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AB25: Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson

By: Richard Branson

Virgin Group


"I would like to think we have brought some glamour back to air travel that was not there 25 years ago"


Richard Branson
 © Rex Features

When we went into the airline business 26 years ago, the aviation industry was lifeless and dull. The airlines did not seem to have any imagination and air travel had lost the glamour that was associated with it in the 1950s. Food was tasteless, seats uncomfortable and passengers were treated like cattle. Being in the record business, I needed to travel frequently all over the world and loathed the thought of getting on a plane.

We decided that we should create an airline people would love to fly with. We wanted to create the best airline in the world and go all the way with the passenger experience, unlike other long-haul carriers. Our general philosophy with Virgin Atlantic was that the best will always survive, so we innovated. We offered a first-class product at a business-class fare, were the first to offer Premium Economy and were the first to offer each passenger on the plane seat-back TVs. People were keen to travel with us because we were offering something new, exciting and different.

At the time of our launch, many thought we would not survive against the competition. Instead, a few of the carriers that were around at the time, such as Pan Am and TWA, both much bigger than us, have now disappeared, victims of poor product and service. I feel our arrival helped to prompt a shake-up in the industry, and quality has improved. European carriers are much better and the Far Eastern carriers are generally excellent. The advent of low-cost travel, spearheaded by Southwest, has opened up air travel to millions of people, giving them the opportunity to go to different countries and experience cultures around the world.

Regretfully, one aspect of air travel has gone backwards, though, which is Concorde. It is sad to say that we no longer have supersonic travel, but we hope within the next two years to reintroduce it, but at much faster speeds, when we make commercial space travel a reality with Virgin Galactic.

Air travel has got a bad name among environmentalists, perhaps slightly unfairly, as it contributes to 4% of global emissions. However, the aviation industry is trying to get its house in order. At Virgin Atlantic, we are committed to reducing the environmental impact and were the first airline to trial a biofuel on a commercial jet. We have made a pledge that any profits from the Virgin Group's transport interests over the next 10 years will be reinvested in schemes to develop renewable energy and fuels.

I would like to think that at Virgin we have brought some of the glamour back to air travel that was not there 25 years ago. An industry expert recently said that Virgin has brought the fun back into flying - and why shouldn't air travel be fun?



AB May cover - Virgin CEOs

Supporting an exclusive three-way interview with a trio of Virgin Airline chief executives, Branson spoke about life behind the Virgin brand as he attended the V Australia launch.



"I never dreamed Virgin was going to achieve what we've achieved. I'm delighted when I wake up in the morning and it's not a dream," says Branson.


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