Virgin’s future lands at San Francisco’s new T2

san francisco virgin

It is not often that you casually glance out of the airplane window and see the future racing up beside you, glistening in the California sun like a joyriding space catamaran. This happened in San Francisco yesterday as Gadling took part in Virgin’s latest celebration of innovation. Virgin held an event to toast the evolution of flight as well as the opening of Terminal two at San Francisco airport. With plane interiors like neon rimmed London clubs and commercial plans to pierce space with their Galactic platform, Virgin is on an innovatory run that is making them look more and more like the airline industry’s version of Apple.

Our boarding passes listed the departing city as San Francisco and our arrival destination as the future. The flight would circle San Francisco and land at the sparkling new Terminal two. The departure gate teemed with excitement. Muffins were distributed, mimosas swished about, and Rocketman played predictably in the background. Buzz Aldrin rolled in sporting a watch on each hand – one no doubt keeping moon time. The Lieutenant Governor of California, who I first mistook to be Bradley Cooper, addressed the crowd with perfect diction, proclaiming California’s undying support for Virgin America. We were about to “Fly from the Jet Age to the Space Age.”


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The Flight
The plane boarded like any other flight. Groups were announced and everyone shuffled on. The flight attendants crept down the busy aisle offering champagne and water while dodging photographers angling to snap a shot of Virgin chief Richard Branson. Sir Richard ambled down the aisle like a man from the future forced to make his fortunes in a distant past. The throngs of media hung on each charming word he uttered while shuttering away to capture every smile. The pilot took us up into a clear California day that showcased epic views out over San Francisco harbor. White crested waves crashed peacefully below, and a little red bridge connected two landmasses.

san francisco virgin

As the plane banked a turn and leveled out, a glimmer quickly approached from a distance. The speck drew closer and my eyes adjusted to accept the sight of a spaceship pulling up beside our jet. It was White Knight Two with SpaceShip Two nestled between its massive wings. The spacecraft was unapologetically awesome. It lingered just off our left wing like a boasting UFO. It was the main act and a righteous glimpse into the future of space travel. We flew in formation for the rest of the flight. The passengers on our flight smashed up against the windows, hypnotically drawn to the sight of this strange craft effortlessly gliding through the cloudless day. It was a spaceship, and that is about as awesome as it gets.

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The Terminal
The flight to the future touched down at San Francisco’s new T2. The terminal originally opened in 1954, and after many years serving as a relic of the past, was fitted with a $380 million modernist renovation. A press conference drove the point home. It is compared to a five star hotel by the mayor of San Francisco. It is striving to be platinum LEED certified. It glows like the future. The project is under budget and ahead of schedule. Politicians, architects, and airline executives all took their turn at the podium sharing their version of the same story – that Terminal two is the future of airport terminals.

san francisco virgin The terminal had the anxious air of a play before the curtain is drawn. Workers hammered away at benches. The entire staff of a Pinkberry was being trained on the whims of demanding yogurt customers. Sticky plastic sheets were peeled off of metal surfaces by men in hard hats with great satisfaction. Everything smelled new. The terminal would open in just days, and everywhere workers were racing to meet this finish line.

Terminal two is considered the greenest domestic terminal in the United States. I heard the term LEED certified maybe a dozen times, either proclaimed loudly in the press conference or overheard from a passing conversation. Virgin America’s commitment to environmental responsibility is readily apparent in their influence over the terminal’s design. The Gensler designed space reflects Virgin’s style while adhering to the goals of sustainability.

The new terminal will be shared by Virgin America and American Airlines. AA was the original occupant of T2, with roots all the way back to 1954. American Airlines unveiled a stunning new Admiral’s Club, also LEED certified.

The terminal includes a “zone of recomposure” where weary travelers can gather themselves and continue on their mission. The zone hosts a massive art installation by Janet Echelman (above). Titled “Every Beating Second” after a line by beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the installations hang elegantly from the ceiling and add to the modern style of the terminal.

