You're Now Free to Book Really Expensive Flights Online

So it took longer than originally planned, but Virgin Charter – the site where well-heeled travelers can find and book (expensive) charter flights – has officially opened its doors to the public after almost a year-long closed beta period.

We first covered Virgin Charter this past June when it launched into private beta. The company began as an independent startup but was picked up by Richard Branson who funded it and brought it under the Virgin brand.

The site intends to make it just as easy to book charter flights as it is to book standard commercial ones. There are currently 1,000 aircraft in the system, which will be cross-promoted on Virgin America’s website and other Virgin properties in the future.

Since charter flights usually cost thousands and thousands of dollars each, and since Virgin Charter takes a cut of each ticket sold, no one should be able to blame the company for failing to identify a viable source of revenue.

But there is also the possibility that Virgin Charter will make charter flights more affordable by filling up seats that now go empty. About half of all charter flights fly with no passengers because planes need to be flown back to their base after dropping off passengers. Those empty legs are priced into the current cost of charter air travel. Earlier this evening, Virgin founder Richard Branson told a group of reporters at a media dinner in Manhattan (attended by Erick):

I wanted to call the company Empty Legs. We can put all of these empty legs on the site and people can bid on them. It will bring down the price of flying privately. When the next stage of million-dollar planes comes in, there will be hundreds of thousands of people chartering flights. Every single bum in the seat is extra revenue.

In a way, Virgin Charter is coming back full circle for Branson. Twenty-five years ago, stuck in Puerto Rico after a canceled flight to the Virgin Islands, Branson found a charter plane and went around the airport with a blackboard that advertised a charter flight for $39 per person. He filled all 50 seats, and that is how he started Virgin Atlantic. Now he is using the Web to do the same thing.