Low-cost Virgin airline to start SFO ticket sales

Local startup Virgin America will start selling airline tickets from San Francisco International Airport to five major U.S. cities in June as Virgin, its competitors and analysts anticipate a low-cost carrier fare war at SFO.

Burlingame-based Virgin America, which recently earned federal approval to fly out of its SFO hub, is still wrangling with the federal Department of Transportation, this time to secure a waiver allowing the company to begin ticket sales for flights starting midsummer, company spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said.

While Peninsula cities and officials have rejoiced over the airline’s federal approval — in anticipation of boosted tourism and revenue streaming throughout the region — some analysts and fellow low-cost carriers have agreed that the real winners may be the consumers, as the high level of competition drops airfare.

Virgin America, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, all low-cost carriers, are starting service at SFO this year. JetBlue started last month, Virgin America is looking at a late-summer start and Southwest, returning to SFO after leaving five years ago, comes back Aug. 26.

Virgin America still has not divulged its schedule or introductory fares, but Edmondson-Jones said heexpects people will be pleased with the prices between San Francisco and the airline’s five initial destinations: New York; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Diego; and Las Vegas.

“We’ll announce all that once we go on sale,” Edmondson-Jones said, expecting that ticket sales will occur for at least a month before the first flight takes off.

Southwest, flying to a host of cities nationwide including Chicago, Indianapolis and Denver, will also be in direct competition with Virgin America for routes to Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Company spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said that the airline already has plans to offer low introductory fares, which include $39 one-way to San Diego International Airport, $59 one-way to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and $99 one-way to Chicago Midway Airport.

McInnis said Southwest is keeping tabs on the rates of the company’s competitors, but said the real test will be whether people enjoy their experience after the low fares.

“Competition is obviously good for consumers,” McInnis said. “It’s a real win-win for Bay Area consumers.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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