The terminal is an exciting glimpse into the future of airports. The cold utilitarian design of years passed is being slowly replaced with comfortable spaces filled with modernist accents and green ambitions. Virgin, American Airlines, and San Francisco should all be proud of their new terminal. T2 is an excellent use of space with no shortage of shopping and food options.


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The Future
Watching history unfold can be as revolutionary as a kicked in door or as subtle as a whisper. With White Knight Two landing at a commercial airport yesterday, a new step in aviation was taken. Sir Richard Branson casually mentioned that it was likely the first spaceship to ever land at a commercial airport, as though the thought just passed through his head moments before he spoke it. Being casually brash is always a cool angle. It is this cool innovation that drives Virgin towards exciting new ventures. It was revelatory seeing White Knight Two land amongst the Boeings and Airbuses, and it looked a lot like the future gliding into the present.



All photography by Justin Delaney

Delta: single large airline looking for Virgin partner

Delta Virgin Atlantic airlineI hope you haven’t become too attached to Virgin Atlantic. The airline has gotten its share of calls lately about potential mergers, but they are qualified with expressions like “early stages” and “far too early” to say anything about. This isn’t all that surprising, given the strength of its brand and the fact that the airline hired Deutsche Bank to help it evaluate its available growth opportunities.

Word on the street is that Delta is sniffing around, but neither Delta nor Virgin Atlantic would say anything about it.

The notion of a merger with an airline of Delta’s size is interesting, as majority owner of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson, didn’t have much in the way of positive commentary for the British Airways/Iberia deal, which he believed would lead to higher prices and lower competition.

But, the aviation business is feeling the urge to merge, and analysts are saying that Virgin Atlantic needs a big buddy in order to compete effectively, the BBC reports.

[photo by eisenbahner via Flickr]

Virgin America lands at Dallas Fort Worth (Photos)

Watch out Dallas; the original maverick has come to town. Today, Virgin America officially kicked off its brand new service from LAX & SFO to Dallas Fort Worth with an inaugural flight & tarmac reception hosted by Sir Richard Branson and Dallas mayor, Tom Leppert.

With live bulls in a pen and a sign that read “Don’t fly like cattle”, Virgin America made their message very clear; they’ve come to Dallas to compete with the big boys and they’re committed to offering high quality service to gain that competitive edge.

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In celebration of the occasion, Virgin America has partnered with Stand Up to Cancer to throw a Texas-sized bash this evening at Dallas’s Winspear Opera House, where Grammy Award winner Willie Nelson will give a special surprise performance.

Gadling is on hand to find out what this launch means for competitors (American Airlines), DFW, and passengers. We’ll be speaking with Virgin America’s CEO, David Cush, to find out where the airline is headed & what their future plans are as they continue to expand with new international & domestic routes.

Stay tuned for an exclusive inside look at the event!

Inside Virgin America’s Orlando launch (w/ Photos)

I scanned the tarmac from my window seat. No gorgeous models holding Virgin America flags. No extravagant red carpet or cocktail service set out under the inviting Orlando sunshine. No R&B icons, rock stars, or daytime soap actors to pose for the dozens of cameras lined up at the jet bridge.

I thought we might have taxied to the wrong terminal until I saw the undeniable proof that we were in the right place; Richard Branson in a fanny pack, visor, and a colorful tropical shirt, enthusiastically guiding our Airbus A320 (dubbed California Dreamin’) into Gate 109.

The day’s events unfolded rather quickly and routinely, with Branson, CEO David Cush, & Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer all giving remarks about their excitement for the Virgin brand to be in Orange County. Guests took costumed snapshots in a theme-park-style photo booth while a lively balloon twister passed around a latex rendition of a Virgin America airplane. Within an hour or so the event was over, and the flight back to the West Coast was ready to board.

