By Kirsten Korosec
March 23, 2017

Alaska Airlines says it will retire the Virgin America brand by 2019 following its $2.6 billion acquisition of the popular airline, a decision that prompted its founder Richard Branson to pen a heartfelt farewell letter.

The blog post published Thursday is directed primarily at Virgin America’s employees and its customers, many of whom were steadfastly loyal to the brand that stood out in an ever-shrinking pool of airline giants.

As Branson writes, it’s hard to say goodbye. But Branson, who reflects on the battles and victories of the airline that began operations in 2007, offers a few business lessons as well.

It’s OK to Cry

Even he admits to crying over the sale of his “beloved Virgin Records for $1 billion.” The news about Virgin America prompted a similar reaction.

“Many tears are shed today, this time over Alaska Airlines’ decision to buy and now retire Virgin America,” Branson writes.

Appreciate the Ride

Branson kicks off the note suggesting that there’s a point, as with a lot of thing in life, where “we have to let go and appreciate the fact that we had this ride at all.”

He spends the rest of the note recalling the moments in the Virgin America “ride,” many of which were challenging battles against the industry and even weather.

Remember that time from 2004 to 2007 when we leased planes that were sitting on the runway while we waited for the US government to give us a license so that we could make flying good again? Remember the naysayers who said you could not create an experience-driven airline in the US and survive? Remember launch day – August 8th, 2007 – when even an epic tornado didn’t stop our brilliant team getting our first flight an on-time departure?

Remember that time in 2014 when Dallas residents signed a petition to make sure city council members did the right thing and gave us two gates at Dallas Love Field? And the party we threw to thank Dallas for letting us fly? The legacy airlines kept trying to stop us flying. But we won over people in Newark, Chicago and Boston in similar fashion.

To Make a Difference, There Will Be Pain

Branson seems to relish the details of the company’s many battles in his letter. But then again, in his view, the pain was worth it because the intent was to build a different kind of airline.

In other words, it wasn’t just a fight for access to airports. It was a battle to change the industry—or at least offer something new and of value to customers.

We went through a lot together. And you were worth every minute, every penny (there were many!), every battle. We earned every loyal guest and fan. Every market was hard-won.

You proved it is possible to run a business with a strategy that does not rely on low fares and a dominant position alone: you attracted premium flyers with a fun and beautiful guest experience. You created the world’s most loved safety video. You proved that it is possible to create a business with a terrific culture and a brand that people love.

Branson manages to cram in a more few business tips, including:

  • Build a business that puts its people first.
  • Work with partners who share your same progressive and inclusive values.
  • Focus on delivering a great customer experience, and success will come.
  • Make business a force for good.
  • Stay positive; attitude is everything.

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