How Virgin Atlantic Is Not-So-Silently Mourning the Loss of Virgin America

Mend your broken heart with a sister brand

Alaska Airlines is working hard to give its merger with Virgin America, and consequent decision to retire the latter brand, a positive spin. The problem is, nobody’s fooled.

In a sector with too few choices (and shrinking), Virgin America, with its mood lighting, on-demand meals and sassy safety videos, was among the few brands that struck American travelers as committed to comfort, happiness and personality. (Unsurprisingly, Alaska Airlines plans on learning from it.)

So, in true Virgin style, Virgin Atlantic is giving its vanishing sister company one last salute. Created with 1 Trick Pony, “Virgin Flies On” features sharply dressed British flight staff reciting a love letter to both Virgin America and its heartbroken customers.

“You’re a pioneer, a rebel and our friend, born from the idea that air travel doesn’t have to feel like, well … air travel,” they say.

“You did us proud, carrying ideas across the pond. And while the future may be uncertain, we urge your customers to take heart. For not only do we carry on those same ideas, we also carry carry-ons!”

“Emotions were flying high on social media when it was announced that Alaska Airlines was planning to retire the Virgin America brand. Our entire team at Virgin Atlantic was equally disappointed; we’re so proud of the way they brought a fresh and fun approach to domestic air travel, and we’ve loved having them fly in the sky alongside us,” Virgin Atlantic’s head of marketing, Jenna Lloyd, tells AdFreak.

On March 23, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson wrote his own missive to the airline, in which he discussed the state of the industry and reminisced about his own efforts to keep it afloat while consistently surprising the market. “The legacy airlines kept trying to stop us flying,” he writes. “But we won over people in Newark, Chicago and Boston in similar fashion.”

It’s also he who, in very Branson style, kicks the campaign launch off.

“Keep expecting—and demanding—more from your airlines!” Branson incites users. “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.”

Branson also teased the launch of other Virgin projects, including a Virgin Hotel in San Francisco (set to open in late 2017), the first-ever Virgin Sport US festival, the launch of the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge, the creation of Virgin Voyages’ first three ships, the continued expansion of Virgin Galactic and the launch of Virgin Orbit, a satellite business based in southern California.

“As an entrepreneur’s brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop,” he vows.

“Virgin Flies On” went live with a sweepstakes to win two tickets to London, which ran through April 3. On top of the video tribute, it included banner ads, billboards outside San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and a full-page letter to Virgin America in the Seattle Times, which reprises the text used in the ad.

Below are the banner ads, which play on Virgin Atlantic’s low fares, now-familiar services … and accent.

Below is the ad that appeared in the Seattle Times. (They can’t help bringing up that knight thing, can they?)

And here’s the billboard that appeared outside SFO:

“As we’ve done since 1984, we’ll continue to serve fliers between the U.S. and the U.K. with the same style and service that is so uniquely Virgin,” Lloyd goes on. “We just added three new routes in the last month in this market [SEA-LHR, SFO-MAN and BOS-MAN], and along with our partner Delta Airlines, we now operate up to 39 daily flights across the Atlantic with 26 nonstop destinations.”

Here, giving things a neat end, are Branson’s last words on the matter of Virgin America:

“George Harrison once said, ‘All Things Must Pass.’ This was the ride and love of a lifetime. I feel very lucky to have been on it with all of you. I’m told some people at Virgin America are calling today ‘the day the music died.’ It is a sad (and some would say baffling) day. But I’d like to assure them that the music never dies.”

Below is a photo of Branson at a press conference at Seattle Tacoma International, fêting Virgin Atlantic’s new route between London Heathrow and Seattle, and bearing a T-shirt with the message that’s as much a war cry as a call to take heart. Virgin flies on!

Meanwhile, back on land, the Virgin America brand will retire in 2019.