Branson’s Virgin America Gives Passengers the Menu on the Seatback–And they Love It

Richard Branson’s handsome face graced a full page article in last week’s Time Magazine. I read the story as I sat on a plane bound for Sardinia. The story was about his new airline, Virgin America, that has recently begun flying between New York, Seattle and LA.

The airline, like any in this cut throat, tough environment, faces challenges. Yet Branson is his usual supremely confident self, describing his keys to success in the airline business. It starts with avoiding the traditional hub and spoke system, and instead, choosing high profit routes. But another part of their success is that they are cool, always cool, and stylish.

The planes Virgin America flies are all the same: new Airbus A320s, which seat 149 passengers. The interiors cost 2-3 million to decorate, but for that money you get very cool looking planes.

Instead of dishing out ‘gruel from a cart,’ the article described their innovative new way to serve passengers: The menu is in the seatback video screen, and as soon as you want to put in your order for a salad, or a turkey bacon wrap, you swipe your credit card and a server in a crisp purple uniform brings it to your seat.

Once the plane runs out of certain popular food items, they no longer appear on the seat-back screens. The trips from LA to NY cost just under $300. A fair price. They also offer a first-class service for 29 passengers up front with hot food and the usual amenities.

Virgin America also offers another perk: Free Wifi and the ability to send text messages to other passengers. These fun little extras are some of what sets Virgin apart.

But Branson also stresses that he’ll never fly a Kansas City-Phoenix route, or the other more pedestrian, and less profitable airline routes. No, he leaves the middle of America alone, and concentrates only on high demand routes such as NY-LA.

He said he considered an all business class airline, like Eos, but decided not to do it…because there would not be much business during weekends. And they want to keep their planes flying and making money seven days a week.