DFW AIRPORT (CBSDFW.COM) – Virgin America celebrated its first flight to DFW International Airport Wednesday by throwing a giant party, Texas-style.
With a water gun salute, this glitzy, low-fare airline is starting two nonstop flights each way between DFW and Los Angeles – which began Wednesday – and from DFW to San Francisco, which begins Monday.
Real cattle helped tell their story. And Virgin America founder Sir Richard Branson made reference to it during the launch.
“A lot of the big airlines treat you like cattle,” he said. “Virgin doesn’t.”
Branson showed off the size of the overhead bins the only way he knows how to: When he opened it, a flight attendant who was stuffed inside asked, “Welcome to Virgin America, can I take your bag for you?”
The Airbus A-320 also boasts mood lighting and video touch-screens at each seat, which offer 18 live television channels. Feel free to order food or a drink from your seat as well; just touch the screen in front of you.
“You don’t have to wait for the cart,” said CEO David Cush. “The flight attendants will bring it to you on a tray.”
Passengers, like Stephanie Chan, were impressed.
“There’s music, movies to watch; you can go online, internet Wi-Fi, (it’s) really good,” she said.
Branson said he wants to steer customers away from American Airlines, which offers far more flights – 25 a day between DFW and Los Angeles or San Francisco – than Virgin America.
“American is certainly the 800 pound gorilla; they’ve dominated this market for years,” Branson said. “The airfares are very high because they’ve had no competition.”
But can Virgin America really compete with American Airlines at DFW, one of its main hubs? Experts say Virgin America has already caused its competition to lower fares.
Tom Parsons of the website bestfares.com said before Virgin America’s arrival, roundtrip flights between DFW and Los Angeles or San Francisco often topped $300. Now, fares have dropped to $258 roundtrip, Parson said.
“We got a new pony in town, and you know what? This little pony is getting a little wild and making America kind of crazy,” he said.
American said it will compete vigorously against DFW’s newest player and has matched airfares. In response to Virgin America, American is offering its frequent flyers double elite qualifying miles and double flight miles to-and-from Los Angeles and San Francsico.
It’s also offering other giveaways, including coupons and additional frequent flyer miles on selected flights.
“I don’t think any airline can avoid the DFW market,” DFW Airport CEO Jeff Fegan said. “It’s too big and too strong.”
Branson said DFW became the company’s first destination that is not on the East or West Coast.
He said they chose DFW over Atlanta, Chicago and Houston because DFW is a solid airport and located in one of the few growing metro areas in the nation.