By far, the most impressive feat Virgin America has managed to pull off in its four-year history has been getting people psyched about flying again.
The airline has developed a following whose passion rivals that of Apple's acolytes. And while a fervent fan base is nothing new to consumer-electronics or consumer-packaged-goods companies, it's a bit of a rarity for the airline industry, which tends to be hated by most for any number of reasons, including long security lines, baggage fees and inadequate legroom.
But if you wanted a sense of just how enthusiastic Virgin's customers are about the brand and how pumped it has travelers about flying, you needed only to scan Twitter earlier this month when the airline announced it would in May start offering flights to Chicago from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Excited travelers tweeted their thanks for the news and that they had already purchased their tickets or were about to. The tweets also praised Virgin's brilliance for announcing the route in conjunction with a special Groupon-ticket offer, which sold out in 15 minutes.
The partnership with Chicago-based Groupon demonstrates Virgin's digital- and social-media prowess and knack for staying ahead of the curve. It's often not just the first in its category to employ new technologies -- it's often the first in any category.
Porter Gale, Virgin's VP-marketing, said the company is constantly on the lookout for new players entering the social-media space. "It's the DNA of the company, and our guests love the fact that we have shown them respect by reinventing the airline model," Ms. Gale said. "We started with product delivery and complemented it with great service and things other airlines weren't thinking about like mood lighting, Wi-Fi across the entire fleet and food on demand. All of those things tell our guests that we respect them and want them to have a better flight. That's what instills their passion."
The digital savvy it exemplifies in its marketing mirrors the importance the carrier places on the in-flight digital experience. Virgin America launched with more onboard digital goodies than any other domestic carrier, from seat-back gaming and instant messaging to plugs at every seat, something that endeared it to the tech-influencer crowd that quickly jumped on its San Francisco-to-JFK route. Ms. Gale and Virgin don't have any plans of banking on all that goodwill and becoming less aggressive or experimental in its use of digital media.
"We are already looking at the next generation of our product and how will it evolve," Ms. Gale said. "In the future, you will see some next-generation advancements with Red, our entertainment system, additional personalization, more social-media integration and incorporating Wi-Fi into the seat backs. That alone says to me that we are focused on constant innovation and moving our airline forward."