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spaceshiptwo Richard Branson, the brilliant billionaire owner of all things Virgin-branded, has been in the travel news quite a bit over the past few days, and it’s been an interesting mix of stories — good, bad and ugly.

Yesterday, Branson’s youngest stroke of travel company genius, Virgin Galactic, took a giant leap closer to its ultimate goal of space tourism when SpaceShipTwo ignited its rocket motor for the first time in mid-flight, bringing the spacecraft to a speed of Mach 1.2. With this supersonic test out of the way, Virgin Galactic anticipates making its first passenger space trips next year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The company will offer daily trips to sub-orbital space, including about 10 minutes of zero gravitation. The price tag? $200,000. Considering Virgin Galactic has already taken 580 reservations worth about $70 million in deposits for a company that can’t yet deliver, you’ve got to give Branson credit for his genius.

But like Robert Louis Stevenson’s brilliant scientist Dr. Jekyll, Branson has not so much a darker side as an idiotic Mr. Hyde side. Sometimes he just does or says stupid things.

For instance, Virgin America recently launched a new seat-to-seat delivery service on flights. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Well, it could be a mom sitting a few rows away from her kids, having a snack box delivered to them. Or — and here’s what USA Today believes Branson has in mind with the service — it could be a passenger sending a drink to another passenger, just as he might do in a bar if he were, say, attempting to pick someone up.

Here’s how it works. Fliers find their intended recipient on a digital seat map, select an item to be delivered, swipe a credit card and then follow up with a text message using the seat-to-seat chat function.

Um, yuck. I guess if you’re happy to hear from a stranger sitting a few rows away it’s not so bad, but what if you’re totally uninterested? It’s not like you can go anywhere.

Not Branson’s most genius moment, if you ask us.

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But it gets worse.

On Sunday, Branson criticized the British Foreign Office and other Western governments for issuing warnings about terrorism in travel advisory format.

Huh?

As reported by The Independent, Branson says that by warning people of the risk of attacks, governments are giving in to terrorists and harming those countries in the process. These warnings, he continued, should be discarded. Instead, Branson suggests that rather than warn people against visiting these places, people should be encouraged to participate in tourism and trade, in order to aid them. He cited a British Foreign Office bulletin about Egypt, an Australian government warning about Bali and a U.S. State Department alert on Kenya, which he said contributed to the decline in tourist numbers in these countries.

The Foreign Office soundly rejected Branson’s suggestion, saying it has a responsibility to make sure British citizens have the necessary information to make their own informed decisions.

While we understand the need to avoid needless monetary damage to a country, we have to side with the Foreign Office on this one. We’d rather know what our risks are before we make a decision, so as not to walk into a potentially hazardous situation.

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What do you think? Is Virgin Galactic a stroke of genius? Do you want someone you don’t know on a flight to be able to buy you a drink? Should governments issue travel alerts that include warnings about terrorism? Let us know below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

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