Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Virgin America

You know you’re a traveler when…you get excited at the prospect of trying a new airline. After booking my IAD-LAX flight with previously unfamiliar-to-me Virgin America, I started preparing for the trip by conducting some light research on the company, signing up for their frequent flier program, and asking experienced VA patrons what to expect. I had heard good things about this iteration of the Richard Branson empire – their cabins have mood lighting! – and wondered if the real experience could live up to the hype. After all, airlines seem lately to be doing everything in their power short of equipping flight attendants with fanny packs to make flying as annoying and uncool of an experience as is humanly possible. But nearly 11 hours of round trip Virgin America travel later, I was sold.

For starters, the cabins really do have mood lighting, and it’s actually pretty awesome. Their soft, purplish look is so much better than the harsh, industrial feel of most aircraft. And the lighting is just one feature among many that make VA feel rather, well, youthful. There’s wifi with Gogo Inflight (albeit at an extra cost of $12.95 for the flight – ouch!), a touch screen entertainment center at each seat (you can watch TV or chat with other passengers, for example), and a clever pre-flight video that pokes fun at people who don’t already know how to buckle an airplane seat belt. I had more legroom than on my transatlantic flight from Brussels to DC (take that, United), and was thrilled to discover I could order a fresh, healthy snack from my convenience of my seat by simply swiping my card through the built-in reader on the entertainment center. I had the Mediterranean Tapas Tray for $8. Veggies and hummus in, mystery meat and greasy sauce out.

I love to travel, but I’ve never been a fan of flying. An unfortunate incident with a barf bag at the tender age of five sealed my fate as a fearful, nauseated, eternally uncomfortable flier. Thankfully, VA is taking a stab at making flying fun and easy again. They can’t make the TSA security line less dignity-stripping, and VA still charges for checked baggage ($20), but my overall experience with them was positive, which is definitely more than I can say for some airlines.

Have you flown with Virgin America or Virgin Atlantic? What was your experience?


Vagabonde said...

Because of your recommendation I checked their route, unfortunately they do not fly in the south. But if I go and visit my daughter in Long Beach, I see they fly from Orange Co to San Francisco, so that would be something to keep in mind. Last October when I flew to Paris I used Air France. They had the best food, free aperitif, wine with meal and a Grand Marnier afterward.

Tanya said...

@Vagabone, VA does have limited routes in the U.S., which is a downside for sure. If you try out their Orange Co - SF route let me know how it goes. As for Air France, they're fantastic for those transatlantic hauls. Free wine!

Zhu said...

I flew with Virgin Atlantic quite a few times, but a while ago: Paris-London-Hong Kong Paris-London-Shanghai and then London - Mexico. They were the cheapest fare at the time (99, 2000, 2001).

I love it though. They were quite a funky airline and I remember they had cool movie, good customer service... and we were given little yellow plastic ducks which made me laugh.

Nomadic Matt said...

I've heard so much good stuff about virgin, I can't wait to fly them!