What we’ll all miss about Virgin America

On my flight home from LAX on Virgin America, one passenger seemed to panic when an aircraft sporting Alaska Airlines livery pulled up to the gate. I’m sure he knew the deal — Virgin America was acquired by Alaska Airlines and the former’s brand will be retired this April.

The woman working the gate overcame the passenger’s objection (and repeated this almost verbatim to several other passengers a few minutes later) by saying “don’t worry, the outside of the plane has been repainted but everything inside is still the same with the mood lighting and we’ll still play the video.” You know something’s wrong when a company’s own employees are effectively saying “no, it doesn’t suck — yet” to temporarily reassure their customers.

The video she referred to is the pre-flight safety video Virgin America has been showing for many years, which you can watch here:

It’s an effective video because it serves two purposes — to educate passengers about what they’re required to know in a memorable way, and to project Virgin America’s fun image. To think passengers may complain if they don’t show the video tells you something about the strength of Virgin America’s brand.

What do people even think about Alaska Airlines, aside from the Eskimo guy on the tail? Apparently not much. On the other hand, everyone seems to know that Virgin America safety video. When it first premiered Ellen had the original dancers perform a short version on her show. The employees seem to like it, especially this flight attendant working himself into a sweat dancing along.

Video game streamers know it too, just watch this clip of a couple guys playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time while singing it. One viewer of their channel went so far as to take their vocals and re-dub them over the original video to hilarious effect.

Virgin America doesn’t fly outside the US and Mexico, but that didn’t stop a group of students in Taiwan from making their own version of the video. Or a dance school in Australia from making theirs as well.

None of which is to say the video was the sole reason Virgin America is a great brand, it’s just an easy example of fandom that would otherwise be difficult to measure. When you take Virgin America’s mood lighting, friendly service, reasonable prices, timeliness, cleanliness, excellent entertainment options, surprisingly decent food, and add that all together… well it’s clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Their impeccable safety record doesn’t hurt either.

I guess my point is I don’t see why Virgin America’s fans would stick around — and there seem to be many of us — unless Alaska Airlines learns to “live it all up in the sky.”