Virgin Territory

Virgin America's President and CEO, David Cush

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“ Our Launch Parties Are Great. In Fact, I Bumped Into A Guy At A Dinner Party Saturday Night, Who Had Come to our Seattle one from L.A., who was still raving about it,” shares David Cush, CEO of San Francisco-based Virgin America, who’s been with the airline since 2007. Th at Seattle shindig was five years ago. Now, as Virgin America makes its Hawai‘i debut, another celebration is shortly underway.

Work hard, play hard. It’s the Virgin way. And with Sir Richard Branson at the helm of Virgin Group, most have at least heard or read about just how hard Branson can “play.” But daredevil tactics and seemingly casual demeanor aside, the “work” portion of said company philosophy is what keeps Cush and his team on the forefront of a highly competitive industry.

While Cush may sit at the helm of a relatively young airline, he’s cut his teeth at one of the most established. Prior to his Virgin America post, Cush spent 20 years with Dallas-based, legacy carrier American Airlines. As CEO of a younger and smaller airline, Cush feels he has a better chance of leaving a bigger mark.

“You get to go and put an imprint on an organization and a culture much more easily on a new company than you can change a culture in an old one,” Cush says. “American [Airlines], even when I was there—and even more so now—is a big, complex company … Th ey operate all over the world with a thousand airplanes, and therefore, there is a lack of flexibility that comes with how you have to run a company like that … You need to run it basically for the numbers, to take care of the majority. You don’t get to do a lot of the things [Virgin America] gets to do because we’re small, in terms of personalized service.”

In its eight years of operation, Virgin America has already dominated the guest-services department, ensuing an almost a cult-like following among frequent fliers. Accolades include: winning “Best Domestic Airline” in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards for the past eight consecutive years, and “Best U.S. Airline” in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards for seven straight years straight.

With inflight amenities aplenty—touch-screen personal entertainment, power outlets, as well as on-demand food and cocktail menus on all flights for every class, are just a small taste of what travelers can expect flying to and from the islands. And while the best food in Hawai‘i is, thankfully, no longer the food you get on the way here, Virgin America plans on coming close.

“Our food is award-winning in the U.S., in particular our first-class food,” Cush says. “We tend to be locally sourced wherever we go, very heavily focused on organic and vegetarian entrees and things like that.”

Other Hawai‘i-centric touches include a cool, island-vibe playlist and signature Hawaiian-themed cocktail. Even more good news for the perpetually plugged in: Virgin America is on track to becoming the first airline to have Internet access across the water on all of their flights by summer 2016.

And this November launch is only the beginning for Hawai‘i. “We’re dipping our toe in the water, starting with San Francisco, which is certainly our strongest base… it’s a good way to start,” Cush says. “My expectation is that over the course of the next few years, we’ll be flying from both Los Angeles and San Francisco to several of the islands… We think it’s going to be an important part of our network.”

Between IFE (inflight entertainment) system tests, fuel-effi cient jet purchases and market expansions, the CEO’s day-to-day isn’t short on activity. Cush starts his day before sunrise.

“I used to wake up at around 5:30 or 6 in Dallas. I like to work out in the morning, catch up on emails—stufflike that,” he shares. “Here in San Francisco, everyone else is already working at 4:25 in the morning when my phone goes off[due to the time difference between the coasts], so I moved it a bit earlier here.”

Cush will have yet another time change to reckon with this November, when Virgin America’s inaugural flight from San Francisco to Honolulu is scheduled to take place. He, along with Branson, will board the history-making Airbus A320 as it makes its way to O‘ahu’s shores. Upon arrival, Virgin VIPs will celebrate the new route in the only style they know how.

“We’ll be doing a party at an Airbnb estate … Richard will be on the inaugural flight; he also will be hanging out in Hawai‘i for a day or two, and a couple of winners [of Virgin America’s “Work Hard, Hawaii Hard” promotion] will be able to hang out at the house after the party, and stay there for the next few days. Th at’s kind of the way we like to do it— the party will be a lot of fun, and I’m guessing it’ll certainly be the hottest ticket in town that night.”

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