Rumor has it Virgin America is looking to sell – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Airlines buying airlines. Mergers. These are the topics that rumors were made for. As I start hearing more rumors about the sale of Virgin America, I wanted to take a closer look at who might buy them — and who wouldn’t. Personally, would I buy them? No. I don’t have the money. If I did, it would be nice, though. A privately-held airline. Immune from Wall-Street capacity discipline bludgeons… heaven!
So now that we know I cannot buy Virgin American… who might?
“You’re crazy!” That’s the most common reaction I get from non-AvGeeks after describing in detail one of my typical “plane crazy” trips. Unlike a normal person, my travel tends to focus not on the destination, but the journey. That is, the airlines, airplanes, airports, and last but most certainly not least: hap-hazard routing in an effort to add the most diversity to my route map. I just completed one such trip, which I affectionately referred to as my #AirlineSampler.
Planning for this 6k (5,966) mile trek began when I learned United would briefly return a 787 to domestic service. What began as a trip to fly on my first 787 quickly escalated into a cobweb of lines I’d lay across the Great American West (for Missourians, everything west of the arch is west). The trip ended in just under four days, having flown with five airlines and visiting eight airports along the way. Better yet, these would be my very first trips with three of the airlines.
A United Airlines’ Boeing 787-8 – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter
The experiences I had over this long weekend were both incredible and eye-opening. I want to have enough “runway” as it were to discuss my thoughts on each of the airlines, so we’ll spread these out across a number of posts. At this point, it’s important to note these reviews will be from the perspective of a frequent flier who purposefully chooses Southwest over the other guys most times. I’ve written extensively about my love for Southwest so, for the most part, I’ll leave them out of this series which was focused solely on getting out and exploring the what airline diversity remains in the US. For continuity, I’ll note where I used Southwest for re-positioning and leave it at that.
Virgin America First Class. Photo from Virgin America.
Meet Michael. He is a 59 year old real estate developer, builder, investor and consultant that lives in Santa Cruz, CA. I have never met Michael, but he recently emailed me sharing his recent experience with Virgin America. I loved his thoughts so much, I wanted to share them. Here is his Virgin America #AirlineLove experience in his own words:
So folks, here I am flying home on Virgin America from DC to San Francisco after three weeks of flying to Europe (around Europe) and back to the US in economy cattle coach. When booking this Virgin flight, I was given the opportunity to upgrade to First Class for two hundred dollars.
Lets see…. should I do this? It would mean no bag charge ($50.) No $80 for 2 inches of desperate extra leg room for the insulting “seat plus” option. No thirty dollars worth of marginal food and drink extras to avoid stumbling off the plane hypoglycemic. So maybe the net cost to me is $40 bucks. Should I do this? Hell yes!
So here I am sitting in First Class writing this email because frankly I’ve been abused for so long I can’t quite handle the experience. I’ve flown 1st class in the past but I think coach has gotten so much worst over the years that I’m in shock at the difference. Like many things these days, the flying public has forced the airlines to compete only on price leaving no room for a business model based on quality of experience. So why would anyone pay more for the experience of boarding first, deplaning first and sitting in front of the plane? I’m here to tell you.
TYPICAL COACH FLIGHT:
Subtitle: Trapped animal
Wait to shuffle onto the aircraft, stake out your crappy narrow no legroom seat, squirm, suffer and long for the hours to somehow go by more quickly, strategizing constantly about when to get up, use the bathroom, stretch your legs, etc. Consider drugs as an escape to the hours of hell. This is obviously a very abbreviated description of coach economy hell. No need to dwell further on the negative, we’ve all been there. Now mind you, Virgin offers an above average coach experience, nonetheless, it be coach.
Two Virgin America Airbus A320s at LAX. Photo by Ken Koller.
OKAY, VIRGIN AMERICA FIRST CLASS:
Board first, plenty of room in the overhead, First Class bathroom ratio 1 to 8. Nothing you didn’t already know so far but it’s a cumulative experience. (notice how I’ve elevated the words “First Class” to proper noun status” like “Gold Bar” or “Jennifer Lopez”). By the way, I skipped lunch today because I figured at a minimum I’d receive the airplane food free and be attended to like a human. Like I said before, I’ve been abused for so long, I didn’t know what to expect. To say the least, I underestimated the experience. Oh, and the security line is shorter as well.
I sit in my seat, it’s so wide Chris Christie times two would be comfortable. I stick my legs out straight as far as I can and I can’t touch the seat in from of me with my toes, in fact, I almost can’t reach the back of the seat magazine pouch with my hand, not that I need it cause I’ve got so much cleverly designed storage and room around me. I don’t have to share an armrest with the seat next to me, we each have our own. My seat mate is so far away, he looks like he’s across the aisle. The tray table is designed in such a way that I can get up from my seat with a meal, computer, (or whatever) still on it. Get this, I can step to the aisle from my window seat without disturbing my seat mate, no “excuse me” necessary and of course, the seats metamorphose into beds. I have not one, but three windows. No one is rushing to clamp on noise canceling headphones, it’s not that noisy up here. I don’t feel I can discover or take advantage of all the amenities offered in the time it takes to fly coast to coast.
ON THE FOOD:
“Would you like something to drink”?
She preemptively brings me two. Served within minutes of takeoff.
