Branded Flights are Virgin Territory

When Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic Airways 22 years ago, he intended to make flying fun. Chicagoans had a brief chance to see what Branson meant when Virgin first introduced service from O'Hare airport in 1999. But that service was quickly yanked in the wake of Sept. 11, and it is only now being re-introduced, with a daily service that will commence on April 23, again from O'Hare.

There have been many tweaks to the Virgin product in the intervening five years, but to our knowledge, Branson and his airline never have veered from its original strategy of being fun. Virgin also has remained in the vanguard of product innovation with a lot of extras such as on-demand entertainment and amenity kits in all classes of service.

Branson also has introduced luxurious touches in its premium Upper Class cabin that other carriers plying the lucrative and hugely busy transAtlantic routes to London have yet to match. Extras include a fully functioning cocktail bar and a spa station where mini-massages and other treatments are offered. But from a marketing perspective, one of the most interesting aspects of the Virgin Atlantic operations was the carrier's decision to brand each of its flights departing from North America with a name, so passengers could begin to think of every flight as having a specific character of its own.

This clever strategy also gives both frequent and infrequent trans-Atlantic travelers a fun way to reference their flight. Each of six flights Virgin currently operates out of the New York market, for instance, has a name, such as the High Flier, the Suite Dream and the Wide Eye, while flights from Washington, D.C. have been dubbed the Envoy and the Diplomat. And Los Angeles, natch, has the Rising Star.

Virgin already has decided on a name -- the High Riser -- for the new Chicago service departing O'Hare at 6 p.m. daily, as well as a description of the service that will become part of a booklet the airline regularly updates and publishes describing all of its branded flights departing from U.S. airports.

The descriptive copy that will accompany the High Riser when it is entered in the booklet notes that the flight "is aptly named to honor the pioneering city that created buildings that touch the sky and for its jetsetters who elevate business to new heights." The copy goes on to say that "travelers on the High Riser reach the highest altitudes whether atop the Chicago skyline or working from the privacy of their Upper Class Suite."

Yes, as Branson obviously knows all too well, it never hurts to stroke -- just a little anyway -- Windy City movers and shakers who can begin to create a buzz surrounding the return of Virgin Atlantic to the Chicago market and the High Riser's debut.

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