Exclusive: Richard Branson interview

MSN Travel’s Ginny Weeks was on the scene for the inaugural Little Red flight to Edinburgh and grabbed time with the tycoon.

It’s no secret that Virgin Atlantic has had a tough time of it lately with a loss-making 18 months, but rather than resting on his laurels, Sir Richard Branson has come up with Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s first ever domestic service. It may take a bit of therapy to scrub from my mind the sight of Richard’s underpants, which said ‘stiff competition’ and were on full view when he lifted his kilt at the inaugural launch that I attended, but make no mistake, despite the jokes, he is very serious about taking on British Airways.

When we asked if this is part of a competitive bid against BA, he said: “Absolutely. When BMI ceased operations – BA had a monopoly on these routes. Little Red is our way of fighting against this by providing passengers with a choice of 26 new daily flights. Competition is vital in today’s economy – consumers deserve a choice.”

It’s no coincidence that BA has announced its partnership with Visit Scotland this week. Little Red is 30 years in the making and will offer short-haul flights to Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Celebs in attendance were John Hannah and Goldie, with a celeb-studded bash taking place tonight.

Virgin claim that the new airline will carry up to a million passengers a year, create 375 jobs in the UK and generate £75 million in visitor spend for the Scottish economy. It will also shake up the monopoly British Airways have had over UK air travel.

The experience

Little Red aims to give the same high standard of service as standard Virgin Atlantic flights with 23kg baggage allowance, complimentary food and drink and pre-assigned seating.

The fleet of A320 planes are small but smart and clean. There is one class of seating and all seats are kitted out in comfortable leather. The colour scheme is purple and neutrals, and the use of mood lighting and nose art is the same as standard Virgin Atlantic planes. It certainly doesn’t have a budget airline feel to it at all.

There are no hidden charges or silly check-in policies here either. Phew.

Food and drink

As this was a special flight, a mysterious and seriously strong whisky cocktail was the order of the day, but even standard flights will have a complimentary bar. Little snacks such as cookies and nuts, as well as hot breakfasts will also be served.

Why use it?

If you’re sick of using budget airlines but don’t want to pay hefty amounts, this could be for you. One of the main aims of Little Red is to give customers more choice, which will hopefully make pricing more competitive. It’s also perfect for passengers connecting to international flights via London Heathrow who want to use Virgin Atlantic for their entire journey.

Verdict

Virgin are famous for putting on a good show and the party atmosphere started with check-in, where burly Scottish men in kilts served champagne and doughnuts.

Richard Branson didn’t disappoint the waiting media at Edinburgh airport, lifting up his kilt and flashing his pants which had the worlds ‘stiff competition’ printed on them. I have an inkling this might have been aimed at British Airways.

Media circus aside, I was genuinely impressed with the flight. It’s a cheap and chic option for short-haul or connecting travel.

Having previously flown several times with Virgin Atlantic, I can honestly say I saw no difference in the standard of check-in or the attention to detail.

It gets a thumbs up from me.

Q&A with Richard Branson

I caught up with Richard to have a quick chat with him about Little Red:

Why has Virgin launched a UK route?

Little Red is providing an alternative service for domestic passengers across the UK which features the Virgin Atlantic magic touches that passengers have come to love. Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen were only being served by one other airline so consumers were losing out. Little Red is providing vital competition ensuring fares remain fair and passengers have greater choice. We’ll also now be able to connect passengers on to our long-haul flights at Heathrow so they can enjoy a seamless Virgin Atlantic journey.

People flying to Scotland are used to only having BA or easyJet as an option. How does Little Red compare?

Little Red will maintain the cheeky, world-class service that Virgin Atlantic is renowned for. It’s a smaller aircraft so there’s only one cabin class but it will feature comfortable leather seats along with a great inflight service provided by our famous cabin crew. On all early morning flights there’s going to be a hot breakfast, with cookies and crisps offered on all other services. There’s going to be a full complimentary bar service too – and we’re even offering Iron Bru on our Scottish routes!

Little Red at the moment flies within the UK – are there any plans to expand to Europe?

That’s not our plan currently, no. These new domestic services are to feed our point-to-point long-haul network, as well as challenge BA’s monopoly on these routes in the UK. But you know Virgin Atlantic – we never say never.

Richard, we’re dying to know – you fly a lot – do you have a rough list of personal flying dos and don’ts?

I really enjoy meeting and catching up with our crew, or walking the aisles meeting customers. It’s important to stretch your legs so make sure you take a little walk while on board.

I always carry a notebook with me as I like to use the flight time to make and catch up on my notes.

Finally, if it’s a long flight I’ll try to take a little nap or try to unwind with a film and an ice-cream.

Lastly, do you have a magic mantra for jet lag? Do you stay awake and adjust to the city’s time zone or just sleep like a log?

I find it pretty easy to adjust to different time zones, which is very helpful considering my travel schedule! Jet lag is not really a problem but I do believe you have to adjust to the time zone you’re in immediately for this to work! If you can, try to take little naps throughout the day, little and often.

My days are usually very busy, so when I finally get to bed, falling asleep seems to come very easily.