Sir Richard Branson is on a round the world trip this week to promote V Australia, his new trans-Pacific airline. The launch of this service is a significant milestone for Sir Richard as it gives Virgin a global reach for the first time. Passengers can now travel from London to Sydney to Los Angeles and back to London without leaving the Virgin family, as Sir Richard will demonstrate in his usual publicity-friendly way this week.
Most other airlines have concentrated on linking their home base with key cities around the world and have formed alliances in order to provide connections beyond these limited destinations. Virgin has taken a different approach. It has launched regional airlines such as Virgin America and Virgin Blue in Australia to provide local networks that then feed into the big international routes served by Virgin Atlantic and, now, V Australia.
This strategy has been made possible by the unique and global appeal of the Virgin brand. Lufthansa, for example, will always be a German airline and British Airways will always be British but Virgin can go anywhere – certainly while Sir Richard is around to provide the headlines and generate media coverage.
However, there is another reason to cheer on Virgin – a comparative minnow in the airline industry. Virgin sees itself as the consumer's champion and therefore relishes fights that other companies might duck out of. V Australia, for example, is the first new carrier to operate between the United States and Australia for years. The route has been the fiefdom of Qantas and United but these carriers now face competition and airfares on this important route are already falling. The success of Virgin is a constant reminder that giving the customer what he wants does really work.