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Virgin America

Virgin America
Founded 2004
Commenced operations August 8, 2007
AOC # VQIA199L[1]
Hubs San Francisco International Airport
Focus cities
Frequent-flyer program elevate
Airport lounge Virgin America Loft
Fleet size 53
Destinations 21
Company slogan Making Flying Good Again
Parent company VAI Partners LLC (75%)
Headquarters Burlingame, California, USA
Key people

Virgin America, Inc. (NASDAQ: VA) 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."[2] San Francisco International Airport is Virgin America's main hub, but the airline also has focus city hubs at Los Angeles International Airport and Dallas Love Field.[3][4] Virgin America's frequent flyer program Elevate provides award flights and other benefits to frequent fliers.[5]

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;[6][7] VAI Partners owns 75% of the capital stock; the remaining 25% of the company is owned by Virgin Group,[8] which also licenses the Virgin brand to the airline.

Virgin America, headquartered in Burlingame, California in the San Francisco Bay Area, 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.


  • History 1
    • Opposition and setbacks 1.1
    • Clearance and take-off 1.2
    • 2010s 1.3
  • Corporate offices 2
  • Destinations 3
  • Fleet 4
  • Cabin 5
  • BLAH Airlines 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9
    • Video clips 9.1


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.[9] 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.[10]

Opposition and setbacks

Virgin America secured its first amount of funding in late 2005 and submitted the required U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) certificate application.[11] 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.[12] The application was denied by the Department of Transportation on December 27, 2006.[13]

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.[14] The airline was also prepared to remove then-CEO Fred Reid "should the DOT find that necessary".[15]

Clearance and take-off

Airbus A319 "Moodlights, camera, action" at McCarran International Airport

Virgin 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.[16] Virgin America fought to keep Fred Reid as CEO,[17] 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.[18]

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 Reid as CEO of the airline.[19]

Virgin America reported a $270 million loss from August 2007, when it began operations, through the first two quarters of 2010.[20] The airline reported its first quarterly profit, of $7.5 million, in the third quarter of 2010.[21]

In early March 2009, there were reports that the U.S-based investors sold their stakes in Virgin America.[22][23] Virgin America's CEO refused to comment on "private financial matters", but stated that the U.S. investors had not decided that they wanted out of the company.[24][25] [26]

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.[27] Between November 10, 2009, and January 15, 2010, the airline offered free WiFi with a subsidy from Google.[28]


Virgin America airport check-in - 2014 O'Hare, Chicago

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.[29] On April 2, 2010, the DOT approved Virgin America's proposal to fly to Canada,[30] and flights began on June 29, 2010.[31] However, due to high operating costs and higher demand for Dallas/Fort-Worth, Virgin America terminated Toronto service on April 6, 2011.[32] 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, headed by Stephen Freidheim.[33]

In April 2011, Virgin America’s hub at San Francisco International Airport relocated to the newly remodeled Terminal 2,[34] sharing the gates with American Airlines.[35] 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.[36]

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.[37]

On May 12, 2014, Virgin America was awarded two gates at Dallas Love Field after a competition with Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines for the two gates, following American Airlines' divestiture of the two gates after an antitrust settlement with United States Department of Justice related to its merger with US Airways. Virgin America will begin service on October 13, 2014, following the expiration of the Wright Amendment and will establish a focus city, with non-stop service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York-LaGuardia, and Washington-Reagan. [1]

The airline listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange on November 14, 2014.[38]

Corporate offices

Virgin America leases 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2) of space at Bay Park Plaza II (formerly known as the Forbes Building), a building at 555 Airport Boulevard in Burlingame, California in the San Francisco Bay Area, owned, leased, and managed by Equity Office.[39] Virgin America occupies suite 500 in the building, which is located across a lagoon from U.S. Highway 101 (Bayshore Freeway).[39][40]


Virgin America initially predicted that it would have approximately ten destinations within the first year of service and up to 30 after five years of service.[41]

Virgin America currently flies to eighteen destinations in the United States and three in Mexico.


"Air Colbert", the aircraft used on Virgin America's inaugural flight, on the ground at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport

Virgin America received its first Airbus A320 on February 24, 2006. The two inaugural flights on August 8, 2007, were on A320s named Air Colbert (named after comedian Stephen Colbert) and California Dreaming.

