30,000 feet between Los Angeles and San Francisco – An airline trip often means unhappy employees, dirty airplanes and a horrible back ache afterwards, but Virgin America seems to have solved all those problems. There’s been a lot of buzz over the airline’s comfy leather seats, soothing “mood lighting” and content-filled entertainment system, so I took a ride to get a firsthand look.About three weeks ago, I bought a round-trip ticket for Los Angeles to San Francisco (Virgin America’s home airport). Navigating through the website was quite easy and you can pick exactly which seat you want. Interestingly enough the first row in economy class and the exit row seats will cost you extra. Virgin’s budget competitor won’t charge extra for different seats, but passengers must grab their seats on a first-come first-served basis at boarding time.
We paid only $124 for the round-trip ticket, but this fare probably won’t last. Virgin is trying to make a good impression with low prices in the first months to build brand loyalty. Speaking of trying to build a good impression, their small counter at LAX terminal 6 was literally overflowing with employees. I guess they really want to speed passengers through check-in and my check-in only took 30 seconds – I wish I could say similar good things about the TSA.
Stepping into a purple/red lighted airline is actually a little unnerving for people used to traditionally drab airline interiors (I won’t name any names.. cough Southwest). A clear plastic shield separates the front 2 rows of first class passengers from the economy class people. First class get a much bigger white leather seat and 2 by 2 seating while economy gets your standard 3 by 3 seating in black leather seats. These seats are very comfy… no back pain here.
The much publicized entertainment system functioned well, although it crashed a few times, pausing for up to 30 seconds at a time. Some of the features like email, reading and food ordering haven’t been implemented yet.
Have you ever had grumpy flight crews? Not at Virgin and the flight attendants and pilots appeared to be excited about flying on a brand new airline. Of course everything is still in the honeymoon phase and anything can change in the future. One flight attendant told me, “Everything is in flux right now.”
Virgin America promises to have in-flight wireless and we did find a wireless router broadcasting an SSID. However the airline is awaiting FCC approval before they can start the service.
You can look through our picture galleries for a better sense of the airline. Looks like I'll be replacing all my SouthWest flights from Lax to Sfo with Virgin America.