DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Virgin America (VX) operated its inaugural flight from New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO) in 2007.
After successes with Virgin Atlantic (VS) and Virgin Blue (VA), now Virgin Australia, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson planned to emulate this in the United States. “Virgin USA” was announced in 2004, a new low-fare airline based out of SFO.
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Plans, submitted to the US Department of Transportation on December 9, 2005, were rejected. The Virgin Group was then forced to reduce its ownership to 25% and a management restructure was embarked upon before approval was eventually granted.
Rebranded as Virgin America, the airline received its first Airbus A320 N621VA ‘Air Colbert’ in February 2006.
The Virgin Touch
Like other Virgin Group companies, VX set about differentiating itself from its competition from the outset. Seat-back entertainment was standard, and food and drink could be ordered from the comfort of your seat. On May 21, 2009, the airline became the first in the US to offer WIFI on all flights. It also brought “soothing mood lighting, touch-screen seatback entertainment, …and power outlets at every seat on every flight,” Branson writes about VX.
After initial losses, VX finally made a profit in 2010. Buoyed by this success an order was placed for 60 Airbus A320s, including 30 A320neos in January 2011. They were also the launch customer for the A321neo.
Initial rumors of a takeover circulated in 2015. These were confirmed on April 4, 2016, when Alaska Air Group announced its intention to purchase VX for US$2.6bn as a way to limit competition on their own turf since VX’s Airbus fleet was incompatible with Alaska Airlines’ (AS) all-Boeing operation. The Virgin America brand ceased to exist on April 4, 2018.
Featured image: Virgin America N923VA Airbus A321-253N. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways