Passengers on-board a Virgin Australia flight were left in complete shock when founder Sir Richard Branson dialed in via Facetime and offered them a free holiday worth up to $7,000 each.
The more than 150 passengers were on flight VA 1316, heading from Melbourne to Hobart on Thursday morning when the man himself gifted them a free Virgin Voyages sail to celebrate the cruise line’s arrival in Australia.
It will head to Australia for the first time ever next month with the Resilient Lady (Virgin Voyages’ Australian ship) calling Melbourne its home port.
It’s also why that particular flight was chosen as it represents the same route Resilient Lady will sail on her Mermaiden Voyage, leaving her homeport, Melbourne’s Station Pier, on December 11.
News.com.au understands Branson was in the middle of a tennis tournament on his private island — Necker — when he Facetimed cabin crew who then put him on the plane’s PA system.
Passengers had no idea what was happening, or that he was about to gift them a free trip.
“We’re counting down to Virgin Voyages’ arrival Down Under – setting sail the Virgin way with adults-only itineraries across Australia and New Zealand. Sorry kids, you’ll have to sit this one out,” Branson told passengers.
“Well, today, you happen to be traveling on the same route as our Aussie MerMaiden Voyage. To celebrate this milestone, I’m pleased to gift each adult on-board a free Virgin Voyages cruise the excited passengers.”
“The foundations of Virgin Australia were about keeping the air fair and we’re proud to be taking that same mantra to the sea with Virgin Voyages.”
He said he wanted to give Aussies the opportunity to have an “affordable, stress-free holiday” where they could take a well-earned break, have fun and get a dose of vitamin sea.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson told news.com.au the feeling on-board was “electric” with passengers left stunned.
“We are committed to creating wonderful moments on-board so it was a real pleasure to see so many surprised faces when Sir Richard finally made the announcement all guests had won a free cruise,” the spokesperson said.
“The operating crew were in on the secret and stayed tight-lipped until Sir Richard’s call came through.”
In an unexpected twist, just before the door was closed on the plane, Branson also surprised the cabin crew, ground crew, baggage handlers and pilots on the flight by gifting them a free cruise.
In total he gave away more than $1 million in free holidays.
He said it was for their efforts in bringing joy to the loyal Virgin Australia passengers.
Virgin Australia chief marketing officer, Libby Minogue, also described the feeling in the gate lounge and on-board the flight as “electric”.
“We are laser focused on creating wonderful experiences for our guests and today is a great example of the Virgin brands joining forces to deliver Australians new experiences in the air or at sea,” she said.
The reason kids can’t go on the cruise, is because it’s adults-only and not even Branson’s grandkids could convince him to let them on-board.
The Resilient Lady is Virgin Voyages’ newest ship that only started sailing this year.
The ship has sailed Athens, Greece and in October began its 45 day journey to Dubai, Singapore and in Sydney where he will then head to her new home port in Melbourne.
Some of the most interesting features on board include a tattoo parlor – that news.com.au is told almost always has a waitlist – and an on-demand champagne delivery service, where you can shake your phone to have champagne delivered anywhere on the ship.
There is also a catamaran net 14 decks above the water and the highest running track at sea at 17 decks above the water.
Virgin Voyages has also announced new pricing for the inaugural sailing season in Australia with cabins starting from $149 per person, per night and up to $1000 in inclusions.
“There will never, ever be better prices to experience our award-winning dining, entertainment and wellness on-board the luxurious Resilient Lady. This is a new way of cruising Down Under and we can’t wait for Aussies to sail with us,” Virgin Voyages CEO, Nirmal Saverimuttu said.