Virgin America Adds Austin and Anchorage Links

US up-scale, low-fare carrier Virgin America has followed the announcement of a new link to San Jose Norman Y. Mineta International Airport from Los Angeles earlier this month by confirming the addition of two further domestic points to the network from its main base at San Francisco International Airport with flights to Austin and a seasonal service to Anchorage.

“Austin and Anchorage present unique opportunities for us to expand our network into areas that demand and deserve increased flight options,” said David Cush, President and Chief Executive Officer, Virgin America.  “Austin and San Francisco share strong cultural and business links, and the addition of Anchorage will allow us to offer seasonal service to one of the most popular outdoor destinations from our home in San Francisco.”

The carrier will launch a daily service to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport from May 21, 2013.  It will compete with low-fare rival JetBlue Airways and United Airlines (offering a mix of mainline flights and a United Express operation operated by SkyWest Airlines) on the route to the Texas capital - also known as the ‘the live music capital of the world’.  An estimated 226,000 bi-directional O&D passengers travelled on this route in the last 12 months, down 1.75 per cent on the previous 12 month period.

Virgin America believes its quality in-flight offering will set it apart from its rivals and as the only domestic airline to offer WiFi on every flight, and features like power outlets and personal touch-screen entertainment platforms at every seat, it is confident of attracting passengers from its rivals as well as stimulating demand further.  The carrier’s good quality onboard product, keeping travellers connected is quite appropriate given this route will serve two of the nation’s leading innovation hubs.

For the Austin route in particular, Virgin America’s service will provide more options for business travellers who want to stay connected during their journey between Austin and the San Francisco Bay Area.  No matter which state their job is based in, guests on Virgin America can stay productive – even at 35,000 feet,” said Cush.

According to Virgin America, its Elevate loyalty group members have routinely named Austin as a ‘most wanted’ destination within the airline’s growing network.  In addition to being the Texas capital, the Austin area is home to the University of Texas at Austin and a robust technology and innovation sector – many Bay Area employers including Apple, Google and Intel have significant presence in the Austin area.

“Austin and the San Francisco Bay Area share deep business ties, especially our world-class innovation and tech sectors.  In order to facilitate tourism and subsequently keep Austin the thriving city we’re so proud of, I’ve been stressing for some time that we need more non-stop flights in and out of our airport,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.  “This new service will increase travel demand, offer convenient new options for business and leisure travellers, and spur local economic growth.  With Virgin America’s tech-focused features onboard, I think the service will be well-received by Austinites.”

Alongside the new Austin service, Virgin America is to open a seasonal flight between San Francisco and Ted Stevens International Airport in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage with six non-stop rotations a week planned from June 6, 2013 through to September 9, 2013.  United Airlines also offers a seasonal service on this route with flights between June and August since 2010.  An estimated 60,000 bi-directional O&D passengers travelled on this route in the 2011 with approximately two thirds of this travel taking place over the three month period between June and August.

 “We are delighted to welcome Virgin America to Anchorage,” said Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport Manager John Parrott. “As Alaska’s largest city, it is essential to both our local and state economies that we have ample options when it comes to flying.  This additional connectivity will undoubtedly bring economic growth by stimulating both tourism and business travel.”

Alongside the direct point-to-point demand on these two new routes, Virgin America will also provide connection opportunities between Austin and its existing network points of Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, while Connecting flights will be available from Anchorage to the carrier’s Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Chicago and Philadelphia locations.

Virgin America says its expansion in these new markets will bring new competition, lower fares and economic growth to the regions. As a new entrant airline, Virgin America has been a case study for how more airline competition can directly improve fares and service for consumers. When Virgin America entered the San Francisco Chicago O’Hare market in 2011 and the San Francisco – Dallas/Fort Worth International market in 2010, fares dropped by over one-third on these routes.  A San Francisco International Airport commissioned study shows that air fraes have declined in markets of new low-fare services from 2006 to 2011 by around 18 per cent.

“Not all airlines are built the same: with new mood-lit planes with three classes of service, WiFi and touch-screen entertainment at every seat – all for competitive fares, our service offers travelers an elevated experience that is very different from the stripped down, no-frills service that is typical of many domestic airlines,” added Cush.

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