Hello everyone! I’m Scottrick’s favorite little sister, here to do another post. This time I’m reviewing Virgin America. I don’t travel as often as Scott, so while I do participate in some points programs, I’m not doing mileage runs or long-distance flights. I go for the cheapest way to get where I have to go, and only spring for a nicer plane or better airline if it’s not too much more expensive.
This was my first time flying Virgin America, and I was pretty excited because Sir Richard Branson sounds like an excellent guy. Anyone who owns a spaceship company is someone I want to be friends with.
My flight was a nonstop from San Francisco to Austin, and I printed out my boarding pass the day before and was not checking any bags ($25/bag if you have the cheap seats). All Virgin America has are Airbus 319s, and my first impression boarding was “This is exactly like a every other Airbus 319, but nicer and purple-er.” Part of the modern, clubby atmosphere is a black, purple, and red color scheme. All the plastic surfaces in the plane are a crisp white, with black leather seats and black carpet. The lighting is a purply blue in the corridor which is kind of nice, but the more magenta purple along the windows looked a little tacky.
I did appreciate that everything wasn’t that worn yellow tinge that a lot of airlines have (especially Southwest), but I feel they could turn down the purple a little so I don’t feel like I need to drop some acid and list to EDM.
The seats were quite roomy and very comfortable – the armrests are narrow and a bit higher than average, so it gives you more room width-wise but hurt my shoulders after a while. I never felt the need to recline my seat (the first time in years), and while the seat in front of me was reclined my knees never hit it. The only place their design aesthetic didn’t extend was the bathroom, which was the exact same yellow-lit, plastic-floored monstrosity as on every other airline.
The overarching feeling you get flying Virgin America is that someone put a lot of thought into everything (except the bathroom). Everything. The first thing that got me really excited: separate pouches on the seat pocket to hold bottles. Maybe I am too much of a sensitive flower, but one thing that always annoys me is when I bring a bottle of water on a flight and I put it in the seat pocket for easy access I lose 3″ of leg room because the entire pocket sticks out.
Why? Why do they do this? Everyone needs to stick stuff in there – your empty cup before they come around for trash, half a sandwich you want to eat later, a small mammal you’re smuggling across state lines – and leg room is already a problem. So to whoever designed this seat pocket: Thank you for taking some time to think about me and my water bottle.
The other obvious difference between Virgin America and other airlines is the in-flight entertainment system at your seat. This is your portal to everything on the flight, and is probably the only way this airline is really different from any other budget airline. It contains the television, shopping, Internet, chat, and an on-demand food ordering system. You can interact with it through the touch screen, which honestly took a little too much effort to operate (I felt like I was jabbing the guy in front of me every time I tried to make it respond), or you can use the little remote that’s hidden in your armrest. Go for the remote.
Your standard pre-flight safety announcement plays on the screen at your seat, after which there are 2-3 minutes of ads. It’s a little weird, but if that’s how they pay for the comfy seats it’s fine with me. The in-flight entertainment included free satellite TV, a wide selection of on-demand movies and television shows for a fee ($5-8), and a very decent music system. After determining TV choices on a Friday morning are pretty sad, I went for the free music playlists.
Which brings us to the on-demand food ordering system. This is really, really cool. Basically, instead of the flight attendants wandering up and down the aisle multiple times a flight trying to sell you stuff and blocking your access to the bathroom, you just punch in what you want on the screen and they bring it. If you buy food or an alcoholic beverage, you pay for it with a credit/debit card at your seat by swiping it through the card reader in the screen or the reader in the remote. But you can also order complimentary drinks, such as a soda, and if you see someone cute and want to make friends, you can order food or drinks to be delivered to another seat.
The only problem with this seat ordering system is you have to wait for the flight attendant to bring it to you. I tried this twice, ordering a vodka and diet coke (they give you the option of with ice or without for the soda, again with the thoughtfulness) and waited 10 minutes for the first set, and 5 minutes for the second. I overheard two passengers around me who flagged a flight attendant down and asked for their orders that hadn’t come yet; this was maybe 15 minutes after takeoff and I don’t know how long they waited, so this may not be the most efficient system.
I also tried connecting to the Internet with my computer. Despite the cost they do let you surf some shopping sites for free. However, it was so slow that I can’t imagine actually using it for anything. It took literally 3 minutes for just the payment page to load, and I gave up on online shopping for free after 5 minutes and still no complete webpage.
Finally, there are two outlets for each three-seat bench. I was very excited about this because I was trying to work and my laptop battery was running low, but it was ridiculously hard to figure out how to fit my plug into the outlet. The combo of the outlet being below my seat to the right, not knowing or having any indication of in which direction the holes were oriented, my inability to get my head down there in any way that let me see the frickin’ outlet made it impossible for me to figure out which small imperfection on the surface was a place for a plug and which way that plug was supposed to go.
It took me ten minutes and two cell phone pictures to figure out how to plug in my computer. I swear I’m smarter than I sound. Probably. In contrast, I did not have this problem on an American Airlines flight later that weekend – they designed the plug to stick out, and it had a green light, so I could actually use the darn thing.
Overall, I had a delightful time on Virgin America. The seats were extremely comfortable – I didn’t talk about this much, but they really, really were. The in-flight entertainment system provided more than 3.5 hours of entertainment for me, and the ordering system was pretty cool. It seems like they put a lot of thought into every aspect of the traveller experience, and it does make the flight more pleasant. If you have a chance to fly Virgin America, I support giving it a try.
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