1st course is fresh tender Calamari, hearts of palm and tomato salad perfectly prepared in vinaigrette, (the tomatoes are ripe summer tomatoes bursting with flavor, I’m not kidding)! 2nd course is tender moist chicken in a fig sauce with vegetables, fresh figs, and actual fresh baked olive bread. “Can I have a 2nd piece of bread”? “Of course.” The veggies are firm, flavorful, perfectly cooked, not the usual microlimp we expect to work around while gagging down whatever we can marginally accept on the plastic-tray-excuse for a plate. Dessert is three wonderful little pastries in a row: Macadamia nut thingy, little chocolate mousse cup and little lemon bar, (fantastic)! I don’t usually even like lemon bars. Need a snack? Just ask for the fabulous snack tray. If you want your meal tray removed NOW, just ask.
Did I mention my drink is served in a real glass? I have a cloth linen napkin. I have actual metal stainless flatware which I thought was banned after 9/11, (The airlines are afraid you might slit your own throat after a coach meal). The salt and pepper shaker is a little mini airplane. I feel like a child flying for the first time. Everything is served “a la restaurant”, I don’t have to unwrap anything or feel as though I’ve been served a meal in a hospital bed. All the food is the correct temperature. The stewardess is not rushed or bitchy. Forget the service, just on the food alone, on a scale of one to ten, I would rate the meal a solid eight, perhaps nine.
It is a party all up in here. Photo by Brandon Farris.
Without me noticing, the flight is half over. I don’t feel any particular urgency for the flight to end, I really don’t care (a first)! Somehow the sound of crying children has been expunged. The PA system is the right volume and you can understand clearly. I’m so etherized I believe the turbulence feels milder up here. I can actually accomplish work in this environment.
Oh look, now the flight IS over, we’ve landed, who knew — and forty minutes early. No wonder we deplane first, the coach passengers won’t even be here for forty minutes. I might just pass on my privilege of deplaning first and linger a little longer, maybe they’ll bring a sedan chair and carry me to baggage claim, anything seems possible.
Like I said before, I’ve been abused for way too long.
Last week Virgin American started flying to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) via Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Not only was there celebration, but a big challenge placed to legacy airlines to watch their back — Virgin America is in town.
Virgin America seems like the little airline that could. Back in 2007 when they first started operations many of the large carriers barely took notice. Now, the San Francisco based airline keeps growing with a fleet of 39 Airbus A320 and A319 aircraft that serve 14 destinations. The airline currently has 60 additional Airbus A320s on order and plans to keep growing their route network. It is hard to argue that Virgin America does not deliver the best in-cabin product of any domestic carrier, and with prices matching other carriers, they could give the legacy airlines a run for their money (story continues below photos).
- One of Virgin’s Airbus A320s.
- Some bubbly in San Fran before take off.
- Get your fight on.
- Adrian Grenier from the show Entourage with Sir Richard Branson.
- Virgin America’s CEO David Cush cuts the ribbon.
- Sir Richard Branson in boxing gear.
All photos by Nick Rose, click for larger.
“Until today, travelers flying from O’Hare to the two largest California airports had little choice and few low fare options. We believe our flights will be a breath of fresh air for Chicago travelers and thank the City and O’Hare officials for their efforts to open up access to new competition,” said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush. It seems that Cush might be talking directly about United (which is based in ORD) and American Airlines (which has a hub at ORD) when he stated, “Flyers deserve more options than just the off-chance they may be upgraded from poor to mediocre on a legacy airline.”
The legacies are fighting back. United Airlines has announced a double mileage award program where residents of Illinois or California can earn double miles when flying between Chicago and LAX or SFO. United has also added an additional five round trip flights to SFO and one additional flight to LAX. American plans to add one additional flight between ORD and LAX in June.
United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told the Chicago Tribune, “Our strategy is squarely focused on giving customers the most convenient schedule and access to the broadest network. We have competed with multiple carriers in these two Chicago-West Coast markets for years. We will continue to do so and will continue to win.” Those sure sound like confident fighting words to me.
Sir Richard Branson told the Chicago Tribune that, “We’ve had to fight our way into Chicago,” as he credited the big airlines at O’Hare with “knocking out” Virgin’s previous attempts to serve O’Hare for three years.
Virgin America isn’t stopping the fight at just flying to ORD, they too are offering special frequent flier rewards. Passengers flying between now and August 31st will be able to earn triple Elevate rewards points flying between LAX, SFO and ORD. Who doesn’t love a little battle of the airlines — well maybe the airlines, but it sure is good for customers.
Of course the large elephant in the room is that Virgin America doesn’t have a good track record of making profit. Yes, they are still a new airline flying new airplanes into expensive airports, so it could just take time to make a solid profit. Virgin America does offer more bang for the buck, but will it be enough to woo over passengers who are loyal to larger carriers? So far it seems that Virgin American think they can. They brought the fight to Chicago and it looks like others airlines have heard the call. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Due to being stuck in Dallas because of bad weather, I was not able to make this exciting trip with Sir Richard Branson. Luckily, others were able to capture the excitement:
* Story and photos from Jaunted of Virgin America’s Chicago event
* You can see more of Nick Rose’s photos on his Facebook page (a big thanks for sharing your photos)