MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Virgin Atlantic (VS) operated its inaugural flight from London Gatwick (LGW) to New Jersey’s Newark Airport (EWR) on the Maiden Voyager, a Boeing 747-200 aircraft, on June 22, 1984.

The airline birth came after the bankruptcy of Laker Airways in 1982, making low-fare services between London and New York practically inexistent.

Due to this market gap, an Ameican lawyer, Randolph Fields, and a former British pilot from Laker Airways, Alan Hellary, decided to found a new company to cover said demand for trans-Atlantic flight.

The founding of Virgin Atlantic

Under the name British Atlantic Airways, the first routes were planned from London to the Falkland Islands. However, the destination’s commercial infeasibility made Fields and Hellary turn their heads to New York instead.

As the license to fly between LGW and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) was rejected, the founders decided to choose EWR for the route. However, they needed more funding to actually operate the route.

In 1984, Fields met and negotiated with business magnate Richard Branson. As a result, the company was first renamed Virgin Atlantic Airways. When all its shares were sold to Branson, the name Virgin Atlantic (VS) was born.

The Maiden Voyager.

Maiden flight details

And so, Branson injected enough money to start services between LGW and EWR. On June 22, 1984, VS’s maiden flight (VS1) took to the trans-Atlantic skies.

The chosen aircraft was a Boeing 747-200 previously operated by Aerolíneas Argentinas (AR). In VS’s hands, the type was registered as G-VIRG and baptized as the “Maiden Voyager.”

The lease of the model was feasible due to the aid of sister company Virgin Records, also owned by Branson. Eight years later, Branson would sell Virgin Records to Thorn EMI, investing the proceeds in VS.

With a profitable summer schedule ahead, Maiden Voyager was the initially advised option for VS’s upper-class offer. At the time, the airline’s strategy was to compete with major carriers in the coming season.

Photo: Virgin Atlantic.

VS first services

Taking advantage of what would be an upper flight experience, related premium plans were launched in the 80s and features in economy class such as TV were available by the 90s.

The first amenities included limousine pick-up at home, office, or airport both at LGW and EWR if passengers were willing to pay up to four or five times the normal fare, according to UK media Campaign.

Alan Hellary, Richard Branson and Randolph Fields launch Virgin Atlantic at the 1984 press conference.
Photo: Getty Images.