For the second time in three years, the San Francisco Giants are World Series champions. To celebrate their victory, the Giants and Virgin America (the team’s official airline) teamed up to bring the World Series trophy back to the their roots in New York and I was invited to tag along. It was perfect for me since I both love aviation and baseball.
The team’s history dates back to 1883, when they were known as the New York Gothams, playing at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. Even though the Giants moved to the west coast in 1958, there is still a considerable fan base in New York.
With the sun rising over the runways at San Francisco International Airport, I approached the gate for the 9:25AM flight to find the World Series trophy already on display, hours before departure. Glistening in the morning sunlight, passengers, airline employees, and even police dogs inside the terminal were drawn to the trophy, posing for pictures at this unexpected event.
A little less than an hour before departure time, a flood of local media approached the gate area to set up video cameras, as the Giants President and CEO Larry Baer along with David Cush, Virgin Americas President and CEO, were about to give a press conference. The press conference only lasted a few short moments, and it quickly became photo-op time in front of the aircraft.
The ride from San Francisco to New York was no ordinary Virgin America aircraft, of course. The flight was operated on the Airbus A320 officially named “Fly Bye Baby,” or as it is more commonly known, “The Beard.”
This particular A320 (N849VA) has a large San Francisco Giants logo on either side, as well as a painted on beard on the nose. Originally inspired by Giants closing pitcher Brian Wilson, who is no longer with the team, “The Beard” definitely stands out from the rest of the Virgin fleet.
Once the photo-op was over, the trophy was finally brought onto the plane, where its first seat was arguably the best seat on board, the pilot’s seat. Thankfully for the passengers (which were mostly “normal” fare-paying folks and then a few media and invited folks), the trophy was soon moved to a first class seat after a few pictures, and the pilot was able to take his rightful position.
After takeoff, members of the media were brought up to the front of the cabin to interview Larry Baer of the Giants. I had never interviewed the CEO of a company before, but what better place to put me at ease than the first class cabin next to the World Series trophy. In the five minutes I was allotted, Mr. Baer and I talked about everything from the team’s loyal following in New York, to the partnership with Virgin America.
When asked about the Giants partnership with Virgin America, Mr. Baer had nothing but great things to say. “I can’t imagine a better airline partner than Virgin America,” said Baer. Interestingly, he told me that before partnering with Virgin, the team was in talks to become partners with United, who has a very heavy presence in San Francisco. During talks with United, Virgin approached the Giants, and the rest is history.
Along the transcontinental journey, a few more events were held to celebrate the trophy’s journey. Mr. Baer and the Giants social media team held a “Twitter chat,” utilizing the aircraft’s Gogo wifi system. Shortly after, the flight crew held a Giants trivia contest over the PA, but with an interesting twist. Instead of raising their hand, or simply shouting out answers, passengers had to use the in-flight entertainment system to answer. Using the tethered remote, passengers logged into the systems chat room, and whoever answered first was the winner. Those who won were brought up to the first class cabin to take pictures with the trophy.
Towards the end of the flight, the crew got on the PA system once more, and encouraged all passengers to wave the orange Giants towel they found at their seat at the beginning of the fight. Before landing at JFK, Mr. Baer walked to the back of the aircraft with the trophy so that every passenger had a chance to see it up close.
Most major airlines in the United States sponsor multiple sports franchises, and sometimes it feels as if the sponsorship is nothing more than a few billboards at the stadium. In the case of the Giants and Virgin America, the relationship feels deeper than that, and it is refreshing. The event flight was a lot of fun, and it is something those passengers will not forget any time soon. As a big sports fan and aviation enthusiast, I couldn’t have asked for a better combination.
|This story written by… Jason Rabinowitz, Correspondent.
Jason is a New York City native who has grown up in the shadow of JFK International Airport. A true “avgeek”, he enjoys plane spotting and photography, as well taking any opportunity he can get to fly on an aircraft.