Flying just got a lot less enjoyable April 24 when Virgin Airlines took to the skies one last time. And while Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia are still active as part of the fleet founded by Richard Branson in 1984, passengers who dug how the airline did things differently will miss the carrier that its famous owner ensured would care abut its clientele.
At least Virgin America, purchased two years ago for a cool $2.6 billion by Alaska Airlines, which started phasing out its acquisition, went out in style on its final flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. For starters, the swag was awesome with each passenger on board the 90-minute flight given a bag that included a drinking mug, a destination map with the Airline's final flight plan, #vxforever stickers, and a safety card of what to do in an emergency.
Roughly half of the 185 seats on Flight VX1947 was filled by regular participants of the travel chat site Flyertalk, with additional seats occupied by several Virgin America employees, many of whom initiated a flash mob while the safety video was screening. Heartfelt thank-you's from the cockpit intercom repeated throughout the flight, while flight attendants doled out commemorative Virgin cookies. And upon landing, passengers and crew got free clearance to LAX's posh Alaska Club Room for a final toast to the crew and the company's flamboyant founder.
Unfortunately, Branson couldn't make it, but he did offer a final letter to all involved.
“It was a long and hard journey but in the end you are the best consumer airline in America. You invented concepts like ‘moodlighting’ and ‘on-demand food,’ you reinvented cabin amenities from seat-to-seat chat to Netflix in the sky.”
It was those extra touches that distanced Virgin America from its other U.S. counterparts, which still stresses the sardine-style of compressing customers into their tubular cabins as an economic way to fly, usually letting comfort fly (no pun intended) by the wayside. Branson changed that, when a flight he was planning to take from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands was cancelled because of low ticket sales.
Thanking his lucky stars he was already rich, he rented a plane and encouraged other stuck passengers to board the craft for $39. Branson finagled a blackboard from airport staff and wrote "Virgin Airlines" at the top to promote the option and filled the plane with passengers disgruntled over how they were treated by the original airline. Part of the Virgin Islands destination made its way into the moniker for his own aircraft company, which he swore would always treat customers right.
As evidenced by the jovial folks on board that last flight, Virgin America's reputation remained intact on that note.