Richard Branson’s Open Letter About Virgin America’s Demise

Yesterday we learned a lot of details about the future of Alaska and Virgin America, following the two airlines formally merging late last year. Essentially Alaska will be the surviving brand and airline, though they’ll include some minor Virgin America touches, like mood lighting and hip uniforms.

However, if you’re used to Virgin America’s spacious first class and TVs at every seat, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

virgin-america-first-class

This is the best case scenario for Alaska flyers

Alaska flyers should be excited about these updates, as I don’t think it could have worked out a lot better for them. Most significantly:

  • Complimentary first class upgrades will be available to elite members on all flights, while previously Virgin America didn’t offer free first class upgrades
  • Alaska Mileage Plan will be the surviving frequent flyer program, and they’ll continue to award miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent (YAY, on principle, if nothing else)

New-Alaska-First-Class

Of course this is probably also largely a let-down for Virgin America flyers, since they’re losing what they know and love.

I’m also curious about the future of Virgin America’s transcon routes. Between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco Virgin America already wasn’t competitive, given that they don’t have flat bed seats. Now the product will get even worse. Maybe they’ll create a subfleet with better products in premium markets… who knows.

Richard Branson’s thoughts on the future of the airline

When Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America was first announced, Richard Branson penned an open letter about how he wanted to stop the merger, but couldn’t. It was a pretty pessimistic message overall. Here’s part of the letter:

I would be lying if I didn’t admit sadness that our wonderful airline is merging with another. Because I’m not American, the US Department of Transportation stipulated I take some of my shares in Virgin America as non-voting shares, reducing my influence over any takeover. So there was sadly nothing I could do to stop it.

Our Virgin airline has much more to do, more places to go, and more friends to make along the way. The important thing now is to ensure that once Alaska witnesses first-hand the power of the brand and the love of Virgin America customers for our product and guest experience, they too will be converts and the US traveling public will continue to benefit from all that we have started.

Despite the turbulence and head winds, the journey remains thrilling and joyful, and I look forward to more future flights with Virgin America.

Well, following yesterday’s news, Richard Branson has published another open letter, with some interesting commentary. While the primary focus is to reflect on the accomplishments of Virgin America, the overall tone is one of sadness:

With a lot of things in life, there is a point where we have to let go and appreciate the fact that we had this ride at all. Many years ago, I shed tears over selling my beloved Virgin Records for $1 billion, which we needed to fight off British Airways’ Dirty Tricks campaign to try to put Virgin Atlantic out of business. Many tears are shed today, this time over Alaska Airlines’ decision to buy and now retire Virgin America.

It has a very different business model and sadly, it could not find a way to maintain its own brand and that of Virgin America.

When a company goes public, decisions are made that benefit the shareholders. In the best of times, they also benefit consumers. It remains to be seen what will happen now – for travellers – with fewer airlines in the US than ever. Being different and on a mission to truly reinvent an experience for the customer is increasingly rare in this business.

George Harrison once said, “All Things Must Pass.” This was the ride and love of a lifetime. I feel very lucky to have been on it with all of you. I’m told some people at Virgin America are calling today “the day the music died”. It is a sad (and some would say baffling) day. But I’d like to assure them that the music never dies.

If you have time, I’d recommend reading the whole letter.

Of course the irony in all this is that Richard Branson probably made more money on Virgin America than he ever imagined, given the bidding war that Alaska and JetBlue got into over Virgin America. But when you’re as rich as Richard Branson, I suppose it might not all be about money, on some level…

Comments

  1. considering branson’s track record, I’d ignore all this whining –

    VS – half of company sold first to SQ and now to DL, and now blindly doing DL’s bidding with no strategy for their own.
    Virgin Nigeria – entirely spun off
    Virgin Australia – chopped into a jillion pieces by a whole slew of investors, each with their own agenda that cannot work with the rest while QF, under the turnaround of Alan Joyce, eats their lunch everyday and twice on Sundays
    VX – forced onto the auction block to be finally gobbled up by Alaska

  2. VX was great when I flew them.. their inflight safety video – the mood lighting and the Cabin crew. The whole VirginAmerica vibe and feeling was awesome.

  3. I’m SFO-based, flown VX a lot, also flown all the premium transcon products.

    As for the inferior F on AS/VX … I realized I just don’t care. I don’t need a bed on a 5-6 hour flight unless it’s a redeye, and I do that only once every few years. I’d _much_ rather have complimentary upgrades to a nice recliner seat (upgrades that I actually have a chance of getting). Or being able to buy it outright for presumably less than what the other carriers need to charge.

    AS seems to have a clear strategy of using a simple but nice product on their own metal, then leveraging their partners for the longhaul destinations and great onboard products. I think that’s a great strategy, and I don’t really think they need a subfleet for transcons.

  4. This guy is essentially Trump with an affected accent. If it weren’t for his “cool” long hair, his disregard for facial hygiene, and his insipid musings on management that are fawned over by cubicle dwellers on LinkedIn, he’d be just another evil capitalist jetting off to his own island who acquired his wealth on the backs of his workers.

    Virgin Cola, Virgin Cars, Virgin Clothing, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Megastores, etc, etc, fail, fail, fail.

    The best brand this shameless self promoter ever created is himself. Perhaps if he were a better businessman he would have been able to save his beloved airline.

