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ON THE SOAPBOX: Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic

Born to be Different – Virgin Atlantic at 40.

"Forty years ago, on 22 June 1984, Virgin Atlantic made our maiden flight, between London Gatwick and Newark, New York’s other airport, shaking up the aviation industry in the process.  We were born to be more than just an airline and instead offered something different, unique and exciting. At the time, our founder Sir Richard Branson was on a mission to challenge the status quo and make flying better for everyone.

Over the years we have redefined air travel. In 1984 we worked out where other airlines could do better and decided to improve things ourselves. From our planes, our Clubhouses and our in-flight experience, we have continued to innovate.

We were the first to introduce an onboard bar area so our customers could socialise during a flight; the first to offer individual seatback screens in all classes; the first to offer a Premium class cabin; and the first to introduce lie-flat beds so people could snooze their way blissfully across the Atlantic, ahead of a big meeting. But it is not just the big ticket items we know our customers love – it is the smaller, personalised parts of their experience too. From Bluetooth capability, wireless charging, kids amenity kits and even the ice creams when you are watching a movie – we know these small touches add up and make a huge difference to our customers. 

Making flying better is a mindset that carries us through today and into the future. We know customers travel for a million different reasons, be that for business, adventure, a well-earned holiday, or to visit friends and family. We have always been there for the moments that matter and are committed to giving our customers the very best experience in the skies.It is all about premium, personalised experiences every step of the journey, while our teams are encouraged to be themselves and passionately show how much they care about our customers. It is all part of our mission to be the most loved travel company.

Today, ours remains the experience others look to for inspiration. We see the world differently, it is just who we are. We have grown from a challenger airline to one of the most iconic travel brands. Our Clubhouses are renowned worldwide. Our fleet is one of the youngest and cleanest in the skies, proved capable of flying across the Atlantic powered by 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel. Our Retreat Suite, bar and loft social spaces set the standard for inflight social spaces. And our people will always be our superpower – the red thread that keeps us flying miles above the rest, from 1984 to today, and into the future.

I am often asked, “what’s next?” For me, after 40 years of industry firsts, our rebellious spirit will now see us into the future. We will remain a flag carrier and we will always fly to where customers love to travel.  The USA will remain our heartland – there is simply no Virgin without the Atlantic – but we will bring our experience to new territories too.  In 2025, we celebrate 25 years flying to India having grown from 0 – 1 million seats, thanks to new routes to Bengaluru and more flights to Delhi and Mumbai.  Similarly, we are cementing our position as the leading airline for premium leisure, focusing on luxurious destinations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean with new services to the Maldives, Turks and Caicos and our return to Dubai. We will maintain our edge by flying one of the youngest fleets in the skies. And of course, we will continue to lead the way on decarbonising aviation following the success of Flight100. 

Our partnerships will continue to power our success. This year marked a decade of our joint venture with Delta.  In this time, we have grown our shared network, adding more routes and flights between the UK and the United States and we have flown nearly 40 million customers across the Atlantic.  This partnership has grown even stronger through the expanded joint venture with Air France KLM, which launched in early 2020, and our recent enrolment into SkyTeam.  We said at the time ‘great minds fly alike’ and that is as true today as it was back then.

We will continue to champion inclusivity and use our business for good. We change with the times and innovate, as demonstrated by our tattoo and uniform policy, making Virgin Atlantic a place where our people love to work and can be themselves.  Come what may, I know we will still be making aviation a better place for all, just as we have done since 1984. 

Finally, our people have delivered the best experiences for the last four decades and they will be the red thread that always keep us together.  Our rich history of innovation drives our desire today to continue improving the experience for our customers, on the ground, in our Clubhouses and in the air. 
 
And as we mark our Ruby anniversary on 22 June, our spirit is stronger than ever.  So, here’s to 40 more years of shaking up the skies. Because there’s travel. Then there’s travelling with us. Virgin Atlantic style.

www.virginatlantic.com

London born, and raised in Israel, Weiss holds an MBA from Columbia University in New York and a BBA from City University of New York, Baruch College. Weiss joined Virgin Atlantic as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in July 2014 from Virgin Management Ltd, where he had been an Investment Partner since 2012 and was a Founding Partner of the Virgin Green Fund. He has been Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic since January 2019.

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