Branson launches Virgin Atlantic flights from Detroit

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Romulus — Wearing a "Detroit Hustles Harder" T-shirt, Sir Richard Branson, president and founder of Virgin Atlantic, touched down at Detroit Metropolitan Airport Thursday to celebrate his airline's latest venture with Delta Air Lines that will bring direct flights between London and Detroit.

Branson was given the presidential treatment upon arrival in the Boeing 787-9 named "Dream Jeannie." That included flags and a gaggle of photographers waiting on the tarmac to snap pictures.

"You have a great city that has been an underdog city for years that is fighting back," said Branson. "It will be one of the great cities of America again."

Launched June 1, Virgin Atlantic is offering a new daily service between Detroit and London Heathrow. The airline expects to serve about 155,000 passengers annually between the two cities.

The venture with Delta was launched in January 2014. It gives Virgin access to a much larger U.S. network of connecting flights out of the Delta hub in Detroit.

As part of the joint venture agreement, Delta invested $360 million in Virgin Atlantic, acquiring a 49 percent stake in the company previously held by Singapore Airlines. Virgin Group and Branson retained the majority 51 percent stake and Virgin Atlantic Airways retains its brand and operating certificate.

Branson and Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger met with Delta CEO Richard Anderson, Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Thomas Naughton, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County CEO Warren Evans for a press conference.

"This is what Wayne County and the region around Detroit needs, growth like this, partnerships like this," said Evans. "This is going to be great for tourism dollars and business dollars."

Virgin Atlantic will operate the route on an A330-300, which has 33 upper class, 48 premium and 185 economy seats. Alongside Delta, the airlines will operate 39 daily flights across the Atlantic from 11 U.S. locations like New York, Boston, San Francisco and Detroit.

The airline is famous for its upper class seats that turn into full-size flat beds and for Branson's infectious personality, thrill-seeking and philanthropy.