Virgin Blue is Australia's first airline established by a foreign corporation (Richard Branson's Virgin Group). And so far it is Australia's first low-cost airline to survive more than a few years. Perhaps as a reflection of Virgin's interests in the music industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) assigned the airline the 2-digit code 'DJ'.

It charges for inflight catering (about $5 for a beer, I recall) and entertainment, and of course it doesn't offer much in the legroom department. Aside from competitive prices, the airline tries to use the insufferable perkiness of its cheaply dressed cabin crew as its unique selling proposition, who for example might organise a race between left and right aisle passengers passing down an unravelling roll of toilet paper.

Virgin's success is based not just on low-frills service, but by being able to start out with a cost-effective, scaleable business model. It has no front offices, no paper ticketing, workplace agreements and uses only one model of aircraft, the Boeing 737 (700 and 800 series). Unfortunately for Virgin, Qantas, its main competitor has deep pockets and can often compete by dumping cheap fares at strategic moments. It also is launching its own low-cost airline Jetstar, but consumers might not find the choice of the isolated airports Jetstar will use to be popular.

Virgin Blue's livery consists of a red colour scheme. The tails on it aircraft consists of the logo (the slanted 'Virgin' signature in red with the streamlined word 'blue', plus the blue profile of a boomerang, on a white background). The rest of the exterior is red. Inside are red plastic-y seating that gives the impression they came out of a Johnny Rockets restaurant or a T-bird. Before the airline started operations it sought ideas for a name from the public and got 3,200 responses - the idea of calling an all-red fleet 'Virgin Blue' reflected an Australian idiosyncrasy of nicknaming people after antithetical qualities, like redheads as 'bluey'.

The airline first started flying between Brisbane (its hub) and Sydney in May 2000, a few months before the Sydney Olympics, and shortly after managed to develop a network that competed with its competitors, Qantas and Ansett. Ansett's financial woes and demise in September 2001 made Virgin Blue one of the few airlines in the world to thrive following 9/11, thanks both to one less competitor and an army of docile ex-Ansett employees looking for work. In 2003 the airline was floated on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Virgin Blue flies to:

International flights use the subsidary Pacific Blue.


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