TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Donning a customized number 01 Bucs jersey as he smiled underneath American and British flags, British entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson waved down at the crowd below the new Airbus A330-900neo on the Tampa International Airport tarmac.
“When you look at Orlando, or Miami, or now Tampa,” the Virgin Atlantic founder and president explained in a press conference on November 2, “Virgin Atlantic and Delta are really leading the way.”
The glitz and glamour of the day celebrated Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural route from London-Heathrow to TPA.
“Florida is very much the crown jewel in our leisure operations,” said Shai Weiss.
The Virgin Atlantic CEO said the UK has more than 100 businesses in the Tampa Bay area that are invested in, owned or operated by UK businesses.
“The direction of travel is not just from the UK to Tampa,” Weiss said. “But also from Tampa to the UK.”
The new route also gets a new plane, the huge Airbus A330-900neo.
“It has an amazing, what we call, ‘Retreat Suite.’ Which is basically a place where people can convene,” Weiss said. “Up to four people for a business meeting, or spend some time with family.”
The airline is planning on buying 16 of these planes, which Weiss said will make the airline more fuel efficient as well.
The passengers aboard the maiden voyage were equally excited.
“There’s the new car smell and then there’s the new plane smell,” said Gilbert Ott. “The new plane smell is like the new car smell but with $100 million behind it.”
Ott is a Londoner who travels frequently across the Atlantic. He bought a ticket for this flight, hoping it would be the first one ever. He said the updated and functioning technology was appreciated. The plane features wireless charging and massive TV screens for some seats.
“I had Bluetooth at my seat so I could listen with my own headphones without having to plug in,” Ott said. “That was really nice.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor joined in the festivities.
“We’re very happy to see that economic engine growing here in Tampa,” Castor said. “And to be able to continue our business relationship with the UK, all of the UK.”
Virgin Atlantic said average economy seats will run you about £450, or a little more than $500.