In an interview on Bloomberg TV last week, Virgin America founder Sir Richard Branson said he’s open to the idea of starting a new airline in the U.S., pending the outcome of a dispute with Alaska Airlines over how long it will pay royalties for the Virgin America brand it acquired last year.
Alaska bought Virgin’s U.S.-based carrier this past December for $2.6 billion, then announced in March that it would be retired by 2019.
When asked if he would consider opening a new carrier in the U.S., Branson said, “watch this space.”
The Virgin founder indicated that Alaska Airlines should continue paying royalties “unless we decide to start another airline.”
“So, we’ll see what happens,” Branson said in the televised interview. The Virgin founder said he believes he should be paid royalties through 2040.
As the U.S. airline industry grapples with overbooking, fewer flights, and recurring labor issues, a new airline from Virgin would be a welcome addition to the market. Launched in 2007, the design-conscious Virgin America quickly became a preferred carrier for U.S. fliers and was named by readers as the No. 1 domestic airline for Travel + Leisure’s World Best Awards for nine years in a row.
After Alaska announced its intention to completely dissolve his beloved brand, the passionate entrepreneur published a goodbye love letter to the employees and customers of Virgin America that quickly went viral. An excerpt:
“To each of your brilliant Teammates, I know that you will continue to do great things, whether you stay on with Alaska or pursue a different path. Build a business that puts its people first. Work with partners who share your same progressive and inclusive values. Focus on delivering a great customer experience, and success will come. Make business a force for good. Stay positive; attitude is everything.
“To our wonderful guests, I speak for everyone at Virgin America when I say we are eternally thankful. For believing in the little airline that could. For giving up your miles on “Blah airlines” - so you could fly us for the experience. For supporting us in every tussle we got in with the big guys. For believing that all airlines don’t have to be the same – and that experience matters.
“You would not believe the number of people who tell me how much they love flying Virgin America. Keep expecting – and demanding – more from your airlines! If you miss flying Virgin America, you still have your beautiful sisters; Virgin Atlantic is starting service from London to Seattle next week, and Virgin Australia is starting direct service from Melbourne to Hong Kong the week after that. Virgin flies on.”