Why did Richard Branson start an airline?

Thirty years ago, Richard Branson started Virgin Atlantic. But what made him decide to go into the travel business in the first place?

As he reveals in a new film put together by HP Matter, it all came after getting stuck in Puerto Rico while trying to get to the British Virgin Islands. 

“They didn’t have enough passengers to warrant the flight, so they cancelled the flight” he explains.

“I had a beautiful lady waiting for me in BVI and I hired a plane and borrowed a blackboard and as a joke I wrote Virgin Airlines on the top of the blackboard, $39 one way to BVI. I went out round all the passengers who had been bumped and I filled up my first plane.”

After that, Richard decided that he was fed up with airlines that didn’t care about their passengers and he wanted to do something about it. A phone call to Boeing to find out if they had any 747s for sale and an airline was born.

“We just made it that much more special than all the other airlines we were competing with,” Richard says. 

And that’s still true today. Where some airlines might have you in a cramped seat for hours during your flight, Virgin airlines offer a much more comfortable journey, with inflight entertainment as standard. Virgin Atlantic were actually the first to offer individual TV screens and a choice of channels to passengers in all classes in 1991.

Despite originally being in the entertainment industry, it certainly seems that Richard was always destined to go into aviation. His mum, Eve, was a stewardess in the 1940s, and his uncle flew spitfires in World War II - and survived being shot down.

For more about the history of Virgin Atlantic, have a look at the film from HP Matter below.


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