MIAMI —Virgin America celebrated today the launch of its new service from San Francisco to Honolulu with a Hawaiian-style send-off for the airline’s inaugural flight to paradise.

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The inaugural flight included Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America President and CEO David Cush, who said “This is a destination we’ve been interested in for quite a while. We wanted to make sure we had the right airplane in terms of capabilities to do it, and we do now.” The new flight was served by a brand-new Airbus A320 aircraft, appropriately named Pineapple Express, by the airline’s teammates.

“We are very excited about Hawaii. It’s a route that our Elevate members have been asking for” Cush added, who also thanked the authorities of San Francisco International Airport. “We thank you guys for getting us where we are.”

Sir Richard Branson also recalled that “I’ve never been able to afford to go to Hawaii by boat, never been able to swim to Hawaii, I’ve been to Hawaii once. We were trying to get around the world on a balloon, and we were almost there. As we got to America, there was this blanket of bad weather that we couldn’t get through and crashed 100 miles off Hawaii. Thank goodness a wonderful helicopter service was there to pick us up and took us back. We arrived at Hawaii on Christmas Day and had a wonderful Hawaiian welcome and we kissed the soil of America. It is the most wonderful place in the whole wide world. I am looking forward to going back.”

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To commemorate this first flight, the San Francisco-based airline transformed Gate 54 at Terminal 2 into an exotic tropical oasis, complete with hula dancers, Mai Tais, and island-inspired music as part of a pre-boarding island experience for travelers, who also received themed giveaways.

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Hawaii is the number one tourism destination from the US West Coast. According to information from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the islands received over 3.3 million visitors in 2014, which “is a significant source of inbound visitors to the Hawaiian Islands and we look forward to welcoming Virgin America passengers from the Bay Area and across the airline’s U.S. network,” said George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA).

“We are pleased to see Virgin America giving our guests the broadest service options possible between the West Coast and Hawai‘i, boosting airline competition, adding seats, increasing accessibility to the islands and adding new jobs to our tourism industry” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates Virgin America’s new flights will generate $138.6 million in visitor spending and $14.8 million in tax revenue for the Aloha State each year.

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Despite the optimism the market is considered to be very entrenched for legacy carriers. When questioned on how Virgin America is planning to attract high-level customers from these competitors, Cush believes that “It will be the same things we’ve done on other big Legacy entrenched routes. Our first routes were New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco. You don’t get more Legacy than those routes. So, we go in, we provide good service, we have a lot of fun. We’ve got a better hard product than they do. We operate a great airline, on time, with good baggage performance… so, that’s the same thing we’re gonna do to Hawaii and it is how we beat these guys, in New York, also.”

“These are our best and most successful routes, we fly six times a day, from Los Angeles to New York, and five times a day San Francisco to JFK, and we’re quite optimistic in terms of how Hawaii will go for us, too” Cush added.

Virgin America will expand its Hawaii service further on Dec. 3 when it begins flying between San Francisco and Kahului. “We are thrilled to be bringing our unique service to Honolulu and next month Maui, and we look forward to building lasting community ties with the state and people of Hawaii.”  Cush concluded.