Virgin America: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Virgin America
Since Virgin America began operations a little over two years ago, Porter Gale, VP-marketing for the airline, said receiving e-mails from customers wishing their flights lasted longer hasn't been unusual.

But Virgin America has done what many people probably thought was impossible: it's managed to get consumers psyched about flying again.

And it's done so by relying heavily on PR, social media, word-of-mouth and partnerships with properties such as Google and HBO's "Entourage" to help change the nature of the conversation. Where people once only griped about lost bags, crowded and cramped flights and cattle-call boarding, Virgin America flyers are now tweeting and telling anyone who will listen about in-flight Wi-Fi, spacious leather seats, mood lighting and in-seat food and beverage ordering through touchscreen control panels.

"We tried to reinvent the entire travel experience, starting with the website and check-in," Ms. Gale said. "There is definitely that 'a-ha' moment when people walk on the plane for the first time. And we hear them say things that it's like flying in an iPod or a nightclub."

She said an operational profit is expected for 2010, and there have been several profitable months in 2009 with"flying load factors of over 80%."

Porter Gale
Porter Gale, VP-marketing, Virgin America
With no national TV advertising to help set it apart, and service in only nine markets -- a 10th, Fort Lauderdale, will be added Nov. 18 -- Virgin America's use of social media and customer service as marketing tools is becoming a case study for the industry. The airline has responded to in-flight tweets from passengers who haven't received meals by getting flight crews to serve them their missing meals, and it has had representatives meet a disgruntled passenger at the gate to see how it could help resolve an issue that came up during the flight.

"Most of the social-media engagement has been responding, listening and connecting with fans, which is important because it builds loyalty," Ms. Gale said.

The airline has won both Best Domestic Airline in "Condé Nast Traveler's" 2008 and 2009 Readers' Choice Awards and in "Travel + Leisure's" 2008 and 2009 World's Best Awards. "That's pretty incredible since we only service nine markets," she said. "That shows we are doing something different."

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