Virgin America, Inc. is a United States-based airline that began service on August 8, 2007. The airline's stated aim is to provide low-fare, high-quality service for "long-haul point-to-point service between major metropolitan cities on the Eastern and West Coast seaboards." San Francisco International Airport is Virgin America's principal base of operations and sole hub. Virgin America's frequent flyer program Elevate runs on a "dollars spent versus miles accrued" model.
Virgin America, though the brainchild of British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, is a U.S. airline. By law, no more than 25% of a U.S. airline may be owned by foreign interests and must be under the "actual control" of U.S. citizens; VAI Partners owns 75% of the capital stock; the remaining 25% of the company is owned by Virgin Group, which also licenses the Virgin brand to the airline.
Virgin America, headquartered in Burlingame, California, is separate from and as such is under no obligation to work with any companies that share the Virgin brand name. However, Virgin America partners with many of the other Virgin-branded airlines.
In early 2004, Virgin Group announced its intent to start a new, United States-based, low-fare airline it named "Virgin USA". At the time, Virgin USA expected flights to begin by mid-2005. After considering several key areas, the San Francisco Bay Area was picked to be the location of its flight operations center, and later its corporate headquarters. The airline also changed its name from "Virgin USA" to "Virgin America". Because it had trouble finding U.S. investors willing to gamble on a new airline, given the state of the already crowded U.S. airline industry, the launch date was pushed back from mid-2005 to early 2006.
Opposition and setbacksVirgin America secured its first amount of funding in late 2005 and submitted the required U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) certificate application. The approval process was filled with debate from the support and opposition of the new airline. City and state representatives from California and New York led the support for the airline. The biggest opposition came from the Air Line Pilots Association (a national aviation labor union) and existing competitor U.S. airlines led by Houston-based Continental Airlines. The review of Virgin America's application was prolonged because of this opposition, which claimed Virgin America would not be under U.S. ownership or control. The application was denied by the Department of Transportation on December 27, 2006.
In order to achieve the necessary approval, Virgin America proposed a restructuring of the airline: voting shares would be held by a DOT-approved trust and only two Virgin Group directors would be on the eight-person board. In addition, Virgin America said that it would consider removing Richard Branson from the board, and possibly even dropping the "Virgin" brand entirely. The airline was also prepared to remove then-CEO Fred Reid "should the DOT find that necessary".
Clearance and take-off
Fred Reid and Richard Branson
Airbus A319 "Contents May Be Under Pressure" at San Francisco International AirportVirgin America was tentatively cleared to fly by the U.S. DOT on March 20, 2007, but would not be given full permission until it changed its business structure by enacting several reforms as specified by the DOT. These reforms included the replacement of Fred Reid and the limiting of Virgin Group's influence on the airline. Virgin America fought to keep Fred Reid as CEO, However, as part of the DOT’s final approval in May, Reid was allowed to stay on nine months after the airline certification, six months as CEO and three months as a consultant.
Virgin America started selling tickets in July 2007. Two years delayed, the airline made its inaugural New York and Los Angeles to San Francisco flights on August 8, 2007. In December 2007, C. David Cush replaced Fred Reid as CEO of the airline.
CEO David Cush
Virgin America reported a $270 million loss from August 2007, when it began operations, through the first two quarters of 2010. The airline reported its first quarterly profit, of $7.5 million, in the third quarter of 2010.
In early March 2009, there were reports that the U.S-based investors sold their stakes in Virgin America. Virgin America's CEO refused to comment on "private financial matters", but stated that the U.S. investors had not that decided they wanted out of the company.
On May 21, 2009, Virgin America became the first U.S. airline to offer Wi-Fi access via Gogo Inflight Internet on every flight. To kick off the service, Oprah Winfrey chatted with a flight attendant, Mandalay Roberts, aboard Flight 780 between Seattle and Los Angeles using Skype. Voice over IP will not be allowed on flights normally. The airline will charge for the service. Between November 10, 2009, and January 15, 2010, the airline offered free WiFi with a subsidy from Google.
In March 2010, Virgin America announced its intention to start flying to Toronto from Los Angeles and San Francisco, which, pending government approval, would make it the airline's first international destination. On April 2, 2010, the DOT approved Virgin America's proposal to fly to Canada, and flights began on June 29, 2010. However, due to high operating costs and higher demand for Dallas/Fort-Worth, Virgin America terminated Toronto service on April 6, 2011. Virgin America began its service to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on December 1, 2010, with non-stop to LAX and SFO.
In 2010, Black Canyon sold its stake in the airline to VAI Partners, a group of investors lead by Cyrus Capital Partners.
In April 2011, Virgin America’s hub at San Francisco International Airport relocated to the newly remodeled Terminal 2, sharing the gates with American Airlines. In late October 2011, the airline migrated to Sabre’s global distribution system (GDS) that handles reservations, frequent-flier accounts, flight operations data and crew scheduling, needed to “handle future growth”, according to the Wall Street Journal. Difficulties with the changeover sparked widespread customer complaints.
On December 12, 2012, Virgin America introduced their first airport lounge, entitled the Virgin America Loft. The Virgin America Loft is located at LAX's Terminal 3 and drinks, snacks, and Wi-Fi are provided complimentary. While Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver members receive a select number of complimentary day passes each year, any passenger flying Virgin America or another Virgin America airline partner may purchase day passes to the Virgin America Loft.
Flight Attendants from the Fly Girls CW series that aired in 2010 Interior of the Virgin America Airbus A320
First Class Section
A sample of the first class food served on Virgin America Flights