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Having attended two major launches & the premiere of ‘Fly Girls’ in the past year, I’d unwittingly become accustomed to a certain level of lavish presentation at Virgin America events. A connoisseur of Branson allure, if you will. Part of me almost expected flashing lights, loud music, & beautiful people sipping Veev on the rooftop of a hip hotel.

But the playful costumes, bright red fanny packs & family friendly theme all seemed to signify unchartered territory for Virgin America. A sensitive approach to a new and different market.
It would be hard to argue that Orlando has the same obvious sex appeal as the airline’s other 11 destinations. It’s a city that thrives on family-centric tourism & conference organizers looking to roll down their business socks; certainly not the typical tech-savvy creative class that is often drawn to the airline’s mood lighting, seatback touch-screens, and ubiquitous in-flight WiFi.

Nonetheless, Orlando attracted over 43.3 million domestic visitors in 2009 alone, and direct routes from the West Coast aren’t as plentiful as you might expect. My last flight on a low-cost carrier from Central Florida to the Bay Area was an eight hour zig-zag window-seat tour of the Midwest’s finest. A fragmented journey that quickly dulled the fond memories I had of golden Florida sunsets, a thrilling space shuttle launch, and epic mouse-eared magic.

Given the alternative, our direct four-and-a-half hour flight from Los Angeles to Orlando was a downright treat; one that I’m sure many tourists and Orlando residents will be receptive to.

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It’s been a big year for the young airline, and they’re poised for rapid expansion. They’ve announced service to five new destinations (three of which are international routes), reported their first profitable quarters since beginning operations in 2007, and placed an aircraft order that will more than double their current fleet.

Hype & spectacle or not, the launch into the Orlando market is just as significant as their entry into DFW later this year. It’s a shift in the type of destinations that the airline is targeting; high-traffic routes that are currently underserved by low-cost carriers.

Does that mean we’ll see Virgin America in Kansas City anytime soon? Probably not. They’ll have to continue pick and choose routes that are in demand and in need of better service. But with an in-flight experience that’s unmatched by any domestic carrier, I’ll be first in line to welcome such expansions; rooftop party or not.

Richard Branson explains Virgin Mobile FreeFest to Jimmy Fallon

We’ve written about Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic before. Recently, as Jeremy wrote, Gadling was on hand to join in a Virgin Atlantic’s 25th anniversary party in New York City. While in the city, Sir Richard took the time to hang out with Jimmy Fallon on Late Night.

It’s not that I was born on another planet, but I didn’t catch who he was a first. Fallon was in a twitter though. The first thing I noticed before I caught Branson’s name was how pleased he is with himself–and life. Very pleased, glowing in fact. Then I connected the dots and thought, well, that explains it.

The celebration Branson and Virgin Mobile is throwing is to help make the hard economic times a little easier for the everyday person. The Virgin Mobile Freefest, being held on August 30th at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, Maryland is free. That’s right, free–if you can snag tickets. You need a ticket to get in. Start trying tomorrow, Saturday, June 27 at 10 a.m., you can try for tickets through Ticketmaster or call 1-800-551-SEAT.

There’s more.

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In the vein of it’s great to give back, Branson wants people to donate at least $5 to Youth Homelessness. Also there’s a Karma T-shirt package. For $30 you can get a T-shirt, give your $5 donation and $5 towards delivery. The idea is that you buy a T-shirt and stock up on good karma for yourself. There’s a $5 discount if you order two packages.

Branson mentioned the musical line up and perks to people who have lost their jobs. I haven’t found the details about the perks on the event Web site, but according to what I heard Branson say, there’s some sort of VIP area.

Here’s what I appreciate about the event besides it being free. Kids are welcome. Bringing children is mentioned on the checklist page. So is remembering sunscreen and bringing in two factory sealed bottles of water.

It’s also terrific to have a fundraiser for a change that most everyone can afford. I bet FunFest pulls in a tidy sum for Youth Homelessness. Oprah, have any ideas?