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Virgin America DCA Inaugural August 14, 2012  
User currently offlineCarfield From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 1833 posts, RR: 9
Posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 7825 times:

Virgin America Inaugural flight to Washington Reagan National Airport
August 14, 2012



When DCA opened up more slots for beyond perimeter flights late last year, Virgin America is one of the carriers fighting for two daily flights to DCA from SFO. In the end, United is awarded daily DCA flight and Virgin America is awarded one daily flight as well. I am sure everyone is aware of the significance of a route to the capital of the city and the possible revenues for this traditional high yield route, especially compared to Dulles. The fact that Virgin America assigned flight numbers 1 and 2 to this DCA route shows how significance this route is to Virgin America’s future. I cannot pass on the opportunity to fly this inaugural and it actually works very well to my schedule, as I am scheduled to fly to Asia on an award ticket from SFO on August 15. I only need to fly up to SFO a day earlier than expected. Not to mention I manage to get a $48 all in one way flight from LAX to SFO on August 13 on Delta. I don’t think it will be fair to compare this DCA inaugural to the fun inaugural to FLL, which is my top inaugural experience. In some manner, this DCA inaugural will be a bit more serious and honestly DCA does not have space for a tent and a big party. I will try my best to let the pictures tell the stories.

Full photo album link:
http://s1213.photobucket.com/albums/...Carfield76/VXDCAInaugural08142012/

Flight information:
August 14, 2012
VX 1 SFO-DCA Lv0800 Arr1605 Airbus A319-100 N528VA “Fog Cutter”
VX 2 DCA-SFO Lv1700 Ar1940 Airbus A319-100 N528VA “Fog Cutter”

Booking:
Virgin America has a pretty good website except handling seat changes and inability to handle double upgrades and upgrades to Main Cabin Select if you are in the exit row. There are a few glitches that it needs to work on. Despite a fare sale is going on, Virgin America does not offer that sale fare on its inaugural flight and is always more expensive presumably due to its complimentary cocktail and food service. Main Cabin Select and First class are available only at its full price and not its advance pricing due to those seats are often blocked for guests. They don’t open up really till a few hours prior to departure. In the end, I am able to upgrade to Main Cabin Select (MCS) about three hours prior to departure, after receiving an alert from expert flyer right when my alarm clock was ringing. $129 is not a bad deal. There was a first class seat available but it was an aisle seat at 1D so I decided to stick with Main Cabin Select. For the return flight, I bought Main Cabin Select due to its regular coach fare was fairly high and I might as well splurge a bit, and I upgraded to first class paying $169 (I think) in the six hours mark. Yes I upgraded on line through gogo in flight after VX 1 took off from SFO. As soon as the signal for using electronic devices was off, I turned on the computer and was able to access Virgin’s website and got my upgrades right as we climbed through 20,000feet.

Check-in:
Terminal Two in SFO is a very nice terminal building and both American Airlines and Virgin America share the facility. It was very busy this morning in the Virgin America area with the busy morning bank. However, it was very organized with staff directing passengers to different lines.


The new priority sign featuring Virgin America’s elite status – Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold


There were the regular ticketing and extra assistant line, priority line for F/MCS/Elevate Silver/Gold, full service line, bag drop, and international service lines.


Here is the media check in line for the inaugural flight.

Of course an appropriate sign to mark this event – Both sides of the Aisles Win! Check-in


I tried to use the kiosk to check in at first, but it could not complete the check-in but thankfully there was no wait in the regular priority line and the agent told me due to exit row requirement, it required an agent to check me in. Anyway the process was efficient and the agent was friendly.



With main cabin select, I was able to use the priority TSA security line, but things were under control this morning. I arrived at the gate area with plenty of times to take a few pictures. Today’s gate was 54B and there was the usual buffet featuring various breakfast pastries, warmed BBQ pork sandwiches, and Virgin branded chocolate covered strawberries and Virgin carved watermelon. Very cool stuff! There were a few staffs lingering around and some passengers were not aware of the inaugural flight.


The gate podium was decorated and hats were available for all passengers.


“I am a Flying Partisan”


The gate itself had a blue, white and red patriotic theme with a balloon decorated entrance.


N528VA was sitting here but as you could tell, SFO had these annoying patterned windows, which did not allow any clear pictures. So I just took one picture.


Crowd was building at the gate and there were lots of Virgin America staffs.


Yes President Obama and Mitt Romney impersonators were here with the director of SFO, Senator Lee, and VX CEO David Cush.


As you can tell, the fun political theme is appropriate and the two presidential candidates impersonators are brilliant. As an airline based in SFO, President Obama was more popular but I personally think the reason is that the Obama impersonator looked more like the real person. Anyway both fellows were friendly and greeting passengers in the entrance. Yes they were in the flight and were in Row 3. Both of them shared a personal assistant or he might actually be a Virgin PR staff.

