team that can make a lasting contribution. So I am incredibly
proud of Virgin America’s 3,000 teammates and what they have
accomplished: a strong alternative choice for flyers who rightly expect a
better experience. Without the radical belief that they could create an
airline people actually love, the US airline industry might not be
where it is today.

richard_teammates_hawaii.jpg

Image from Virgin America
The
brand’s mission attracted truly exceptional people who refused to
create a boring airline. That took a lot of hard work and commitment
from Virgin America’s teammates. I have learned about brilliant customer
service through their training program, made surprise visits to their
headquarters, asked Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport to let our teammates
play music again in our check-in area, and have participated in nearly
every single route launch. I have jumped off a Vegas hotel on a very
windy afternoon, lassoed Texas Longhorn cattle on a tarmac to launch
Dallas flights, walked barefoot with a surfboard through SFO’s Terminal 2
to celebrate service to Hawaii, and talked with countless fans and
media through live interviews powered by their reliable onboard WiFi –
all because of my belief that the Virgin brand can make flying fun again
and my belief in the vision and strong values of the airline and its
team.

Despite the turbulence and head
winds, the journey remains thrilling and joyful, and I look forward to
more future flights with Virgin America. Thank you for choosing Virgin America!

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