Good Thing Branson's Not the Pilot

Virgin Atlantic Airway's famous stunt man was at it again Monday. The airline's founder, Sir Richard Branson, pranced merrily about on the airplane wing of the inaugural flight of VA's new daily High Riser service between Chicago and London's Heathrow shortly after the aircraft parked at O'Hare Airport's international terminal.

Branson has always insisted VA is in business to make flying fun -- and for those in its premium cabin extraordinarily luxurious. Branson's stunt of wing walking whenever VA enters a new market has become a traditional symbol of VA's carefree, nontraditional flying style. The flight that arrived Monday, of course, was not the airline's inaugural flight to Chicago. For about 18 months, Virgin Atlantic flew between Chicago and London but pulled out of the Windy City a few weeks after Sept. 11.

But now the carrier is resuming the trans-Atlantic service for the long haul, it hopes. And it is promising to make the already highly competitive Chicago-London route even more so. Recently unveiled VA advertising in the Chicago marketplace is emphasizing all the perks its service has that the competition doesn't, including an on-board bar and spa services, limo service to and from the airport and amenity kits for everyone, among other things.

Chris Rossi, Virgin Atlantic senior vice president for North America, said the carrier will offer the one daily flight in each direction for now. But daily frequency could soon grow if demand warrants and the carrier can obtain additional landing slots at busy Heathrow Airport.

llazare@suntimes.com



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