Saturday, September 8, 2007

My virgin flight

I had the opportunity to fly from LA to NY and decided to experience Virgin America for the first time. The hype has died down and I wanted to see how Virgin America measures up to low-cost carriers such as Jet Blue and Southwest.

The online experience when purchasing tickets was on the same level as Jet Blue/Southwest: intuitive and no unnecessary frills. Check-in and boarding are very typical and generic, it just feels a bit more upscale because of Virgin’s advanced design.

When you walk into the plane two things stand out: Mood-lighting and the fresh smell of the leather seats. That smell will disappear (they’ve only been around for a few weeks) but the mood lighting enhances the flight experience. It just makes the trip feel more upscale and in line with other advanced travel experiences (W Hotels). The seats are comfortable, recline further than other coach seats I’ve sat in before.

I was mostly looking forward to the Entertainment Center, called ‘red’. Overall, I would give it a ‘7’ out of 10:
- Music Selection is fantastic: Either 16 radio stations (from Wine Country Radio to Dance) or you can choose from 225 artists: Mozart, Coldplay, Underworld, Johnny Cash, Barry Manilow, Aqualung – they do have something for anyone’s taste. Even Bert and Ernie are there to entertain the little ones.
- TV selection is below average. CNN, A&E, Food Network were one of the few channels that worked. Some channels didn’t work, some were sorely missed (local networks, very important when you’re flying on weekends and don’t want to miss out on sports).
- 16 music videos were offered. Too mainstream, nothing that interested me. Can you say, Kelly Clarkson?
- Good selection of movies (300, Blades of Glory, Hoax, Waitress, The lives of others), the $8 price was a bit too high, but they offered more than 10 free short movies. Very cool.
- Premium TV: A few selected shows of The Office, Simpsons, Heroes and (yes, I’m not making this up) Twin Peaks. The cost of $1.99 seems a tad high since I can get the same content on iTunes and the selection felt arbitrary. Hopefully, networks will partner up with Virgin America in the near future to market their new shows.
- Multi-lingual TV: A mixture of Korean, Japanese and Chinese shows with a few Hispanic episodes. 75% of the content is tailored towards Asian customers. Interesting approach.
- 11 different games one can choose from. I played Doom for a few moments, because of the lag it felt like playing on an old computer.
- The chat functions are pretty cool but nobody was chatting at all.
- The email and Internet functions are already part of the user interface but not functioning yet.
- My favorite: the food selection. Flight attendants still make one tour of the cabin but you can continue making orders on your screen, right before the landing. My order took only 2 minutes to be delivered to my seat. That’s better than any call button. Sodas are free, alcoholic drinks and any snack will cost you.
- The real bad: My system acted up quite a bit, stalled for a few minutes and it finally rebooted. I guess Linux is not as good as advertised. I saw a few people with the same issue.

The main attraction: Customer Service. Flight attendants are very friendly and helpful. Pure perfection. That’s their best marketing attribute right now.

Overall, I would fly Virgin America again. I wish they would have chosen smaller airports, just like Jet Blue when they started to fly from Long Beach and Burbank. But I would choose them over the other two any day.

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