Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson bashes Alaska Airlines at Seattle launch

Virgin Atlantic marked its new service between London-Heathrow and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday with a ceremonial flight that featured a live-streamed in-flight performance by up-and-coming UK pop-star Raye and an on-the-ground welcome of the Boeing 787-9 by Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic’s service -- which launched Sunday before being celebrated with the ceremonial Monday flight -- replaces service currently operated by joint-venture partner Delta Air Lines. It will increase the annual capacity on the route by more than 40,000 seats, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger told Today in the Sky during the Monday flight to Seattle.

“The Seattle market also fits better with the Virgin brand,” said Kreeger. “Seattle is a young, entrepreneurial, innovative, outdoorsy risk-taking kind of city and when you think of the element of the Virgin Atlantic brand and who we attract, it just seems like a great fit.”

At a press conference following the arrival of the flight and the kick-off of several days of in-city celebrations and events, Kreeger noted the Virgin brand was already well known in Seattle and on the West Coast thanks to the airline’s U.S. sister, Virgin America.

Alaska Airlines (Delta’s major competitor in the Seattle market) purchased Virgin America last year for $2.6 billion and announced last week that while Alaska will adopt some of Virgin America’s amenities and some of its cool "vibe," it will retire the Virgin America name and brand by 2019.

Saying he prepared to be polite, but “decided not to be,” Branson shared his thoughts on Alaska’s decision at the post-flight news conference.

“It’s baffling and sad,” said Branson. "When I sat down with Alaska, I genuinely believed that they would treasure the brand, that they would treasure the people, that they would treasure the product and that they knew what they were buying, And that the last thing they would do would be to rip the heart out of it, which seems effectively like what they decided to do.”

“It just seems such a waste,” said Branson. “I wonder what it was that Alaska bought and why did they bother?”

Branson also noted that Alaska has to continue paying royalties on the Virgin America brand under the licensing deal until 2040, “despite what you might have been told.”

As for Virgin Atlantic's new route to Seattle (VS105), it departs Heathrow daily at 1:20 p.m. and arrives in Seattle at 3 p.m. and leaves Seattle daily at 5:50 p.m. and arrives the next day in London at 10:50 a.m.

The route is being served by a Boeing 787-9 aircraft with 264 seats, including 31 lie-flat “Upper Class” seats, 35 premium economy seats and 198 economy seats. Virgin Atlantic's 787 "Dreamliners" will replace the Boeing 767s that partner Delta had been flying on the route. Delta's 767s carried about 50 fewer passengers than Virgin Atlantic's 787s.

(Harriet Baskas - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

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