Virgin America Economy Class (Main Cabin Express) Report
Aircraft Type: A320
Class: Economy Class (Main Cabin Express)
Route: LAX – CUN
Date: 06th November 2012
Full images available here (apologies, large images so can't upload without completely taking over my town's bandwidth): http://wp.me/p2mH8F-gn
Best for: Cheap tickets to cool destinations, with less emphasis on cheap, more on chic.
Most likely to sit next to: If you were me, slightly larger Americans laden with neck pillows, that didn’t get the memo that it’s a cool airline.
Business or pleasure: Wifi? Why not. But Actually. Why bother? Heaps of movies, streaming satellite TV and more music than a record store. Eat, Drink, Watch. Be merry.
Routes: Not enough. By far. Sadly, their expansion plan has slowed to a snails pace. Still, good destinations…. think cool designer hotel, think Virgin America destination.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Elevate. Now actually worth using. With loads of miles partners all around the world, and now completely seamless with other Virgin Airlines.
Best bits: A movie whilst at the gate? A waiter in the seat in front of you? Or… Cooler than cool mood lighting.
Worst bits: Weird map that thinks there is nothing outside the US and the check-in experience.
So this is my first experience of Virgin America, and I’ve been dying to try them since they first mentioned they would start flying. With cheap flights, and a direct connection for a much needed flight between LAX and Cancun, there was a prime opportunity to use them. When booking the tickets, the ‘First’ cabin was totally unoccupied, and whilst I was going to look at upgrading my ticket 6 hours before the flight, when I tried, there was only 1 seat left. Amazingly this seems to be common practice with VX, as they don’t offer complimentary upgrades like the rest of American Carriers. (Something I actually agree with)
The Check In
The check in process wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Being an international flight (one of the very few ones that Virgin America actually fly) we were made to check in using a dedicated ‘International Travel’ queue. With only two check in desk clerks, the whole process was a little slow. Arriving into the terminal however, there was design oozing everywhere, with a dark (perhaps too dark) check in area and designer tables, flowers and TV screens all offering a very ‘different’ check in environment.
It was also a chance for me to experience the new Banana Republic Virgin America Uniforms. Which, I have to say, I was disappointed with. In flight, they looked sharp, and cool-relaxed. In a terminal, in a busy area of constantly moving people, the uniforms disappear, and actually watching people trying to navigate their way through the check-in process, the staff on the passenger side of the check-in desks were always overlooked, and mistaken.
After a 30 minute queue to check in, and processing the bags, the TSA experience was an absolute shambles. It still shocks me how US security takes so long, how they manage queues, passengers and move people around to try and organise their so called ‘channels’. After 70 minutes after arriving we made it to the main terminal building. The gate announcements were made from desks situated in the middle of the terminal, which seemed a little strange, not sure if it’s a normal thing, however, free WiFi, lots of seating, charging points and views of the northerly runways at LAX meant enough to keep me occupied for the few minutes before boarding.
One thing evident here was a huge gaping whole of a lounge / Clubhouse in the terminal, however, that is meant to be done by the end of next month. Looking forward to seeing the product when it is launched.
Sitting in seat 5C, a couple of rows behind first class, it was easy to keep an eye on both service offerings. I was immediately jealous of those passengers in front of me, with large white massage chairs, free entertainment and beverages and food offerings. However, relaxing into my seat, it was easy to see my hours were going to pass quickly. Black leather with white shells and large, bright bold ‘red’ entertainment systems adorned my view, whilst being bathed in a super cool neon blue, moody purple and luscious red mood lighting throughout the cabin. What’s more, a fully working entertainment system. Here’s a tip, if you don’t have headphones, take the headphones in the terminal by the gates (with $2 honesty box attached) so you can start watching the entertainment whilst still sat at the gate. Otherwise you have to wait for the crew to come around after take off.
Sadly, I wasn’t sat next to the smallest couple. And whilst eating into my space, it did make using my armrest and controller in the armrest almost impossible. Also, a point to note, one of their TV’s stopped working mid-flight. However, the seats aren’t too narrow, and managed to use the aisle to my advantage. After a trolley service of drinks and food, the service switched to the onscreen ordering system, where you ordered and paid for your food at the seat and have it brought to you. A great idea, however, it takes a while to get the initial food offerings, as there is obviously a back order.
There were a couple of free movies and TV shows, along with satellite TV (Which on our flight stopped after about 2 and a half hours, due to leaving the borders of the US) However, one weird mention, is that the Google Map decided that Mexico just didn’t exist. There was no sign of Mexico on the screens, instead just the plane flying into a large white rectangular cloud. Virgin America when asked, hinted this as being an out of range of the satellite range of the US, however, I checked this out at the gate, and it still didn’t exist. If you are going to fly to places, make sure they show on your map. Surely! Still, a nice touch using google maps.
After about 2 hours and stretching my legs and chatting with the crew, they found out I was a pilot, and next thing I know, I have the CSD coming down to me from first class, sitting next to me and my partner, offering us free wine out of a glass (It was more amazing than it sounds), instead of plastic, offering us food and wiping off any credit card charges I had encountered on the flight. Whilst I know this is an unusual circumstance, and not readily available to most passengers, it shows the caring nature of the cabin crew, and this isn’t the only US airline that I have seen this with. It’s a great friendly element to US carriers and I was very grateful.
Before too long, and watching Virgin’s own brand movie ‘Departure Date’ the plane was descending to Cancun to land in tropical paradise. During the flight, we filled in perhaps the biggest immigration forms known to man, and when we disembarked, there was VX staff checking our forms before heading to immigration, which was welcome, as they were catching missed elements on the forms that other travellers on other airlines were being caught out at the border with, delaying them getting to their baggage. The baggage took a little while to come out, but much fast than that of Virgin Atlantic’s luggage, who landed before us with people still waiting for even the first bag to come out.
I am so glad to fly with Virgin America. It’s perhaps even slightly better than their website shows. A full flight means they must be doing well, although I paid much less for my flight than I expected. Especially booking only 2 weeks before my flight. Sadly though, the cool airline seems to be suffering from an identity crisis, as walking through the cabin, it looked more like a rag-bag mix of people, obviously just taking the flight as it was the cheapest option. The cool element stops with the hardware and software (crew). I guess I was expecting LA cool on my flight, and ended up with UN cool. I just hope they continue to grow and start to turn a profit, as the airline has a great recipe for success, and think that it will do well in Europe, if ever the product was to start there. Who knows, with the recent launch of Virgin Atlantic regional flights, maybe it will!