Hip, stylish, and fun – three words I would never use to describe flying domestically in the US. Although, Virgin America is trying to reinvent the US aviation industry and has injected it with plush leather black seats, lavish purple mood lighting, TVs in every seat, wi-fi (before it was popular), and on demand ordering of food, drinks, accessories from the TV in your seat. From the young and stylish crew to the sparkling new planes, everything at Virgin America screams trendy. This is far from the airline your grandma used to fly!
Last month, I had the opportunity to fly Virgin America from San Diego to San Francisco and back. Both flights were very similar. I flew economy both legs of the trip, so I won’t bore you with the same trip report twice. The fun part about Virgin America is how cheerful and everyone is. From check in to the plane, everyone I encountered was all smiles. Maybe it helps to have a younger crew, or a group of employees who have not had their benefits and pensions slashed from post 9/11 bankruptcies and mergers, but everyone at Virgin appears to be on some type of happy pill and I wish that cheer could spread to other airlines!
Check in was extremely easy as I had no bags to check and I could use Virgin’s apple-like computer self-check-in kiosk. After a quick swipe of my credit card, my reservation pulled up and the computer offered me an opportunity to upgrade from the main cabin to main cabin extra for $39 or to First for just $89 more. The thought of an upgrade was appealing, but as I was checking no luggage, nor did I need the extra leg room or free drinks and snacks on the short one hour and ten minute flight, I opted to stay in my regular economy seat. Once I was done with my selections, a boarding pass printed out, and I was on my way to the gate.
Getting to the gate was easy, as Virgin America partakes in TSA Precheck and since I provided my known traveler ID number when purchasing my ticket, I was through security and at the gate in minutes. The gate area wasn’t much different than any other gates in the older non remodeled part of T2 at SAN but the gate was decorated with some fun Christmas decorations and advertisements to upgrade to First along with funky colored headphone for sale. At SFO it’s a completely different story, as Virgin departs from the newly opened T2. Here, the spacious and beautiful new terminal offers everything from a yoga room to big red comfy chairs to relax in. The best part of waiting at the gate was not the terminal or being among the first to board, it was that the gate agents actually made waiting fun. In SAN the gate agents had a jar full of candy canes and passengers were able to guess how many candy canes were in the jar; the two closest won inflight amenity vouchers to be used towards a movie or tv show purchase! It was a small prize, but who complains about anything free! Not to mention, it helped pass the time while the cabin crew got the plane ready.
As I boarded the plane, cool music was playing, the window shades were all down, and the warm purple light greeted me with surprise. The whole plane felt like a trendy New York Style Ultra Lounge, but without the loud people and bumping base but instead, a chic night club where people wait in line to get into! Boarding was quick and once it was complete, the pilot actually left the cockpit, stood at the front of the cabin, and over the PA presented the passengers with the flight plan and thanked us for flying with him. I also enjoyed the good-hearted commentary on why Virgin America is the best airline in the States and lost count how many times the pilot reminded us that we were flying an Award winning airline. Either way, it was a nice change from the normal welcome done over the PA while taxing towards the runway.
Purple mood lit plane from the rear of the aircraft & economy seats. Notice the leg room – My legs don’t even touch!
Once in the air, the FAs came through the cabin within minutes and began serving those who had already ordered food items from RED (Virgins IFE). They made special attention to serve those in Main Cabin Extra first and then the two FAs quickly served complimentary soda and juices to the rest of the cabin. Once service was completed the FA from the front of the plane collected garbage and recyclables. Unlike most airlines, the FAs on Virgin America appeared to be very green conscious and were very careful to separate EVERY recyclable item from the trash. The FA even removed the lid from my Starbucks coffee cup and recycled the cup and sleeve. Once the cabin was clean, the FAs positioned themselves in the back of the plane and served people who ordered food or drinks from the RED on demand menu. But with the flight being so short, the cabin was cleaned and we were starting our initial descent.
The SAN-SFO hop is a short flight, but I must say I really enjoyed flying Virgin. The planes are new and clean, the seats are comfortable and everything about virgin is tasteful and gratifying. Even in economy I had plenty of room and I am 5’10”. Seats have a standard 32 inch pitch and the extra inch compared to other US airlines is noticeable. I contentedly fit in my seat and even had rooms to stretch my legs a little. The PTV had free satellite TV and plenty of shopping options along with pay per view movie and tv episode options. Not to mention hundreds of hours of music from all genres to get your feet taping and body flowing at 30,000 feet.
Even the bath soap is earth friendly!
Virgin America has a truly unique product that no other airline can match. From fun crews to state of the art inflight entertainment, Virgin is doing EVERYTHING right to revitalize the airline industry. I would HIGHLY recommend Virgin to the casual traveler who isn’t overly concerned with revenue-based frequent flyer programs. If you’re traveling up and down the west coast, or to the select few destinations Virgin flies to in the Midwest and East Coast, I would say, skip United, Delta, AA and find your way to 30,000 feet with a Virgin. After all, everyone loves a Virgin!
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