Normally airlines do something special when they open up a new route. Maybe a few balloons, some cake and a get together. Well, Sir Richard Branson pulled out all the stops to celebrate Virgin America’s new route from San Fransisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto (YYZ) and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. So what is it like to party like a billionaire? I didn’t know, but I sure as heck wanted to find out.
The whole event started for me at SFO, however, Virgin America (I am going to go with VA for short) started the flight at LAX and stopped in SFO to pick us up. The gate area had a party atmosphere to it. There were fancy cupcakes, champagne and nice decorations, and everyone there was waiting for the flight to come in from LAX with Sir Richard Branson, CEO David Cush and Govenator Schwarzenegger on-board.
Branson might be the world’s most famous entrepreneur(or at the very least, he’s the most famous in the airline industry), and Schwarzenegger is easily one of America’s most notable politicians. Seeing them exit the plane together was pretty exciting. I didn’t realize the govenator was going to be there, but I was clued in when I started asking questions about the obvious police and body guard presence. Yes, he does look bad-ass in person and I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him.
There have been very few flights in my life where I get to know the people around me; this flight was one of them, which seemed like we were all friends going to a celebration together. Because of the comradery, it took quite a long time to get the near-full flight boarded and seated.
During the whole five hour flight (except takeoff/landing), the aisles were filled with people. There were a few camera crews on-board trying to do interviews, which is difficult to do in an Airbus A320. There were a lot of people to walk around and talk to. I think I was in my seat for a whole 30 minutes of the flight, which you normally don’t do on a regular flight. The flight attendants did an amazing job. Not only did they have to deal with everyone in the aisles, they were constantly working and all their bosses (and boss’ bosses) were on the plane.
There were more than VA employees, guests, press and the five actual (and shocked) customers on board; a few famous people were on the plane as well. Unfortunately I am not really into the whole celebrity thing, so I didn’t find out who was there. I knew Drake (musician) was on-board since there was a photo of him on the side of the plane, which was also renamed, “Air Drake.” I talked with Eric Roberts for a bit, before realizing who he was (if you care to know the whole guest list, Jaunted seems to have it). I did get a little star-struck and made sure I got a photo of Sir Richard Branson and me, which I am very excited about.
The five hour flight went extremely quickly and the head honchos were put to work. VA CEO David Cush was handing out customs forms (yes remember, Canada is another country) to people on the flight and Sir Branson was making announcements. When we landed I was sorry that the flight was over, but the real fun was just about to begin.
At Toronto we were greeted by a very friendly flag waving welcome party and a couple of mounties. I had to wave and pretend I was someone they would care about. We were bussed over to customs before getting on a shuttle to the hotel, Thompson Toronto. The hotel was brand new, very nice and very trendy. We had 45 minutes to get freshened up and head to the roof pool deck for a pre-party.
I have never been to Toronto before and being on top of a 16 story hotel right in downtown was pretty amazing. Add to it great food, nice drinks, sunny weather and in the company of some pretty awesome people…I felt like I was somebody.
Once it started to get cold, the party moved downstairs in the hotel where music was playing. There was a VIP section where the famous people were, but again I didn’t know who they were (more came from around Toronto I guess). I was more interested in talking to the pilot who landed our plane and Christian who is in charge of the Toronto base. To me (the airline nerd) they are the real celebrities.
The shuttle to go back to the airport was leaving at 5:00am, meaning I had to get up at 4:00am. With lack of sleep on the trip already, I was only able to make it until midnight before getting my precious four hours of sleep before that annoying alarm went off. I didn’t hear any amazing stories of things that happened after I left, so I am going to assume I didn’t miss anything.
Even though the party was amazing, we did hit a little snag trying to fly out of Toronto. When an airline starts at a new city and new country, it is common for things to go wrong. A few things happened at about the same time that caused a lot of stress for the VA staff working in Toronto. The self check-in podiums weren’t working (people were trying to fix them) and VA’s computer system kept going out. This meant it took a long time to get everyone checked in and actually caused the flight to be delayed. However, passengers were constantly informed of what was going on and there really wasn’t anything anyone could do, but wait.
The flight from YYZ to SFO was very short, because I slept. There were a lot of VA employees on that flight, but no one up in the aisles, no more celebration and a lot of sleeping. It was a lot of travel for only 15 hours in Toronto, but totally worth it. It was fun to step in the world of a Billionaire and see how they party. Although, inviting some friends over to my house for some beers is pretty cool too.
* Over 165 pictures from the whole travel process & party
* Photos from CNET (I am in 3 of them…can you find me?)
* Nice story from Hotel Chatter about Virgin Hotels