Richard Branson's Flight Plan

Shoddy service and mounting losses have turned the airline industry into a national joke. So why do Virgin America and its fun-loving boss think they can save it?

Joe Pugliese for TIME

Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Atlantic

The West Hollywood sun is beating down on the patio, a cold wind is blowing through, and Richard Branson is hosting a long lunch poolside at the Sunset Marquis hotel. "It's an old rock-'n'-roll hotel, which has--it's gone out of fashion a little bit, I think," he says. The Rolling Stones and U2 are regulars; Courtney Love wrote a love letter to Kurt Cobain in one of the suites. It's exactly the setting you would expect from the self-styled "rebel billionaire," the man who signed the Sex Pistols and the Stones to Virgin Records and then tried to bring that same...

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