Whether he’s posing for a selfie with party-goers, asking the audience whether they joined the mile-high club on Virgin Atlantic’s first 787 Dreamliner flight from London to Atlanta Thursday, or touring the aircraft’s interior for the first time, as he did the next day near the Landmark Aviation Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport with an ITV film crew and assembled press trailing him and recording his every move, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson is always “on.”
To say that Sir Richard is media-savvy would be an understatement.
Somewhat shockingly, this was Branson’s first glimpse of the finished product as Nik Lusardi, Virgin Altantic’s design manager for customer experience, walked Branson through the Upper Class, Premium Economy and Economy sections of the new plane. [See gallery above.]
With its large tinted windows and Upper Class seats set off at an angle in three rows at the front of the plane, Virgin Atlantic “muted” its bright red color scheme in the Dreamliner, Lusardi said, because the airline wants its flight attendants, with their curve-accentuating new uniforms, to be at the center of the customer-service experience.
The New Uniforms Are a Showpiece
Earlier on the tarmac during a press conference that was intermittently interrupted by the rumble of planes taking off at the airport, Branson summoned two flag-carrying women who were wearing the bright-red new uniforms to come up on the stage and to twirl around to give the press and dignitaries a full view.
“Do a twizzle,” Branson said, urging them to spin around. “You’ll get arrested for doing that in America, but not in the U.K.,” Sir Richard quipped.
At one point, when Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger’s short talk to the press became inaudible as planes took off from the airport in the background, Branson jumped up from his chair on stage and pretended to sign for the deaf so those gathered at the press conference could make sense of it all.
Later, on board the aircraft, an ITV film crew, preparing for a three-part series that will air in in the UK in 2015, documented Branson’s every move, including his inspection of the restrooms. Branson playfully shut the bathroom door, saying “Ya, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Standing around a bar area in the Upper Class section of the Dreamliner, a member of the film crew asked Branson why he hadn’t decided to cram some more seats into the plane instead of installing a bar.
Branson responded that you can’t listen to the accountants’ advice because although putting more seats on the Dreamliner in the short term “might be OK,” it wouldn’t be consistent with the airline’s philosophy over the long term.
“The airlines that offered nothing but the seats have all gone away,” Branson said, citing Pan Am, TWA and others. “In the long term you’d become just like any other airline.”
Virgin Atlantic, of course, has launched a joint venture with conservative-oriented Delta, which probably wouldn’t concur with his stance on extra seats, let alone his mile-high club references.
Premium Economy and Economy
Branson then tried out the Premium Economy seats, calling them “roomy” and “comfy.”
“I’m six feet tall, look at that,” he added, referring to the leg room and joking that customers may not book Upper Class because the Premium Economy section would be good enough.
When prompted by a photographer, Branson gave the thumbs-up sign about the seats.
Branson then remarked on the newness of Virgin Atlantic’s first Dreamliner, saying he enjoyed smelling the seats.
He then pronounced this Dreamliner’s Economy section “just lovely.”
What else, after all, would he say.
Lusardi, the design manager, said afterwards that Branson definitely “has an opinion” about design features, but he let the team designing the Dreamliner’s interior do its thing.
Virgin Atlantic is making a big bet on these Dreamliners. The airline’s fleet of planes currently stands at around 40, and within four years as it takes delivery of these new 787s, the Dreamliner will constitute more than half of Virgin Altantic’s fleet.