Travelers love Virgin America, the hip, mood-lit airline backed by Richard Branson. And why not? The self-described "low-fare, upscale" carrier promises passengers that they don't need to accept the dismal nickel-and-dime, fee-for-everything flying experience offered by the competition. Instead, fly Virgin and you can have it all — legroom and the cheap ticket.

Unfortunately, telling customers they can have it all rarely ends well. And last Wednesday's news that Virgin America is seeking buyers suggests that its business model — beloved as it is — will turn out to be little more than a happy historical blip.

When Branson founded the airline in 2007, he had an optimistic vision. Rather than focus on routes where he could outcompete older carriers, he wanted to offer a better product. "The American airline system, 10 years ago, didn't have a decent airline," he told Bloomberg Television last week. "So I thought, let's launch Virgin America."