Virgin eyes partnerships as it debuts airline in US

SAN FRANCISCO and NEW YORK: Virgin America, Sir Richard Branson's new low-fare carrier, debuted on August 8 with a media buzz that the company hopes to continue through partnerships and outreach.

SAN FRANCISCO and NEW YORK: Virgin America, Sir Richard Branson's new low-fare carrier, debuted on August 8 with a media buzz that the company hopes to continue through partnerships and outreach.

The inaugural flights from New York and Los Angeles that landed simultaneously in San Francisco were part of a launch event that also included a party attended by Branson and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, among others.

Coverage of the new airline appeared on Today, BBC World News, in The New York Times, and numerous other outlets.

"If you did not hear about Virgin America [that day], you're living in a cave," said Sarah Stabile, PR director at Anomaly, the airline's AOR.

Despite the international coverage, grassroots activity in the airline's home city is also important. The two top bidders in an auction benefiting the Knowledge is Power Program, a San Francisco-based network of nationwide free college preparatory public schools, were also passengers on the JFK-SFO launch flight. The winning bid was $5,400.

Virgin America also has partnerships planned, among them a sponsorship with the San Francisco Giants that includes signage at AT&T Park and free airline tickets to winners of pop fly promotional contests.

"We invested in this city and want to be a part of it," said Abby Lunardini, director of corporate communications at Virgin America. "We'll be based here [and] a lot of our employees are here, so we want to have a big presence."

Other partnerships include transporting Victoria's Secret models for the company's November fashion show and a deal with Burton luggage, whereby the airline will promote a Virgin America line of luggage on virginamerica.com and on the airline's in-flight entertainment system.

Amenities being promoting to set the airline apart from other low-fare carriers include 18 channels of satellite TV, 25 movies, instant messaging with other passengers, food service throughout the flight, and mood lighting in the cabin.

"You have a captive audience, so give them options, things to do, and an environment that they want to be in so they won't dread flying," said Stabile.

Virgin America will offer flights to Las Vegas and Washington, DC, in the coming months and is aiming for another 30 cities in the next five years.

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