8 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineCarfield From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 1833 posts, RR: 9
Reply 1, posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 7825 times:

The speech was the usual one with SFO celebrating its partnership with Virgin America, Senator Lee (and Boxer)’s role in securing Virgin America’s right to fly to DCA, and Cush’s speech in how importance this route is, and how superior Virgin America is over its competitor. I also note that there were lots of Virgin America camera crew and then another filming crew. Not sure if any local channels were pleasant in SF, but definitely lots of Virgin America’s camera and filming crews.

Boarding began at 7:24am and the atmosphere was great.


Mood lighting jetway


Cabin shot


Exit Row


Souvenirs for the flight – Rock the Vote T-shit (but in ladies size) and a complimentary Virgin America’s headset. Later a pin was handed out, but Virgin America, you really need to pass out some inaugural souvenirs – nothing fancy – even a classic certificate or a DCA pin should be perfect. The poster out there was nice and made it into a postcard, or even one of those environmentally friendly shopping bags showing DCA inaugural or same the poster. Simple, inexpensive but memorable stuffs!


The other tenant of Terminal Two – American Airlines Boeing 767-300ER


Virgin America Airbus narrow-body fleet


Door was finally closed at 8:02am and we pushed back two minutes later. Traffic was fairly light this morning, as most transpacific flights were running late due to the unusual strong head wind flying eastbound to the US. We took off from R/W1R at 8:14am. Flying time was four hours and thirty-four minutes with an initial cruising attitude of 37,000feet, and which we later climbed further to 39,000feet.



Seat belt sign was turned off fairly quickly, as there were a few camera crews on board today. Virgin America sent me (every passenger) an email warning them about the filming and if they want, they can change flights with no fee. Row 3 to 7, and 8ABC were all crews along with actors and related staffs. There is a PR staff coordinating everything and the crews took pictures of crews doing the service. Instead of the usual three, four F/As were in charge today – Michael, Ally, Abbey, and Jay. They all wore the new Banana Republic uniforms but I honestly was disappointed that Banana Republic did not send any staff on this flight. It will be a good promotional flight and they could pass out a few coupons.


User currently offlineCarfield From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 1833 posts, RR: 9
Reply 2, posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 7821 times:

The first act of the flight was the Impersonators Obama and Romney walking along the aisle passing out flags and greeting everyone. They actually had to do it twice because the filming did not go well the first time. Anyway, here was the scene:


Service finally began at 8:55am and here was a shot of the F/As rolling down the beverage and food carts.


As I said earlier, complimentary food and cocktails were offered today. The choices today were a Turkey and Havarti sandwich, Waldorf Salad, or a Fruit and cheese box. Not sure why but Virgin does not offer much breakfast type food. I had the sandwich and it was average – not as nice as some of the wraps served before. However, portion wise – it was pretty huge, and a piece of dark chocolate was included.

Beverage – no full can was offered  

Turkey sandwich – showing the content


Chocolate


Michael later came around with snack basket and these 479 caramel popcorns were delicious. I would actually buy it in a shop and I like Virgin America’s selection of gourmet snacks.


Around 11am, the F/As came around with cocktails and I had one – not sure what this is, but very strong stuff. I like the American Flag umbrella.


The impersonators later talked to the passengers after the meal service, cracked a few jokes and sort of lightened the mood. Romeny impersonator kept on using Virgin Airlines (instead of Virgin America) on his short standup routine, but my favorite was “Virgin America is way better than UAL – standing for U Ain’t Leaving,” which actually was right these days. The reception was lukewarm, but good effort anyway, I was surprising David Cush did not make a welcome speech, which I think was a bit rude. He was not as approachable as previous inaugural flights. I felt that since the CEO here, a short welcome and thank you speech would be nice. There was also no lucky draw and no free tickets were given today.

Mid-flight cabin shot – very busy flight but some empty middles. Lots of staffs running around too of course!


My seat 8F


There were a few chops as we approached East Coast, and descent began at 3:15pm EST, and the filming crews had to wrap up earlier due to some chops on our descent towards DCA.


User currently offlineCarfield From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 1833 posts, RR: 9
Reply 3, posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 7821 times:

Approach shots


We landed on R/W 19 at 3:48pm and got the traditional water salute from DCA. You never got tired of the water cannon salute. The F/As warned passengers about the ceremony so people won’t get too worried seeing the fire trucks. They also kindly asked us to stay seated first while the filming crews left first. We parked at gate 26, B Concourse among the US Airways and AA planes, at 3;55pm, which was ten minutes ahead of schedule.


