Kooky Carrier Bets On Amenities, Low Cost
Following years of preparation, legal
wranglings and oddball marketing gimmicks,
new low-cost carrier Virgin America will take off Wednesday on its
first flight, from New York to California.
And, as is the case with many endeavors undertaken by Sir
Richard Branson's Virgin label, it will be a flamboyant affair...
complete with red carpet introductions for Branson and Virgin
America CEO Fred Reid, a DJ spinning music, and "Comedy Central"
satirist Stephen Colbert.
The airline will also hype its inflight amentities... including
onboard entertainment, complete with downloadable music and movies;
self-service minibars; onboard flight tracking, thanks to Google
Maps; and even music in the lavs. First class passengers will be
treated to white leather seats -- complete with massage function --
and mood lighting.
Skybus, this ain't.
"You can't ignore the fact that Richard Branson has shown a
flair for promotion that is hard for anybody to match," said Ed
Perkins, contributing editor at SmarterTravel.com, to CNNMoney.
"These guys are very, very good -- and that matters in a market
where there isn't much product differentiation."
Others in the business aren't impressed... saying Virgin America
is all about gilding the lily.
"I don't think it's a big deal that you can order your in-flight
meal from your screen," said Joe Brancatelli, editor of
JoeSentMe.com. "We've seen a lot of this before."
CNNMoney notes for all Virgin America's hype about comfort,
JetBlue seats still offer more legroom. Even United Airlines offers
a selling point over the young upstart -- first class seats that
recline a full 180-degrees, as opposed to "only" 165 degrees for
Still, for the money, Calyon Securities analyst Ray Neidl says
Virgin America offers an enticing product. "[B]ottom line, people
buy on cost," he said.
Using a fleet of Airbus A319s and larger A320s, Virgin America
will initially fly between Los Angeles and San Francisco for $44
(first class starts at $149) and from those cities to Washington,
DC and back for as little as $129 to start.
Those fares will rise shortly, Reid says, and exit rows will
cost more. The airline hopes to fly to as many as 30 cities within
"Our goal is to provide topnotch service at low fares," Reid
The airline will be banking heavily on that sentiment... as the
carrier will compete with more established offerings from Delta,
Continental, and America, among others.