Virgin Atlantic and the Cultural Impact of “Anglophilia” How an airline taps into America’s cultural obsession with Britishness.

View out an airplane window above the wing during flight

Remember Colin Frissel from Love Actually? Frustrated by his inability to find love in the UK, he goes to America to capitalize on his “cute British accent.” Colin’s resounding success is the most realistic part of the movie.

A Country Obsessed with Its Ex

The truth is, The United States broke up with England in 1776, but we never really got over them.

Americans love Britishness. One need only look at the surface level of our entertainment to discover the symptoms of Anglophilia. From The Beatles to One Direction, Sherlock Holmes to Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, and the popularity of the Premier League, Britain is a trend that doesn’t go away.

Predicting American Tastes

This cultural connection hasn’t gone unnoticed by businesses, but Virgin Atlantic is one company that studied America’s cultural fascination with England to predict the brand of “Britishness” that appealed to their deeper longings and would shape consumer behavior.

Picture of Love Actually Movie explaining what Anglophilia is
(Love Actually)
Example of Virgin Atlantic Plane

Creating a British Brand Identity

In the transatlantic market, Virgin Atlantic’s key competitor with American passengers is British Airways. But how to be more British than British Airways?

One of the key ways in which Virgin Atlantic has capitalized on the American fascination with Britain is by creating a strong British brand identity that embodies not only British elegance but British “cheek” and inherent “coolness.”

From its iconic Union Jack flying “Scarlet Lady” pinup girls on the nose to cabin crew dressed in stylish uniforms inspired by British fashion, Virgin Atlantic has been able to tap not only into American obsession with British stereotypes but also British attitudes and tastes.

Offering a Unique British Experience

Part of the American fantasy of Britain involves the cozy politeness and the friendly deference Americans come to expect from television.

Virgin Atlantic listened. From the moment travelers step on board, they are greeted with British accents and a warm, friendly service that reflects the hospitality Americans associate with England. The airline also offers a range of British-inspired amenities and services, such as a complimentary afternoon tea service charmingly named “Mile High Tea.”

It’s the shareable, British experience Americans love — and Virgin Atlantic knew they would.

Example of British Meals on Airlines
(Huffington Post)

Collaborations with British Icons

To subtly tie Virgin Atlantic in with other iconic parts of British culture, Virgin Atlantic sought collaborations with British icons and personalities to create exclusive in-flight experiences and products.

For example, Virgin Atlantic has collaborated with luxury department store Harrods to offer a curated selection of British-inspired amenity kits for its Upper-Class passengers. The airline has also teamed up with renowned British chefs to create gourmet menus inspired by British cuisine.

These collaborations not only enhance the British brand identity of Virgin Atlantic but allow the airline to tie itself in with American perceptions of British life and culture.

A Brand with a Cultural Advantage

The results?

After the renewed focus on the U.S. market and scratching the itch of cultural “anglophilia” in the early 2010s, Virgin Atlantic posted its first annual profit in 4 years. If not for the pandemic, Virgin Atlantic was on an uphill climb.

For Virgin Atlantic, it wasn’t just about putting a Union Jack on their planes. The airline’s savvy cultural intelligence allowed them to tap deeper into the culture and use it to predict tastes and provide their customers with the British experience they longed for.

As Virgin Atlantic digs its heels in to compete with its larger, older brother British Airways, they’re positioned to attract American travelers who are inexplicably drawn to “Britishness.”