Last updated: 01:20 PM ET, Tue October 25 2016

Virgin America Shoes: The Strange Bedfellows of Airlines and Retail

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | October 25, 2016

Virgin America Shoes: The Strange Bedfellows of Airlines and Retail

Photo by Virgin America

Airlines don't have many things they can sell. For the most part, their primary product is airplane seats, which are largely priced at the mercy of seasonal supply and demand. Within the plane, most airlines have different seating products, which in turn are priced higher or lower — and their value is arguable, because everyone on the plane lands at the same time.

But outside of the plane, airlines don’t have many hard products they can sell. Many airlines make millions in ancillary revenue in annual fees from their frequent flyer credit cards, but again, that’s not something that’s really tangible.

Recently, you may have heard about a pair of one-off “First Class Shoes” that were created for Virgin America, to mimic their first class seats. The white leather shoes even had a seat belt buckle around the ankle, and a working TV on the upper arch of the shoe. The shoes also featured LED lights to evoke the airline’s famous “mood lighting.” The shoes were created in partnership with a Milanese firm called SearchnDesign.

READ MORE: Could The Virgin America Brand Survive?

Proceeds from the sale are going to Soles4Souls, a non-profit charity organization that aims to help fight poverty. The shows ended up with a final price on eBay of $97,877.77 on Sunday. I mean, why buy a couple of nice cars, or make a handsome deposit on a house, when you can buy a pair of shoes, right? I love that the money is going to a good cause though.

Alaska and Southwest Airlines are approaching the retail space in a different way. Both airlines are selling wares made from the leather of retired seats. Alaska’s seats were turned into bags and wallets by Looptworks. Looptworks says their products are “manufactured in ethically responsible facilities and come with a lifetime guarantee. Buying upcycled products conserve water and air and contributes to the change needed to close the loop on waste.”

Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Southwest also partnered with Looptworks to create soccer balls and shoes (pictured above) that are made from old seat fabric. Some other Southwest leather was donated to a leather works’ training course at a boarding school in Malawi. The Southwest leather is navy and tan, and was used on their planes from 2001 to 2014, but can still be seen on some of their older Boeing 737-300 planes that will be retired soon.

READ MORE: Virgin's Richard Branson Weighs in on US Elections

Anything that used to be on a plane is popular among die-hard travelers and those who are into aviation nostalgia. Delta’s Flight Museum has an annual sale of retired seats and galley carts each summer in Atlanta. Aircraft salvagers have also made businesses out of making things from scrapped planes. For example, Wyldebyrd Art is an Etsy store where you can buy home decor and furniture items made from planes including WWII-era C-47 transports, and Boeing 737s.

Several airlines also have online stores where you can purchase dozens if not hundreds of branded items if you’re a hard-core aviation geek. Among those are Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United, and Virgin America. Enthusiasts can also find vintage collectibles from most airlines on eBay and at collectibles shows around the country, such as Airliners International

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