Richard Branson's Open Letter (and picture!) to Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon


Sir Richard Branson is a genius at scoring public relations coups.

His open letter to Geoff Dixon creates a spectacular 'win-win' for Branson (and perhaps a lose-lose for Dixon!).

Whatever now happens, the certain result is that Branson will earn substantial more publicity for himself and his airline, in the 'underdog' role that he portrays so well.

NEWSLETTER :  In addition to weekly feature columns, I also send out a free weekly email newsletter that contains a wide ranging variety of travel related items and opinions.

Don't miss out!  Have the newsletter emailed to you each week.  (Privacy Policy)  Simply fill in your email address :




Flamboyant Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984.  In 2000, he started a new airline in Australia - Virgin Blue.

At the time of Virgin Blue's conception, there was a fair measure of skepticism within Australia as to whether it would be possible for what would have become a third Australian airline to survive.  Several earlier attempts by other would be competitors to the two established airlines (Qantas and Ansett) had all ended in ignominious failure.  Of course, Qantas did all it could to discourage and disparage its new competitor.

Nonetheless, Virgin Blue proceeded, and then, more or less fortuitously perhaps, Ansett (owned by Air New Zealand) went bankrupt, and Virgin Blue suddenly found a market that was reasonably full of air service change to a market where 40% of all flights had suddenly ceased.  Partly because of that, and partly because it is a good airline anyway, Virgin Blue now  appears to be flourishing.

Flash forward to 2003.  Virgin Atlantic have often stated their desire to be able to operate flights to Australia, and their interest has again surfaced to the point where they're aggressively planning to start such flights (if they can get permission from the Australian government!).

Qantas has again been understandably disparaging about this - for sure, Qantas would very much prefer not to see another major competitor on its 'Kangaroo Route' (ie London-Sydney).

And so, with this as background, please enjoy the following open letter from Sir Richard to Geoff Dixon, CEO of Qantas.

Update :  The first Virgin flight to Australia was in December, 2004.  Geoff Dixon would have lost the bet.

Related item :  See also our page on the Qantas Joke.

Sir Richard Branson

                                        24 July 2003


Dear Geoff,

I was amused to read Qantas’s completely dismissive comments about Virgin Atlantic’s chances of getting permission to fly to Australia.  It would be prudent for you to remind yourself of your and James Strong’s equally dismissive comments about Virgin Blue’s chances of entering the Australian market only three years ago.

 Here goes! This is the gist of what you said:

  •  “Virgin Blue is a lot of media hype.”

  • “This market is not big enough to sustain Virgin Blue.”

  •  “Virgin Blue doesn’t have deep enough pockets to cope.”

  •  “Qantas will employ any option to see off this interloper.”

  •  “They’ll be unlikely to survive a year.”

  •  “Claims by Richard Branson that domestic fares are high are a misnomer!” (my exclamation mark)

 Here is what James Strong, your former C.E.O, said about Virgin Blue and myself:

  “If you listen to most of the pretenders there is a distinct air that they are making it up as they go along. In terms of real plans and real commitment you could fire a shot gun up the main street and not hit anybody.”

 Yet three years later you are telling your staff that this same airline, “that was making it up as it went along” and that now has 30% of the market could, “Drive Qantas out of business!” We also find it flattering, if a little silly, that three years on you now have spies hiding behind pot plants in the Virgin terminal trying to work out why we are so successful.

 Even if some of your comments don’t suggest it, your actions indicate you are taking us seriously. But let’s not take ourselves too seriously. I would like to propose a friendly challenge!

 If Virgin Atlantic fails to fly to Australia (within 18 months, say) I’d be prepared to suffer the indignity of donning one of your stewardesses brand new designer outfits and will work your flight from London to Australia serving your customers throughout.

 However, if Virgin Atlantic does fly to Australia you would do so instead. On our inaugural flight from London to Australia you would wear one of our beautiful red Virgin Stewardesses uniforms and serve our inaugural guests all the way to Australia.  Oh and in case you were wondering, we’re not hung up on flying through Hong Kong. You might end up doing your days work experience through Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia instead.

 This is the challenge. If you believe in what Qantas said to the press there can’t be any risk for you. We expect your response within one week. Our inaugural flights are great fun and I look forward to welcoming you on board personally. Oh and by the way my preferred drink is ………..!

 Kind regards,


p.s. I enclose a picture to give you an idea of what you might look like.

Dixon wasn't impressed with Branson's offer.

"We are running an airline not a circus," Dixon said through a Qantas spokeswoman.


Related Articles, etc