Virgin America celebrates 1st year anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO, CA The 1-year-old domestic carrier, which flies an average of 80 flights daily and serves seven destinations from its home base at San Francisco International Airport, will offer bubbly and sweets to its passengers for birthday parties across the country today, company spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said.

The celebration at SFO this morning was more lavish, with company Chief Executive Officer David Cush greeting employees and passengers, Lunardini said. A representative from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office presented a proclamation during the event declaring today Virgin America Day in the city.

The celebration will continue tonight in San Francisco, when Cush and about 600 employees and guests will head to the Giants home game at AT&T Park, Lunardini said. Cush is scheduled to throw out the first pitch, and messages from friends and investors, including Richard Branson, Virgin Group's founder, will be broadcast on the park's big screens.

Virgin America is a separate company from Virgin Atlantic, and Branson's group is a minority investor in the airline, according to company officials.

The partnership between the airline, the city of San Francisco and SFO has been successful, according to Lunardini, who said the company initially struggled to receive certification to fly in the United States.

"We would never be here today without them. The mayor's office and SFO have been so supportive. We work with them all the time and it's been a great partnership," Lunardini said.

Virgin America, the only major carrier currently based in California, has created an estimated 900 local jobs and another 400 jobs elsewhere. The airline was also named World's Best Domestic Airline by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Lunardini credits the employees along with the company's business model with its first year of success.

Virgin America prides itself on its youthful fleet of 24 aircraft, which are 30 percent more carbon efficient than the average domestic fleet. Technological savvy and a loyal customer base have also contributed to the company's success.

"We are doing great. We are relatively small, so our route network is very efficient. The business model is very tech savvy and streamlined, and because we are a startup we have some very enthusiastic and dedicated employees who are passionate about reinventing U.S. air travel, which has been a good competitive advantage," Lunardini said.

Basic amenities such as free nonalcoholic drinks, baggage check of one bag up to 70 pounds, blankets, TV, video games, MP3s and interactive maps are included for passengers.

The airline has also done away with traditional trolley cart drink service and replaced it with individual touch-screens for passengers, who can touch a picture on their seat-back screen to order a complimentary beverage, Lunardini said. Passengers can also chat with other airline passengers using the touch screen. Individual power outlets are also included, and the company hopes for WiFi on all planes by Spring 2009.

Rising oil prices have pushed the company to include surcharges of $10 for short-haul flights and $25 for long-haul flights. The airline also charges for newer release films, in-flight meals and alcoholic drinks, Lunardini said.

The options, both the free ones and those customers must swipe their credit cards for, seem to keep passengers of the low-fare airline coming back for more.

"The philosophy we have had since launch is that this is different and this is all about the consumer," Lunardini said.

Additional information about Virgin America is available online at

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