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Sleepless in Seattle: Branson launches Virgin Atlantic route

Richard Branson launches Virgin Atlantic LHR-Seattle route

“I hope you’ll all be sleepless tonight,” said Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, at a party in Seattle to launch the airline’s new route.

The inaugural flight from Heathrow to Seattle Tacoma airport followed Virgin Atlantic taking over the route from its partner Delta, and Branson pointed out the B787 Dreamliner adds 40,000 seats a year to the route, plus a premium economy service.

Branson also said he hoped “sanity will prevail” during the next two years of Brexit negotiations, but was gloomy about the outcome.

“A hard Brexit will severely damage the travel industry,” he said. “We are talking about the industry collectively losing hundreds of millions, billions I suspect.”

Branson suggested he doesn’t disagree with those who think Brexit could or should be repealed. “If I was a business person and was going to make the most important business decision of my life, I wouldn’t decide to make it three years before it happens and then say I’m going to stick with whatever the outcome of those negotiations in three years’ time. I would leave my options open.”

He urged others to “speak out” on the issue, saying. “If it’s going to damage Great Britain and the travel industry then I hope somebody will own up to that.”

Asked about the impact of the rise of low-cost long-haul carriers, Branson told BBT: “We must compete with anyone on low prices, as well as quality. That’s what Virgin Atlantic has done for 33 years, and we will continue to do so for the next 33. But we’ll do it in a way that doesn’t bastardise our product.” 

Branson praised Seattle’s “hip, entrepreneurial” spirit and thriving tech industries, but slammed Alaska Airlines for announcing it is to phase out the Virgin America brand that it bought for US$2.6 billion in 2016, saying it was a “baffling and sad” decision.  

“I genuinely believed they would treasure the brand, and treasure the people. That they would treasure the product, and they knew what they were buying, and that the last thing they’d do would be to rip the heart out of it, which seems effectively what they decided to do.”

“It just seems such a waste. I just wonder what it was that Alaska bought, and why did they bother?” He added that under the licensing deal, the Alaska Airlines will continue to pay him royalty fees for the brand until 2040. 

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