DCA


A new welcoming team was clapping as passengers deplaned. There was a DJ playing party music, and the various staffs immediately began their speeches. Unlike previous inaugural flights, the turnaround time here was fifty-five minutes, which was very ambitious for an inaugural flight. Anyway, there were lots of local news channels this time and the impersonators were here to greet the return passengers. They were very busy here. There was another buffet with warmed mini burgers, sandwiches and grilled cheeses, along with champagne and Perrier.


The sign was here again, Both Sides of the Aisles Win – Virgin America Goes to Washington National.


Three different signs were set up throughout the channels promoting various aspects of Virgin Amerca’s services


David Cush speaking again


Finally proper shots of Virgin America A319 N528VA Fog Cutter – not sure why the larger A320 was not used on this route! I presume DCA will be more popular down the road!


Busy crowd – smaller gate area too with lots of camera crew


Star and Strips Balloon arch


Gate 26 looks like the future home for Virgin America, as I noted the headsets selling booth being set up here.


Podium – Change is in the Air


This is my favorite picture – the crews of VX 1 with Impersonator Obama and Romney


User currently offlineCarfield From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 1833 posts, RR: 9
Reply 4, posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 7821 times:

Boarding started late at 4:38pm because there were a large number of local TV stations reporting on Virgin America’s inaugural flights to Reagan National. The fancy plane was one of the main attractions of Virgin America, although I am not a big fan of the mood lighting. The cabin was so dark in first class and it was sort of dangerous to certain extent, as you can’t see things.

Anyway, the return flight was nothing special and yes for future enthusiasts, who seek the inaugural experiences, always do SFO to destination flight, not the return. The loading was very light in all cabins, as most Virgin America staffs stayed behind, as expected. David Cush did not fly back to SFO with us, and the impersonators possibly had another event to do later that evening with Virgin America. Richard Branson did not come on this flight, and unlike previous flights, there was no special celebrity guest. First class cabin ended up with four passengers and each of us got a pair of seats to ourselves, which was always nice.

First Class cabin in boarding – I have to use flash in the end


I was Row 1 – 1A this time


Three F/As for the return flight – Matt, Kary, and Ben (? a female though)
Matt was the purser and in charge of first class.

Full pre-takeoff beverage was offered and he remembered me on the outbound flight – yes the return crew flew as passengers on the way to DCA, and immediately worked the return flight. I believe the pilots were in the same boat too. The pilot came out from the cockpit and did his welcoming speech, which was a nice welcoming gesture. Flying time was unfortunately very long today due to routing through weather and strong head winds, and five hours and forty-two minutes in total, which was two minutes more than the actual published flying time. That welcome speech was the last of the inaugural festivities and there was no more mention of the special nature of the flight from this point on. It is a normal flight with normal service – no freebies in Main Cabin.

BTW, WFS was the ground agents for Virgin American at DCA.

Door was closed on time at 5pm, and the new DCA team was standing in the gateway taking pictures and saying goodbyes. Unfortunately the windows were dirty in row one and the water salute an hour ago made thing worst. So I could not take any more pictures, and but the new DCA team was pretty enthusiastic. We pushed back five minutes later, which was not bad given how busy those alleyways were. As there was a thunderstorm in the eastern seaboard, lots of planes were sitting in the holding pens all around the airport. Good for us though – shorter taxing time. We finally took off at 5:18pm from R/W19.

Virgin America First Class service – the seats were definitely the best aspect of Virgin America’s first class. I gave them lots of credits by offering a proper sleeper seat for domestic flights and here are a few pictures of the seats in the lounging and sleeping positions. Comfort wise – they are the best – of course not counting certain mainline airlines using international configured airplanes on various trunk routes. For a narrow-body aircraft, this first class seat is superb. However, catering is a bit lacking and the portion is honestly a bit small for a transcontinental flight. It is okay for a three hours flight to DFW, but for a six hours transcontinental flight, the meals are underwhelming. Quality is good and I love the salad, but the portion is just small.

Matt started the beverage service first and I liked the real orange garnishes used on my screwdriver.


Here is the menu transcript!
Lunch & Dinner
Appetizer
Fava Bean and Tomato Salad
Fresh fava beans tossed with grape tomatoes, shaved red onion, olive oil and mint, served on mache lettuce with shaved manchego cheese and a lemon balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Contains dairy

Entrées
Almond Chicken
Chicken breast sautéed with sliced almonds, served over red quinoa pilaf with minted lima beans, sugar snap peas, and an apricot rosemary sauce
Or
Mushroom Fricassee
Grilled Balsamic and herb marinated Portobello served on a fricassee of cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, accompanied by a roasted tomato and artichoke paella, and finished with crispy cornmeal-fried yellow tomatoes

Dessert
Blueberry Almond Frangipane
A traditional almond frangipane topped with vanilla pastry cream, studded with Michigan blueberries, and garnished with candied almonds

I have also noticed that there was no longer a placemat to place on top of tray table before meal, and there was no hot towel service. Those items were minor but the impression was a less polished service, which Virgin America First class lacks in the first place.

