Virgin America A Nice Airline

This summer, I had the opportunity to fly round-trip on the airline Virgin America and found it to be a good experience.

As can be expected, flying on an airplane is more expensive during the summer, especially this year with the huge jumps in oil prices.  This year, despite researching prices two months in advance, I discovered that the cheapest airline for where I want to go was Virgin America and not a U.S. airline.  Usually I fly on American Airlines or United Airlines, but this year they were at least $100 more expensive despite two months in advance.  Having never heard of or flown on Virgin America before, and not sure how much of their web site was marketing fluff, I was concerned about what my experience would be, but booked my flight on the airline anyway.

On both flights, checking in at the airport was easy.  There were no lines and they had multiple staff at the counter.  Some staff were handling passengers not using the check-in kiosk as well.  At one airport, the person at the counter even explained everything on the boarding pass to me, even though the boarding pass is very easy to read and the information is laser printed on a small piece of cardboard instead of the traditional long piece of paper with info on it printed using ink that fades away over time.  Other airlines had long lines at their counters.

The airline had big piles of headsets in the jetway for passengers to take.  This might change though in the fall as I read somewhere they plan to start charging $2 for headsets later this fall.  On the other hand, right now, they don’t charge for the first checked baggage like some U.S. airlines do.  Once in the plane, after the door is closed and the plane leaves the gate, the flight attendant walks through the plane with a big bag of blankets and ask if anyone wants to borrow one (at no cost).

In the plane, they use blue and purple lighting in the cabin.  There’s leather seats, even in coach.  The seats are a little larger than the ones on  American Airlines or United Airlines flights, which might have been possible because Virgin America uses Airbus A319 or A320 planes rather than Boeing 737 planes.  The seatbacks have a little screen on it with a bunch of features I’ll mention later.  I understand the leather seat and seatback screens are also available on JetBlue flights, but I’ve never flown on JetBlue.  There’s a normal 120V AC outlet between seats, so you don’t have to worry about running out the battery in your laptop or other electronic device.  The seatback tray still has an indention for a cup unlike the U.S. airlines with their plain tray.

Ok, so what does the seatback screen do?  The screen offers Dish Network satellite TV, movies (both free and pay-per-view) , music (both free and pay-to-listen, and some in foreign languages), Google Maps map so you can track the location of plane (including its altitude, speed, distance to destination, and the temperature on the outside of the plane [wow, I didn’t know how cold it gets outside at 35,000 feet]), and games.  The TV and games are controlled by a corded remote control in the armrest.  One side has TV controls while the other side is a QWERTY keyboard and gamepad.  There is a QWERTY keyboard because the screen also lets you chat with other passengers on the plane.  Finally, the screen lets you order food and drink.   Virgin America says it’s a “cashless” airline.  So when you want to eat, you use the screen to order food, and then you swipe your credit card through the reader at the bottom of the screen or on the side of the corded remote control.  A flight attendant then brings your food to you on a tray.  Although the food appears to be a larger size than the U.S. airlines, unfortunately, that also means it costs more (as much as $9).  Water, juice, and soda are free.  Order a cup using the screen and they bring it to you.

In summary, flying on Virgin America this summer was an enjoyable experience and time seemed to go by a lot faster than it did in the past.  I would certainly consider flying on the airline again in the future.  On the other hand, I’m a little bit concerned about SuperShuttle.  After one of my Virgin America flights, leaving the airport, the SuperShuttle van took twice as long as it should to get me to the destination because the van driver couldn’t work his GPS unit.  Luckily I wasn’t in a hurry.