Virgin America Ticket Sales Thwarted by Cyber Attack

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2007

Virgin America, a new low-cost carrier scheduled to start service in Washington in the coming months, struggled to sell its first tickets yesterday after its Web site was shut down or slowed to a crawl for most of the afternoon by a cyber attack, a company spokesman said.

"It's pretty clear that it was an absolute attempt to crash our site," said Gareth Edmondson-Jones, adding that he did not know who launched the attack.

Edmondson-Jones called the incident an "SYN cyber attack." A SYN assault is a "denial of service attack" in which a herd of computers is directed to ask a Web site for data but then, in effect, refuses to accept that information. When enough of these requests pile up, legitimate users can't get through to the site.

The company's phone line was then jammed by people who couldn't use the Web site, Edmondson-Jones said.

Virgin America, which was backed by British billionaire Richard Branson, applied in 2005 to begin service.

In December, the Transportation Department agreed with critics who argued that the carrier was actually controlled by Branson and other foreigners, in violation of U.S. law.

The carrier's lawyers reworked contracts and loan agreements, and regulators eventually granted the airline permission to fly.

Staff writer Rob Pegoraro contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company