Virgin America, a new low-cost carrier based in San Francisco, is set for an Aug. 8 takeoff. The carrier has faced some turbulent skies due in part to its partial ownership by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Initial routes are San Francisco to New York’s JFK and LAX, with additional service from San Francisco to Las Vegas and Washington Dulles planned. Flights from LAX to Las Vegas (August) and Washington Dulles (October) are also planned.
Virgin America is an airline that any technologist will love. See my entry on the technology that Virgin America offers, including a high-end open source entertainment system, live DirecTV, a real power plug (no adapter required) at every seat and inflight Internet access. You can also chat with others on the airplane with seat-to-seat messaging. The in-flight entertainment system offers so many features, it’s the first airline I know of that publishes an acceptable use policy on its Web site.
Initial pricing is cheap with SFO-LAX priced at $44 one way and SFO-JFK at $139. (No roundtrip purchase required.) First class is also offered, at modest prices. A first class ticket from Dulles to San Francisco is $389. A comparable ticket on United is more than $800. I should say “comparable,” because Virgin America offers much more legroom with 55″ seat pitch and massaging seats.
It’s no coincidence that Virgin has chosen routes full of tech savvy travelers. This is likely to put a lot of pressure on United and jetBlue, which offer a lot of service on these routes. Ordinarily, giants like United compete by flooding the market with low-priced seats. The technological advantage may be harder to overcome.
Virgin’s biggest obstacle may be the corporate travel managers who hold back the stampede of travelers who want to fly their airline.