Virgin America will launch flights to Philadelphia from Los Angeles and San Francisco in April, becoming the only low-cost carrier to serve the routes nonstop.
It will start thrice daily flights between Los Angeles and Philadelphia from 4 April, followed by twice daily flights between San Francisco and Philadelphia from 10 April, using Airbus A320 family aircraft.
With the new flights, Virgin America will compete directly against US Airways, which has a hub in Philadelphia and operates a substantial number of flights on both routes. It offers 27 nonstop flights weekly between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, schedules in Innovata show. It also operates 21 nonstop flights weekly on the San Francisco-Philadelphia pairing.
Delta Air Lines operates four times weekly between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, while United Airlines offers 13 times weekly service on San Francisco-Philadelphia.
Virgin America said it expects its entry on the routes to drive down fares. "When entering markets that offer little low-fare competition, Virgin America has historically seen fares drop by up to one-third," said the airline.
Currently, Southwest Airlines offers 19 times weekly one-stop service between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, schedules in Innovata show. It also operates daily one-stop service between San Francisco and Philadelphia.
"When more airlines compete, consumers win - with lower fares and better service. Travellers deserve more options than just the typical legacy airline cattle car, and we hope our unique brand of low fares and inventive service will be a breath of fresh air for Philadelphians," said Virgin America president and CEO David Cush.
Virgin America believes that its all WiFi-enabled fleet will offer more options for business travellers flying from Philadelphia to Silicon Valley and Southern California. US Airways, which operates Airbus A320 family aircraft on both routes, also offers onboard WiFi on most of the flights.
However, US Airways does not currently provide in-flight entertainment on its US mainland flights. Virgin America offers on-demand movies, television channels and videogames among other in-flight entertainment options.
US aviation consultant Robert Mann believes with its "distinctly different product", Virgin America could build up a share in the market. However, it remains to be seen if the carrier would appeal to business travellers in the long run, as he pointed out that Philadelphia-based business travellers might be invested in US Airways' frequent flyer programme.
"West Coast based travellers will be more familiar with Virgin America's product, and might find it more attractive," said Mann.