Virgin Atlantic Airways is a survivor. For most of its 34-year history, the plucky British airline has been taking the fight to larger and more established rivals.
Through it all, Virgin Atlantic has survived everything from the economic recession to an underhanded smear campaign by British Airways during the early 1990s.
Even though several airlines around the world have worn Virgin Group livery, including Virgin Australia and the soon-to-disappear Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic has always been Sir Richard Branson’s baby. After all, the billionaire sold his once prized Virgin Records in 1992 to keep the airline afloat.
In late 2012, Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group, bet Branson, Virgin Group’s founder, that his airline would be out of business within five years — loser gets kneed in the crotch.
Now, with Delta and Air France-KLM holding 80% of its shares, Virgin Atlantic is not only still flying, but in a stronger position as ever. And to my knowledge, Branson has yet to collect on the bet.
With roughly 45 planes in its fleet, Virgin Atlantic isn’t a very big airline. British Airways, for example, has more than 270 planes, while a major US legacy carrier like Delta has nearly 900 mainline jets in its inventory.
However, the crown jewel of Branson’s aviation portfolio is certainly influential. From its mood-light-drenched cabins to its stylish dressed staff, Virgin delivers service with a style and flair all its own.
On a recent business trip to the UK, I decided to fly Virgin Atlantic’s bread-and-butter service between New York and London. It’s arguably the most competitive route in a highly lucrative transatlantic-airline market. On the flight out from Newark Liberty International Airport, I took VS02, one of the airline’s original flights dating back to its days as a one-plane operation.
Since it was an evening flight that took off at 10:30, I decided to document my afternoon flight back from London.
Here’s a closer look at my most recent trip on Virgin Atlantic Airways.