APEX in Profile: Richard Branson


Richard Branson
Virgin Group

Richard founded Virgin as a mail-order record retailer in 1970 in London, an enterprise which evolved into Virgin Records, the biggest independent label in the world. In 1984 he founded the airline Virgin Atlantic, with Virgin Australia, Virgin America, Virgin Hotels and Virgin Galactic, among others, following. In addition to these ventures, Branson has written six books, performed record-breaking athletic feats and is the world’s most followed person on LinkedIn.

Location: Necker Island
Years in Industry: Nearly 30
Hero: Nelson Mandela
The future of flight will be: Fun

What is the future of in-flight entertainment?
It’s exciting. The industry has come a long way since the days of overhead monitors (although you might still find these on other airlines!). Virgin America has plans to offer guests even more options, more control and more interactivity. Virgin America is already ahead of the industry with touch-screen seatback entertainment that offers live TV, text chat and great entertainment, and is still the only US airline to offer fleet-wide Wi-Fi and power outlets at every seat on every flight. In fact, Virgin America has just launched a new Android-based Red Beta system I can’t wait to try out with higher-resolution screens and capacitive touch, and is the first airline to have surround-sound listening experience on board for guests. Entertainment is in our DNA at Virgin, so we see the opportunities as endless.

“Airlines have overlooked the importance of giving guests control and choice, especially when it comes to their in-flight experience.”

What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of the passenger experience?
Airlines have overlooked the importance of giving guests control and choice, especially when it comes to their in-flight experience. Just because you’re on board a plane doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a say when it comes to what you eat, when you eat, what you watch and so on. Virgin America’s Red in-flight entertainment platform features a brilliant on-demand menu for guests to order a cocktail or snack straight to their seat (or even to a fellow guest) whenever they like: There’s no need to wait for the trolley to come down the aisle.

What’s the airline industry doing really well right now?
Virgin America’s new website shows we are reinventing the booking experience for the better. Just like Virgin’s airlines’ signature mood-lit cabins, the website is built around the needs and preferences of the guest – it’s unlike anything you’ve seen from an airline, with responsive and modern design, and even cheeky characters and personalized messages that guide you along the way. It’s turned a typically dull task, such as the process of booking an airline ticket, into something actually fun.

What kinds of innovations will make the greatest strides within the airline industry?
The awe-inspiring views of our beautiful planet and zero-gravity passenger fun of space flights will bring a whole new meaning to in-flight entertainment.

This article originally appeared in The Innovation Issue of APEX Experience.