Virgin America renamed one of its aircraft, an Airbus A320, in honor of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.[42]

As of November 2014, the Virgin America fleet consists of the following aircraft with an average age of 5.7 years:

Virgin America announced in January 2011 a firm order for 60 new Airbus A320 aircraft that would be delivered starting in 2013, including 30 of the Airbus A320neo. This formalized and expands an initial commitment made at the Farnborough Airshow in July 2010.[45]


Virgin America mood lighting
Virgin America offers dual-class service on all flights it operates. Both cabins feature mood lighting, all seats are equipped with Panasonic Avionics' personal in-flight entertainment system running a customized touch-screen GUI called Red. In July 2010, the Red software had been upgraded to version 2.0 across the entire fleet. This update included new features such as an updated position mapping system (powered by Google Maps), in-flight shopping, and open tab capabilities.[46] The "RED" system will again be upgraded in 2013, enabling passengers to surf the Internet directly on the seat-back device without the need for a laptop.[47]
Virgin America First Class
First Class seats offer 55 inches (1,400 mm) of pitch and are 21 inches (530 mm) wide. The seats feature power-ports, adjustable headrests, a massage function, and various recline controls. Passengers seated in first class receive complimentary meals, refreshments, and alcoholic beverages and receive dedicated airport check-in, security screening, and aircraft boarding. In first class, Red offers free live satellite television, free on-demand movies, free on-demand television programming and a selection of games. The front lavatory is for first class guests only.[48]

Main Cabin Select is Virgin America's premium economy product.[49] It is not a distinct class; instead, the service is located at Main Cabin seats in the exid behind the bulkheads. Passengers are offered more conveniences than in normal Main Cabin seats and have 38 inches (970 mm) of seat pitch, 17.7 inches (450 mm) of width and dedicated luggage bins. Like in first class, meals, refreshments and alcoholic beverages are free, as are the premium television channels and movies. Airport check-in, security screening, and aircraft boarding are prioritized over Main Cabin passengers. The lavatories in the back are for all passengers flying in economy, including Main Cabin Select.[49]

Main Cabin seats offer 32 inches (810 mm) of pitch and are 17.7 inches (450 mm) wide with power-ports and adjustable headrests. In Main Cabin, Red offers free live satellite television, pay-per-view on-demand movies and on-demand television shows, a small selection of free games and a larger selection of games for purchase.[48] Passengers can order snacks, meals, and alcoholic beverages from their seats via Red. Flight attendants receive the orders via a tablet computer on the food cart thereby eliminating the traditional food and beverage service.[50]

BLAH Airlines

On October 15, 2014, Virgin America premiered a video on its YouTube channel titled Have you been flying BLAH Airlines?, a promotional film nearly six hours long (5:46:10), in a comic and surreal way portraying in real time a flight from Newark to San Francisco via the fictional BLAH Airlines. Part of a larger social media campaign, the film was created by Eleven, an ad agency in San Francisco. The video was viewed 75,000 times in its first 24 hours online.[51][52]


