A Cancelled American Airlines Flight That Led Richard Branson To Launch 'Virgin Airlines'
When you spend your days packing, and waiting long hours at the airport only to have your flight cancelled is a frustrating feeling. For Richard Branson, this was no different.
In the 80s, Richard Branson was met with a cancelled flight on his way to the Virgin Islands. Within his frustration, a new business idea was born.
At this stage of his career, Branson was already a successful businessman. Already having established ‘Virgin Records’ years earlier, he was on his way be reunited with his girlfriend on his private 'Necker Island.' As he was there about to depart, his flight with American Airlines got cancelled.
Branson went back to the airport desks, gave them back his credit card hoping it wouldn’t bounce - and hired a plane.
Branson then took a blackboard, and wrote as “as a joke, Virgin Airlines one way: $39 to Virgin Island,” and he filled up the flight with all the flight passengers who had been on the cancelled flight.
The passengers boarded the plane and landed in the Virgin Islands. As the passengers were departing the plane, one of the passengers told Branson “sharpen up your service a bit and you could be in the airline business.”
On “The Brave Ones Podcast” Branson said “I was livid because I hadn’t seen her for three weeks...the next day I rang up Boeing and said I’m thinking of starting an airline.”
He told Boeing how he just had a bad experience with American Airlines. He told Boeing he wants to start an airline called ‘Virgin’ and requested if they had any 747 second hand planes available for sale.
A Boeing representative named RJ Wilson met with Branson to discuss his ambitions of starting an airline. Wilson was not convinced of the Virgin name but he was convinced by Branson’s belief in his idea and agreed to lease him the secondhand 747 aircraft for a year as he worked on launching the business off the ground.
Branson launched ‘Virgin Atlantic’ in 1984. He went head-to-head with the titans of this industry in British Airways, PanAm, TWA, and many other recognized brands in the airline industry.
Branson became a threat to the industry to the point where British Airways went as far as having a team illegally access Virgin’s digital information. They called Virgin Atlantic clients, pretending to be from Virgin, to say the customer’s flight had been canceled and rebook the flight on British Airways.
Virgin took British Airways to court, where they won the largest libel suit in British history. Virgin then took the almost $1 million in damages and distributed it equally among the Virgin Atlantic employees.
Takeaway: What stands out the most is how scrappy Branson was even though he's already made it. Instead of just ordering a private jet for himself, he rents out a plane for everyone and markets it by walking around with a blackboard with the price of the flight written on it. It's hard to imagine entrepreneurs of his stature do that when they've already made millions. This is a great tale of never losing your entrepreneurial drive even though you have already established yourself with great success.