Branson said his newest airline, V Australia, would have initiated service around Christmas, rather than later this month, if not for the strike of Boeing machinists last year, which delayed delivery of the planes it needed.
“The strike hurt hundreds of thousands of our passengers,” Branson told reporters at the event. “It messed up Virgin Atlantic, it messed up Virgin Blue in Australia, it ruined people’s Christmas holidays. It was absolutely and utterly ghastly. If union leaders and management can’t get their act together to avoid strikes, we’re not going to come back here again. We’re already thinking, ‘Would we ever risk putting another order with Boeing?’ It’s that serious.”
Nothing was said of Branson’s only alternative, strike- and delay-prone Airbus.
Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx later responded: “We never want to disappoint our customers to such an extent. We are committed to doing everything we can in the future to satisfy our customers in the manner they deserve.”
Branson was at the Boeing plant to take delivery of V Australia’s first plane, which will be flown on a route between the U.S. West Coast and Australia. V Australia plans to take delivery of another six 777-300ERs over the next three years.
The flamboyant Branson made a splashy entrance to the hangar at Boeing Field, flanked by women in bikinis. Wearing face paint, shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, he and an entourage of identically clad Virgin executives posed for pictures in front of their new plane. After the event, the group was slated to fly the new plane to Los Angeles and then to Sydney – perhaps after a change of clothes.