  1. ^ "Federal Aviation Administration – Airline Certificate Information – Detail View". Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  2. ^ "On the Record: Fred Reid," The San Francisco Chronicle, March 19, 2006.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "About Us". Archived from the original on 2008-05-01. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  5. ^ "Virgin America Elevate". Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  6. ^ Under U.S. law, an air transport certificate can only be held by a "citizen of the United States" 49 U.S.C. § 41102, where "citizen of the United States" can be defined as "a corporation ... of which the president and at least two-thirds of the board of directors and other managing officers are citizens of the United States, which is under the actual control of citizens of the United States, and in which at least 75 percent of the voting interest is owned or controlled by persons that are citizens of the United States"
  7. ^ Cirillo, Greg (September 2007). "Virgin Territory—Foreign Ownership of US Airlines". Wiley Rein LLP. AirWorthy: Insights into Current Aviation Legal Issues. Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Answer
  9. ^ "SFO Lands New Carrier Virgin USA — 1,500 Jobs; Airline Sets Sights On Low-fare Market; Corporate Center To Be Based In N.Y.," The San Francisco Chronicle, June 5, 2004.
  10. ^ "Start Of Virgin America Delayed; Branson's Airline Apparently Needs More Investors," The San Francisco Chronicle, April 9, 2005.
  11. ^ "Taking To The Air: Low-fare Startup Virgin America Says It Has The Funding To fly," The San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 2005.
  12. ^ See "Virgin America Inc. - Certificate - Interstate Scheduled Air Transportation", U.S. DOT Docket OST-2005-23307.
  13. ^ "Virgin America gets the no-go," The San Francisco Chronicle, December 28, 2006.
  14. ^ "Virgin Group makes concessions to get Virgin America flying," Air Transport World, January 19, 2007.
  15. ^ Aviation Week and Space Technology, January 22, 2007, p. 16.
  16. ^ United States Department of Transportation ruling
  17. ^ "Virgin America fights to keep CEO Reid," Air Transport World, April 12, 2007.
  18. ^ Aviation Week and Space Technology, September 17, 2007, p. 24
  19. ^ "Virgin America Appoints C. David Cush as Chief Executive Officer".  
  20. ^ Young, Eric (2009-02-02). "Virgin America has lost $270M".  
  21. ^ "Virgin America Reports Third Quarter 2010 Financial Results" (Press release).  
  22. ^ Prada, Paulo (2009-03-09). "U.S. Investors Sell Virgin America Stakes".  
  23. ^ "Report: Virgin America loses U.S. investors". Bizjournals. 2009-03-11. Retrieved 2009-03-11. 
  24. ^ "Virgin America proves it is U.S.-controlled". The Examiner (San Francisco). Bloomberg News. March 12, 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-03-15. Retrieved September 26, 2009. 
  25. ^ . March 11, 2009 Retrieved March 11, 2009. 
  26. ^ "'"Virgin America says it remains US 'citizen. International Herald Tribune. March 12, 2009. Retrieved March 12, 2009. 
  27. ^ "Press Releases". Virgin America. 2009-05-20. Retrieved 2011-02-04. 
  28. ^ Reardon, Marguerite. "Free Wi-Fi for the holidays on Virgin America | Signal Strength". CNET News. Retrieved 2011-02-04. 
  29. ^ "Virgin America Launches 2010 Growth Plans; Summer Expansion to Orlando, Toronto". Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  30. ^ "DOT approves Virgin America application to Canada". Retrieved 2010-04-06. 
  31. ^ "Virgin America Goes International: California's Airline Toasts New Toronto Flights, Sets Sight on Next Routes" (Press release). Virgin America. 2010-06-29. Retrieved 2010-12-08. 
  32. ^ Mutzabaugh, Ben (24 January 2011). "Virgin America to drop Toronto, shift flights to Dallas". USA Today. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
  33. ^ Virgin America agrees to changes to ensure U.S. citizenship
  34. ^ Virgin America Welcomes First Commercial Travelers To Its New Terminal 2 Home
  35. ^ About Terminal 2 SFO.
  36. ^ Nicas, Jack (5 November 2011). "Virgin America Reservation Changeover Creates Bumpy Ride". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 15 November 2011. 
  37. ^
  38. ^ "Virgin America shares surge on US stock market debut". BBC News. 14 November 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  39. ^ a b Simmers, Tim. "Virgin America airline destined for Burlingame." Oakland Tribune. January 13, 2006.
  40. ^ "Virgin America is teaming with Virgin Galactic." Virgin America. Retrieved September 24, 2008.
  41. ^ Virgin America FAQs. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  42. ^ Rosa Golijan (2005-06-12). "Virgin America names plane in honor of Steve Jobs - Technolog on". Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  43. ^ "Virgin America Fleet Details and History". January 19, 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2012. 
  44. ^ "FARNBOROUGH: Virgin America signs MoU for up to 60 A320s". 22 July 2010. Retrieved 22 July 2010. 
  45. ^ Virgin America Airbus A320neo Order News Release
  47. ^ Yamshon, Leah (2011-09-13). "Virgin America’s Techie In-Flight Entertainment System". PCWorld. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  48. ^ a b "Virgin America-Our Difference" (Flash). Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  49. ^ a b "Virgin America Rolls Out Main Cabin Select And Refundable Fares". 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  50. ^ "Eat Better. Eat Onboard." Virgin America. Retrieved on December 8, 2008.
  51. ^
  52. ^

Further reading

  • Tuttle, Brad. "Why an Airline That Travelers Love Is Failing." TIME. October 25, 2012.

External links

  • Official website
  • Archive of

Video clips

  • Virgin America's channel on YouTube
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