Aviation News

April 6, 2012

Photos and Video: Onboard Virgin America’s Always Sunny First Flight to Philadelphia

Sir Richard Branson and Green Man poke their heads out of the cockpit window after Virgin America's first arrival in Philadelphia.
Sir Richard Branson and Green Man poke their heads out of the cockpit window after Virgin America's first arrival in Philadelphia. (Photo by Manny Gonzalez)
Virgin America launched its first service to Philadelphia on Wednesday, delivering its flying party from Los Angeles with the over-the-top flair Virgin is so well-known for.

[See 50 photos of the flight and event below]

Prior to boarding the eye-watering 6:30 am service — Flight 10 — the airline welcomed passengers with Philly-style soft pretzels at the gate. Keeping with the day’s running tailgate party theme, red Virgin America-branded Foam Fingers — the kind you see at football games — were also handed out. And thanks to a tie-in Virgin set up with the TV show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the show’s Green Man character entertained guests at the gate, and later on the plane.

(The 6:30 am departure was just for this special flight, to allow for the festivities in Philadelphia to kick off at a reasonable hour. Flight 10 was also a special flight number. Regular times and flight numbers for the twice-daily service commenced the following day: Flight 124 at 10:55 am and Flight 130 at 9:40 pm. San Francisco-Philadelphia service begins April 10.)

As with any Virgin inaugural flight, the airline naturally populated the First Class cabin and Main Cabin Select rows with a number of celebrities and dignitaries:

  • Seth Green, actor best known for his role as Mr. Evil’s son Scott in the Austin Powers movies and as the voice of Christopher Griffin on Family Guy, and a Philly native
  • Glenn Howerton, who stars as Dennis on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in addition to being a writer and producer of the show
  • Amber Rose, an actress/model/singer originally from Philadelphia, who is engaged to rapper Wiz Khalifa
  • Rina Cutler, Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia
  • Mark Gale, CEO of Philadelphia International Airport
  • David Cush, President and CEO of Virgin America

After a smooth takeoff over the Pacific from LAX’s Runway 24L, the Airbus A320 (N629VA, Real Steel) turned south, giving us a great view of the sunrise, and then back east. Captain John Bragger warned that the same storm system that damaged planes at Dallas Fort Worth on Tuesday had the potential to bounce us around a bit as we crossed the continent’s midsection, but that turbulence never materialized.

A new episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (in which the gang tries out for the Eagles) played on the Red entertainment screen at every seat for the first 25 minutes after takeoff. In-flight service featured the usual Virgin America fare of sandwiches and salads, plus additional Philadelphia pretzel-themed dessert items selected by the gourmet food website, Gilt Taste. These included a chocolate bar with embedded pretzel pieces and a banana cheesecake with a sweet pretzel crust.

Halfway through the flight, we asked David Cush, Virgin America’s President and CEO, how the atmosphere compared to previous route launches. “It’s pretty calm,” he said, but that was owed to the early hour of the flight. There have been some exceptions to that logic, however. “The Fort Lauderdale launch we did out of LA, also was early, an 8 am departure,” he said, “but by 10 am people were doing tequila shots in the back galley.” A few minutes later, a can of Heineken in hand, Cush stepped to the plane’s PA to announce, “Right now it is afternoon in Philadelphia, and the bar is open, so let’s get this started!” (We didn’t just chat about partying: We’ll post a more detailed account of our mostly serious interview with Cush early next week).

About an hour before arrival, Glenn Howerton emceed an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia trivia contest, in which anyone on the plane could buzz in by pressing their attendant call button. Correct answers to questions like, “What is the name of the pub where much of the show takes pl earned various Virgin and Sunny gear.

Our arrival in Philadelphia was kicked off by a water cannon salute from two airport firetrucks, cheering Virgin America cheerleaders waving pompoms, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter wearing a Philadelphia Phillies jersey and, of course, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. They, and hundreds of other guests, cheered as the plane taxied in front of Gate E3, right next to a gate used by Southwest Airlines, which happened to be the last new airline to begin Philadelphia service, eight years ago.

Flanked by Howerton and Green Man on the small stage, brief speeches were given by airport CEO Gale, Mayor Nutter, Deputy Mayor Cutler, Congressman Chaka Fattah, Virgin America CEO Cush and Sir Branson himself. All touted the economic benefits of the new flights and the superior comfort of Virgin America’s planes.

The tailgate party continued in the terminal, where a smorgasbord of Philly cheesesteaks, pretzels, hot dogs and beer was being served by the cheerleaders who had greeted us outside, while a DJ spun tunes. A flip cup table stocked with pitchers of beer and Solos begged for players. The celebrity guests gladly snapped photos with fans at the party.

That wasn’t all: A red carpet party downtown at the Hotel Palomar a few hours later featured A-list guests including actor Terrence Howard and director M. Knight Shyamalan, while DJ Jazzy Jeff entertained the crowd.

All-in-all an amazing experience, the likes of which we’ve never seen pulled off by any other airline.

In this photo released by Virgin America Airlines, Terrence Howard, M. Night Shyamalan and Sir Richard Branson share a laugh at Hotel Palomar. (Bloomberg Photo/Virgin America Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)

In this photo released by Virgin America Airlines, Terrence Howard, M. Night Shyamalan and Sir Richard Branson share a laugh at Hotel Palomar. (Bloomberg Photo/Virgin America Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)
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(Photo by Manny Gonzalez/NYCAviation)