Starter salad – very lovely salad, but I missed the old trio tapas service.


Entrée – I had the vegetarian choice – Mushroom Fricasse – not as good as the menu said.
You also note that the dessert was served at the same time with the entrée, which did not look very good for a transcontinental flight. I honestly think dessert should be served after entrées were removed.


Wonderful bread roll though – focaccia roll with dried cranberries


Dessert


The airplane salt and pepper shaker is still here


Matt was pretty good with the beverage refills. I just went to sleep and watch TV throughout the rest of the flight.

Discovery of the flight = Honest ADE Pomegranate Blue – very good and refreshing drink and as stated, just a tad sweet – good healthy drink with not much sugar but some nice flavoring. Not sour at all! Chex Mix goes well with it.


As promised, I took a few pictures of the seats in the lounging and sleeping positions.


Descent finally began at 7:33pm PST and it was a beautiful evening here at SFO. We were in not too much of a hold and landed on R/W28R at 8pm, and parked at gate 50 four minutes later. It was a nice and comfortable flight.
The plane would go to LAX next at 9pm. Busy schedule for these A319s!

In conclusion, my feeling about Virgin America remains the same – it has nice hardware, but soft products are sort of inconsistent. Just hit and miss! The inaugural festivities were creative and I like the fun political theme, but as an enthusiast, I really will like some cool inaugural gifts – nothing fancy but a simple pin showing that we were on the first flight to DCA, or a nice certificate, which was always good. Have the pilots and David Cush signed it! Those are cheap to print but will have a lasting impression. Jetblue has destination posters for inaugural flights, which are always nice and appropriate. Virgin America could start a new tradition by issuing special pins for inaugural flights or even those environmentally friendly shopping bags would be good. It will also be nice if the staffs make an effort to mingle with passengers too – something that Jetblue staffs did well. Don’t just talk among your friends! Go talk to the passengers, like the DCA agent, who chatted me up a bit, while I was waiting for the return boarding pass. Senator Lee did a better job reaching out to this elderly family with their adopted Asian son in SFO, while other VX staffs just chatted among themselves. Since you are selling yourself as a different type of carrier, just go talk to passengers and see if they have any special needs. Make small talks and sell your brands! As if they are new to Virgin! Sell your brand and make customers want to come back!

Virgin America’s first class also needs some polishing and updates, and I felt that the meals were still underwhelming and transcontinental flights should feature a more elaborate meal. Starters can be slightly larger and bread rolls should be served along with starter salad, not with main course. Those placemats were useless so I did not miss it much, but real linen should be used in first class if VX finally improves its financial situation. Dessert should be served separately in transcontinental flight and hot towels were something nice to pass out towards the end of the flight. I will also have the F/As do the snack basket rounds a few times throughout the flight. They should also activate the meal and beverage ordering system in the first class seats, so we could also order snacks and beverages too without using the call buttons. The F/As have to assist in the main cabin during flights. At least the printed menus should include a list of snack choices available for first class guests.

Thanks for reading!

Carfield


User currently offlineFlyingFan18 From United States of America, joined Apr 2012, 85 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 6888 times:

Great trip report! Shame they didn't do more in the giving out department. I wish I could fly Virgin America more. Sadly I don't go to Cali. that much!
- Justin


User currently offlinejwhite9185 From United Kingdom, joined May 2007, 1148 posts, RR: 4
Reply 6, posted (1 year 8 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 6740 times:

Good insight into Virgin America there. Hoping to fly them myself next year, although on shorter hops between LAX-SFO and SFO-LAS.


A300,A319,A320,A321,A333,A343,A346,A388,732,733,734,735,738,741,742,744,752,763,772,77W,788,Q400,DC10,E145,E170,E175,E19
User currently offline767747 From United States of America, joined Jan 2005, 1881 posts, RR: 25
Reply 7, posted (1 year 8 months 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 6237 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

Thanks for sharing, Carfield! It was good to read about a unique trip - how exciting to fly on an inaugrual flight. Virgin America looks very nice - but the food always seems very small, and not much of an offering in First Class. Perhaps they could make the dishes more plentiful - instead of a tiny salad on a plate as big of a saucer! Drinks look good though.

I hope to try them sometime soon!

Best,

Matthew (767747)


User currently offlineMSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2472 posts, RR: 15
Reply 8, posted (1 year 8 months 9 hours ago) and read 5443 times:

Hi

Great report, thanks for sharing.
VX sure has an impressive product, really sets it's standard in the US.
Interesting Obama was on the Inaugural as well.

Greetings
Marc



Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
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