Virgin America announced it will expand its service to Ft. Lauderdale beginning November 18. Nonstop flights will be available from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and customers can book connecting flights from Seattle, Orange County, San Diego, and Las Vegas. One-way fares from San Francisco and L.A. start at $99. Virgin America will be the first and only airline to fly the nonstop San Francisco-to-Ft. Lauderdale route.
Notably absent from Virgin's expansion is service from Boston, New York City, or Washington D.C., but that suits Virgin America just fine. In an email, Virgin spokeswoman Abby Lunardi professes, "We're pleased with our long-haul, West Coast-based model at present," and says Virgin has no plans to enter the highly competitive East Coast market any time soon.
And with Southwest's recent jump into New York City and Boston, and corresponding moves from JetBlue to protect its turf, that may not be a bad idea. The West Coast is a somewhat more open market than the East, meaning Virgin America can add routes, such as San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale, where there is little or no competition. And during a serious economic downturn, that kind of opportunistic expansion is likely the only sensible way a small, young airline can grow.
Still, for those of us in the Northeast eager for another option, it's a bit disappointing to see California get the goods. And with Virgin's apparent commitment to a West-Coast-centric route map, it may be a while before the airline broadens service from the Northeast.