Virgin AmericaToday, Virgin America announced Chicago as its newest destination with service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), where Virgin America will occupy gate space at ORD’s currently empty Concourse L. Daily flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) begin May 25, 2011. With fares as low as $99, the California-based airline is injecting badly needed free market competition and sophistication into America’s dwindling domestic travel, which has been decimated by the government’s travel restrictions. Virgin America features beautifully designed cabins with leather seating (55 inches of pitch, 165 degrees of recline and lumbar massagers in first class) and high-tech amenities, including standard power outlets near every seat, in-flight entertainment offering every guest their own seat-back touch-screen with on-demand films, live TV, Google Maps, video games, seat-to-seat chat, music videos, a 3000 MP3 catalog and an on-demand menu, so travelers can order a cocktail or meal right from their seatback any time during a flight. Virgin America is the first to offer free WiFi on every flight and the first to offer air-to-ground SKYPE chat. Each flight also includes free food and cocktails, dedicated overhead bins and priority check-in/boarding.

A spokeswoman, Abby Lunardini, told me that everyone at Virgin America, which also staffs attractive stewardesses and stewards, is really excited because the company has been trying to initiate Chicago service since 2008. “We were able to work out a deal,” Abby said, “and get at least one dedicated gate with the requisite level of service.” When I asked if the airline will be able to make any money given the city of Chicago’s stupid regulations, she sounded positive; “it’s a lucrative market in terms of travel demand and we had a lot of feedback from business travelers so we’re pretty confident about the market and the demand. Sales are going well today. It will be one of our larger markets.”

Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush issued a statement that does capitalism proud: “Until today, travelers flying from O’Hare to SFO or LAX had little choice and few low fare options. With unrivalled service and new planes that look like nothing else in the skies, we hope our flights will be a breath of fresh air for Chicago travelers. When more airlines compete, consumers tend to win – with lower fares and better service.”

Virgin America is a U.S. owned and operated airline launched in 2007 with service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Seattle, Las Vegas, San Diego, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Toronto (ends April 6, 2011), Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Cabos, Cancun and Chicago (starting May 25, 2011). The Virgin America experience (I’m planning to take my first flight soon) occurs on all-new Airbus A320 passenger jets with 12 shades of mood lighting that adapt to outside light, 110v power outlets, USB and RJ-45 ethernet  jacks near every seat, 9-inch video touch-screens and qwerty keyboard/remote controls at every seat, more than 25 on-demand movies and 18 channels of live TV, kids’ entertainment section with parental controls, and a video game library with favorites like DOOM. And those beautiful flight attendants.