Here, at last, is a smile amid the gloom about air travel. It's the smile of Richard Branson, staring up from the pages of Time. Branson is optimistic that budget travelers will be still enjoying affordable, comfortable flights in the next few years. To be sure, he's promoting his own airlines as the solution. But it's still refreshing to hear a profit-seeking businessman be optimistic about air travel.
In Time, we learn that:
—Virgin America won't use "the hub-and-spoke approach that creates mayhem whenever the weather sours. The airline will only fly direct between major cities."
—"Virgin America does not plan to have more than 100 planes—limiting itself in the first five years to the 30 largest U.S. cities, those that attract both business and leisure travelers.... Don't expect Virgin on the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis run. "They will be very sad," Branson says of the passed-by places."
—The airline will only fly only Airbus models, "to simplify maintenance."
—The airline will offer fares that are generally 15 percent lower than rivals on major routes at first. Then, after it attracts loyal customers, it will expect those customers to pay slightly more than the lowest available fare on the market in exchange for predictable, smooth flights and the latest in-flight innovations.
—Branson promises to hand over all of the profits from his airlines to fighting global warming, and to work on converting all of his planes to bio-fuels.
—Branson is bubbling over about a milestone for his company, which we recently blogged about. Namely, by the end of this year, his new airline, V Australia, will debut and link L.A. to Sydney. The billionaire proclaims in the interview, "I can finally fly all the way around the world on a Virgin plane!" You can hop from Virgin Atlantic, to V Australia, to Virgin Blue, to Virgin Atlantic, to Virgin America, to Virgin Atlantic. (There's even a Virgin Nigeria, if you're heading that way.)
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Cranky has a report from his flights this weekend.
Is Virgin America the best airline for budget travelers?