Inside Virgin America’s “Stay Golden” launch event (photos)

I looked around and tried to absorb what was unfolding before me.

VIP’s and Virgin employees mingled on the patio of the beachfront W Fort Lauderdale. Nearby, a reality TV crew set up a shot for a new series about the lives of Virgin America flight attendants. Lights and loud music infiltrated the senses. It was a perfect backdrop for television, even though it didn’t quite feel like reality.

And in a sense, it wasn’t reality; but merely a splash of Richard Branson’s reality.

Then, somewhere between the gold-suited synchronized swimmers, the beverages sprinkled with gold, and the musical performance from Santigold, it hit me: Virgin America is dedicated to (and very good at) one thing. They design brilliant experiences… and in their world, there’s no such thing as overindulgence.

The morning started with an early but high-energy flight out of San Francisco with press, contest winners, and CEO David Cush all onboard. I stepped into the cabin of the A319 and immediately appreciated the attention to detail in the environment.

Stylish mood lighting. Glossy white plastic seatbacks. Bright touchscreens. AC outlets at every seat. Fast (and temporarily free) wifi. I think I even overheard someone say “It’s like flying inside of an iPod!”.

Even the safety video was creative and entertaining; and apparently so different from the standard that the FAA had a hard time approving it. To me, that says it all. Virgin America knew from the beginning what type of experience they wanted to offer, and has executed that vision despite strict regulations and an unfavorable market.


As the day went on, it soon became clear that the favorite buzzword was “startup”. Anybody from the company speaking about the airline referred to it as a startup, because it’s truly their advantage over the competition. They’ve been able to execute this vision by being nimble, building from the ground up, and yet staying in line with the ethos of the Virgin brand.

Many other airlines have fallen short with the in-flight experience because of a lack of vision or a reluctance to invest in overhauling their cabins. VX has done it right, and offers fares at the right price. Which is fine until you go wild with your credit card on the in-flight payment system; all on demand movies, food, and snacks cost a small fee, though live satellite TV and gaming is free.

Upon landing in Fort Lauderdale, our plane was met by Richard Branson and his billion dollar smile, calmly waving from the top of a water-spraying fire truck. It was a completely appropriate reception – why wouldn’t Richard Branson be on top of a fire truck to kick off the launch of two new routes?


The disembarking was followed by speeches from the CEO, Branson, and FLL Airport authorities expressing their pleasure with Virgin America’s arrival. The tarmac was lined with music, models, press, a large crowd of spectators… and enough Patron for everyone. Nothing but fun.

The energy from the tarmac eventually transferred to the main event, where I had my moment of realization about Virgin America’s brilliance. I almost laughed at the thought of it. Had I ever heard of Jet Blue throwing elaborate parties to celebrate the launch of a new route? No. Is there anyone that could even try to pull this off like Branson could? Not with the same style.

Virgin has the sex appeal that few other corporations can match, and has certainly succeeded at bringing a unique and enjoyable experience to the low-cost domestic market.

“Nationwide system outage” grounds flights

Only when I arrive at my gate do I learn of the FAA‘s “nationwide system outage” grounding flights across the country. Gate attendants are reading from prepared FAA statements, explaining they don’t know what caused the delay, but that they’re working to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

My 8:50am flight has been pushed back to 9:50, but now — at 9:20 — there’s been no word about rescheduling my flight. Naturally, I have a connecting flight in Atlanta Hartsfield — the world’s busiest airport — and they are reporting widespread delays, as well.

The issue, apparently, revolves around scheduling flights for departure. (There’s a lot of confusion about this, here at FLL.)

Flights in the air are safe, and seemingly, airlines have the ability to clear flights one-by-one for departure: that explains the three flights that have zoomed off in the past 20 minutes. According to @ExecutiveTravel, “The FAA’s own site says that flight schedules are being entered in MANUALLY, thus the delays and cancellations” — but I’m unable to find this information.

We’re on the ground — literally — for this story, updating live from our Twitter account. We’ll also update this post as we learn more.

If you’re traveling today … we sympathize.

UPDATE: Apparently, the computer glitch is in Atlanta.

UPDATE 2: The gate attendant announced at 9:50 that the delay would end in “about 45 minutes.” Let’s see how accurate he is.

UPDATE 3: The gate agent was right on target. That flight is boarding now. My flight — the one originally scheduled for 8:50 — is now scheduled to depart at 11:30.

UPDATE 4: According to the WSJ, “The FAA system is a major, cutting-edge program full of redundancies that are designed to keep it from going down.”

Virgin America launches SFO/LAX to Ft. Lauderdale!

Greetings from 35,000 ft! Right now, we’re onboard Virgin America’s inaugural flight from San Francisco to Ft Lauderdale, which touches down in the Sunshine State at 3:30 PM.

Today’s expansion marks the tenth destination for Virgin America and the first connection from the Golden State to the Gold Coast. In celebration, Virgin America has brought along a handful of winners from their “Stay Golden America” competition, and will be donating $1 to budding entrepreneurs for every tweet containing the tag #HelpVirginUnite.


This afternoon, there will be a tarmac reception from Richard Branson and CEO of Virgin America, David Cush. The event will conclude with a launch party hosted at the W Ft. Lauderdale – where Gadling will be posting full event coverage and getting the down-low on Virgin America’s expansion plans.

Be sure to track our feed for updates, photos, exclusive interviews, and reviews of the entire Virgin America experience.

Update: Check out our full coverage of the event – Article / Photos & Exclusive Video