  5. Literally no sympathy. He knows nothing about actually running an airline, and his airline creations are stymied by confiscatory licensing fees to use the “Virgin” name. AS isn’t as sexy but they can run the hell out of an airline.

  6. JetBlue and Virgin America would have been awesome, the two ‘different’ airlines. One on each coast. Alaska and Virgin have no reach on the east coast, unless you fly a partner. JetBlue mightn’t have ruined everything VX was built on. ( I will admit this is coming from a Virgin AUS platinum )

  7. Richard Branson is not all about money, his puts his heart and efforts into everything he creates and when he sees it disappear into thin air of course it saddens him. Having to sell virgin records was not an easy choice to make, or selling half of Virgin Atlantic, or seeing Virgin Australia being eaten alive by wantas everyday, or see the slowly but surely death of Virgin America, as a business man who still has a heart for everything he’s made and put so much effort on and see it being destroyed by strangers it surely hurts I’m sure. This is a guy who came from rags to riches and is still humble at his core. He sure thinks of all of the money he made from selling Virgin America but I’m sure he also thinks of all the hopes and dreams he had when it was first launched, when he was given the chance to propose a destination for it to fly to (and how bad it want, hint hint it was Toronto) when he hoped the airline would eventually fly to the Caribbean, when he diecided against Virgin Atlantic flying directly from London to Hawaii because it could just connect passengers onto Virgin America’s newly launched flights to Honolulu and Maui? I remember when I first found out if Virgin America and how cool it looked to me. And how bad I wanted to fly and how excited I got when I found out they were coming to San Diego. But it wouldn’t be till November of 2015 when I got to fly them for the first time from San Diego to San Francisco and back. And it was a great flight. And I too and sad that Virgin America is surely becoming just a memory in our hearts. When I was a kid my family used to go to Mexico once a year to visit family and we used to fly Mexicana, so from 2001 to 2009 every year we would fly Mexicana Airlines down to Mexico and Mexicana surely became my childhood airline and when it went bankrupt (a much more dramatic and painful way to end an airline’s legacy than a takeover) I felt as if part of my childhood had disappeared. And so now I think of little Kids who maybe grew up like me flying a certain airline whether it was Virgin America, or any other US carrier that has disappeared in the last decade, and how those memories become just that, memories. Because you will never be able to relive them again by flying your childhood airline. It saddens me from time to time.

  8. The should have kept the Virgin name and dropped the regional sounding “Alaska”. In addition Virgins planes had a far prettier hard product and a greater feeling of fun than Alaska.

  9. Grant, Branson’s accent isn’t “affected”. He’s British “affected” is when an American feigns a British accen because it sounds better, and it does, but you can’t accuse a Brit of that.

    And he has been wildly successful, in multiple enterprises. He is about as American as a Brit can be, in terms of believing in free enterprise and aspiration.

  10. Grant – you’re right that Richard Branson is a shameless self-promoter, but that’s about the only similarity to Trump.

    I think he’s done exceptionally well building up a successful global brand across so many industries. Sure, some Virgin businesses have failed, but considering the breadth of industries he’s thrown himself into, you’d expect some failures. Last time I checked, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia were doing pretty well, Virgin Money, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Fitness are all very successful. They may not always be the leaders in their industry, but they do all try to do things differently and provides some competition.

    And his accent isn’t affected – he is actually British.

    As for the comment that Alaska is better at running an airline – it is only 17 years since one of Alaska’s planes crashed due to their management deciding to skip routine maintenance to save money.

  11. Interesting! Virgin America was one of our favorite flying experiences whenever we traveled with them! I hope Alaska will be more of the same after this change.

  12. Very sad day for incredible Virgin America. Screw Alaska airlines, they could’ve retired that brand anyway, no one would miss it too much. There’s just not much innovation with the alaska product, whereas Virgin revolutionized how you fly in America. #sad!

  13. Well, for those nostalgic about the “final departure” of VX, when you see the tail of an Alaska Air flight, squinch up your (tear-filled) eyes & you’ll recognize Richard Branson in a parka….no wait, it actually looks like Charles Manson….oops….

  14. We just love how some pissed off liberal manages to work Trump into each and every comments section. Too funny.

    As for VX, it was an awesome airline…until David Cush got involved…and then trashed the already useless website…which is STILL plagued with problems when booking tickets… Love most of the legacy staff there, though — especially ex-LAX and SFO.

  15. Virgin gave an experience. I love their planes, seats, entertainment, service. I will miss them.

  16. The USA government would not let Branson have voting shares in the company which is something a lot of you morons don’t know . If you find one contractor who was ripped off by him let me know otherwise the comparison to the idiot inthe whitehouse is stupid.

  17. Hi Ben,
    We used points for a round trip London to Japan on Virgin. As you probably know, the business seats were all slanted which left very little privacy. The 10 hours became quite uncomfortable, and other business class seats proved better.

    He is an innovator, a salesman, but seems to be able to sell off easily. He said he cried when he sold Virgin records. Yes it was 1 billion, and he says now that he needed it for Virgin Airlines. But alot of people and staff who were with him hook, line and sinker on that altruistic message really took a huge blow, I suspect a bit like this Virgin America people now. Back then, his people were really with him as it was a different world at that time.

    I am not going to judge him, that is not my space. He will be judged on his truth later on. We will see.

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