MIAMI — Virgin America just turned eight years old, and on Saturday it decided to celebrate the occasion back in its hometown. Alongside San Francisco mayor Edwin M. Lee, Virgin America dubbed Saturday, August 8 as “Virgin America Day,” commemorating another year in the industry with a fare sale. Additionally, it plans to extend the party by handing a two-for-one voucher to the first 40,000 fans in attendance at AT&T Park on Saturday, August 15, “Virgin America Night.”
As it adds another year under its belt, Virgin America boasts quite a few achievements. In the past year alone, it added or announced plans for new service to a handful of new destinations. The airline began operating from Dallas Love Field (DAL) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) last October, while it will commence operations in Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG) later this year. Additionally, Virgin America reeled in a few notable awards, taking home the designations of “Best U.S. Airline” courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler last October, recognized with three awards -best airline in North America, best staff in North America and best low-cost airline in the U.S. by Skytrax World AIrline Rewards, and “Top Domestic Airline” from Travel + Leisure more recently this July.
Virgin also commemorates a highly successful IPO the previous November, finally becoming available to the public after years of holding off while fighting for profitability. The airline struggled to escape the red in prior years, but finally reeled in a profit for the first full year in 2013 and has enjoyed largely successful skies since then financially.
With its primary hub at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Virgin wants to engage with its local community by partnering with hometown identities, such as Mayor Lee and the San Francisco Giants. CEO David Cush echoed this sentiment, offering his thanks to “local fliers as well as our 3,000 Virgin America teammates.” He lauded the airline’s “[continually evolved] flight experience” and noted that Virgin has “earned some of the travel industry’s most distinguished awards in the process.”
In turn, Mayor Lee thanked the airline for its contributions and economic impact in San Francisco: “For the past eight years, Virgin America has exemplified the innovative spirit and diverse culture of our City while continuing to grow its home base at SFO, creating local jobs, moving our residents across our U.S. cities and supporting vital Bay Area charitable programs.” Giants president and CEO Larry Baer also called Virgin the “ultimate partner” and expressed his pride for the airline as the official carrier of the San Francisco Giants.
While lacking the footprint nationally, Virgin America competes fiercely in the Bay Area with United Airlines, which also maintains a stronghold in San Francisco. United controls a dominating 46% of the SFO traffic according to the airport, and while Virgin counters with only 9% its unique product offers a striking contrast to United, intensifying the impact. The presence of viable competitors has served as a neat check on the remaining three legacy airlines, one of the fares continue to remain low historically.
Despite the increasingly blurry distinctions between carriers, Virgin America tries to make a name for itself by offering an exceptional in-flight product while still offering aggressively competitive fares, even if not always the most deeply discounted. To that note, Virgin also enhanced the passenger experience last year with an update of its fleet-wide entertainment system, “Red,” increasing its connectivity speed and content availability, as well as a better listening experience and screen resolution. The airline hopes that a flying experience not worth dreading will lure in some passengers despite its limited route network.
As Virgin blows out the candles on its birthday cake, it certainly hopes to enjoy many more rounds as it continues expanding. For the time being, it enjoys its niche role within the airline industry. The airline faces some headwinds – namely, unit pressures in the Dallas market as well as more generally keeping a lid on costs while still offering a premium product – but seems to be sticking well. We can probably expect a similarly loud celebration next year in San Francisco from the airline, when it hopes to have another round of accomplishments of which to boast.