Richard Branson Offers Some Answers On The Virgin America/Alaska Airline Merger


Richard Branson, the man behind the only airline worth flying (source: biased opinion) isn’t wrong when he says that taking to the skies with Virgin is never a chore. The seats are comfortable, the touch-screens usually responsive, and no other airline will give you the whole can of soda when you ask for it with as much happiness. Plus, there’s the soft purple lighting and the hilarious-for-the-medium in-flight safety materials. No one’s surprised that it’s the No. 1 airline in America…but a lot of people might be surprised today to discover that Virgin is merging with Alaska Airlines.

In a lengthy (and worthwhile) treatise on Virgin’s history, Branson points out that he set out to create an airline that was unlike all the others. He started it out of frustration–remember the years when flying was truly unbearable?–and continued innovating to make sure that the people who boarded their Virgin flights would return, even if there were some minor issues. Today, Brandon writes, the company is thriving.

So why the merger? Here’s Branson’s reasoning:

In 2007, when the airline started service, 60 per cent of the industry was consolidated. Today, the four mega airlines control more than 80 per cent of the US market. Consolidation is a trend that sadly cannot be stopped. Likely feeling the same competitive pressures as Virgin America, Alaska Airlines approached Virgin America with a proposal to merge. The board of Virgin America has accepted an offer from Alaska, and if the merger is approved by Virgin America shareholders and regulatory authorities, the two airlines will become one.

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.

So it doesn’t sound like Branson wanted to do this, but Alaska was the best possible outcome. Many of us may not have flown the airline before, but let’s hope that their merger with Virgin wouldn’t be as disastrous as, say, a merger with Frontier (which I’ve taken twice and been surprised that a passenger and flight attendant were only arrested one of those trips). And it’s very clear from Branson’s message that he’s still very committed to the airline that brings you not only very reasonable rates but a little something extra when you fly.

If you’re not convinced, check out his final lines:

The brand’s mission attracted truly exceptional people who refused to create a boring airline. That took a lot of hard work and commitment from Virgin America’s teammates. I have learned about brilliant customer service through their training program, made surprise visits to their headquarters, asked Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport to let our teammates play music again in our check-in area, and have participated in nearly every single route launch. I have jumped off a Vegas hotel on a very windy afternoon, lassoed Texas Longhorn cattle on a tarmac to launch Dallas flights, walked barefoot with a surfboard through SFO’s Terminal 2 to celebrate service to Hawaii, and talked with countless fans and media through live interviews powered by their reliable onboard WiFi – all because of my belief that the Virgin brand can make flying fun again and my belief in the vision and strong values of the airline and its team.

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

That sounds like a guy who still loves his job — which is good from those of us who love to travel.