Carfield
Topic Author
Posts: 2099
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:49 pm

Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sat Jun 03, 2017 5:25 am

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Virgin America became the first operator of this A321 NEO (New Engine Option) on May 31, 2017, and I was fortunate enough to be a small part of that aviation history. The inaugural route was between San Francisco and Washington DC National, and on June 14, the second A321 NEO will feature on one of the daily San Francisco to JFK flights. San Francisco to Honolulu will the third route, which will begin on August 27, and then effective October 15, one of the LAX to Newark flights will feature the new bird. As the name implies, the fuselage is pretty much the same as all A321s, but the only difference is the more powerful and quieter engines – CFM International’s LEAP 1A-engines, which allows the plane to fly a bit longer and save the airlines more fuel. Virgin America operates a fleet of A319s and A320s, and this progression to A321s makes sense. Unfortunately, the merger with Alaska Airlines will definitely change things. But for now, the A321 NEOs operated by Virgin America feature 185 seats, which is a pretty comfortable configuration, and basically all three cabins, first class, Main Cabin Select (economy plus type product, and Main Cabin are the same as its other Airbuses but there are just some minor updates to the seats, such as adjustable headrests in first class, power ports at every economy seats, and thinner personal TV monitors. I am glad that Alaska Airlines is unable to mess with this configuration (well for now). If the merger would have approved earlier, this A321 NEO may feature a less impressive cabin.

Full Photo Album (just a warning, there are many pictures)
http://s1213.photobucket.com/user/Carfi ... oInaugural

My flights:
May 31, 2017
VX 1 SFO-DCA Lv0800 Arr1615 Airbus A321-200 NEO N921VA “neo kid on the block”

Celebration at SFO
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I have already expected a low-profile inaugural especially Alaska Airlines is not so keen in keeping these Airbuses, but the staffs seemed to be very excited about this new plane. The check in staff told me about the inaugural when I checked in, and was pleasantly surprised that I told her that the purpose of this trip is to fly the Airbus A321NEO.

Gate 54A was our gate this morning. One of the most annoying aspects about SFO’s Terminal Two is these damn dotted windows. You can’t take a single photo of the plane. Thankfully DCA is much better in this aspect.
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Anyway, the gate agents were excited about the new planes and many staffs took the opportunity to take a look at the new plane’s interior. Airbus sent a few representatives to the celebration (but they did not take the flight). Basically, there was a small continental breakfast buffet, and a few poster boards showcasing the name of this plane, “neo kid on the block,” which is inspired by the defunct boy band, “New Kids on the Block.” It is a clever name.

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Some fun words by VX gate staffs
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There was no ribbon cutting and were no speeches made by Airbus or Virgin America’s high-level management.
However, there was a small gift for these special inaugural flights, which is a keychain featuring the Virgin America brand and the Airbus A321 NEO brand.
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Boarding began at 7:21am and I was the first one on board. So, I snapped a few pictures.
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The 8 seats first class cabin is really similar to other Airbuses, but you immediately noticed the adjustable headrests. But the seats are still upholstered in white leather.

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Here is the Main Cabin Select cabin, which is Row 4-6, and unlike the smaller Airbuses, the exit rows are not considered Main Cabin Select, which make sense because of the design of the exit doors in Airbus A321s. Those exit row seats on A321s are really not that great, especially there were no windows. I will have more pictures of the Main Cabin on the return segment.

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Back to first class, seven out of eight seats were filled (same with the return, and I have a feeling that they blocked 2D for some reason).
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There are indeed some minor changes. The seat control panel is brand new and the seats are controlled electronically, except the headrest. I like this panel better.
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The power outlet is also updated.
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The major change is the new PTV. First, you cannot pull out the PTV manually, but you just touched a button. However, the F/A told me that it was a “spring-based” not eclectically controlled. It is easier than before. The new PTV is also thinner but the interface is the same. They are still using the same RED entertainment system.

Button to push the PTV out
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There is also an additional headset jack and USB Port on the PTV itself now.
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Seat pockets are similar but a bit updated. There is now some under seat storage for passengers on Row 2 because of the smaller entertainment units. You can fit ladies’ handbag and a small backpack.
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The new central beverage table – retractable
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Tray Table
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I like the new finishing, but if you are expecting a brand new first-class seat, I am sorry to say that it is just a “refreshed” version of the reclining seats, which are still good. I just flew a 4 hour plus flight on Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ERS, and will certainly miss these comfortable reclining seats when they were phased out on mid-2018.

Another new addition is the retractable overhead monitor for first class cabin, and the F/A no longer needed to do an awkward safety demo for the 8 first class passengers, especially the dance and song routine. However, Virgin America perhaps needs to update the safety demo soon. It is really getting tiring.
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New A321 safety card
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Pilot making his welcome speech
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We pushed back on time at 7:57am and I snapped a few pictures of these VX planes, as we headed towards R/W1R.
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We took off at 8:12am and today’s flying time was a short four hours and forty-one minutes, with a cruising altitude of 35,000feet and later 37,000feet.
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One thing I like about Virgin America is that they will turn off the seat belt sign quickly, when things are smooth.

Luckily, I got two seats to myself this morning, and noticed that 2D was also empty on the return. Maybe VX was holding off one first class seat, just in case of issues.

I immediately reclined the seats and took a few pictures of them in recline mode. I wanted to do it before cabin service began.

Really nice comfortable seat
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New four ways adjustable headrests
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The lavatory no longer had the music on, and looked pretty much the same as before.
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Airways magazine had a writer on board this flight, and each passenger got an additional gift, which was a Virgin America first A321 NEO commercial flight pin. I look forward reading that article.
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Menu and amenity kit (Washington DC theme of course) next
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Please note that this is still the Spring menu.
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Jackie was the leading flight attendant this morning, and the service was your typical Virgin America style.

Smoothie shot – only available for premium flights
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I had the frittata, which was average, but I like the fruit bowl with coconut chia pudding.
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As of any new aircraft, there was some teething problems, and Panasonic sent a staff on this inaugural roundtrip flight. The technical guy was checking on data throughout the flight. The new system was very sensitive to aircraft movement, and LIVE TV, which I used the most especially as a political news junkie, kept on going on and off.

The new A321NEO of course feature the VIASAT WIFI, which was apparently free on these inaugural flights. It was a smart move because I would definitely ask for a refund if I actually paid for it. It was also very unstable and trying to login to the system using my iPhone was actually difficult, but not my MacBook Pro though. The situation was worst on the return flight. It was barely usable. Virgin America and the VIASAT team definitely had their works cut out for them.

Freshly baked chocolate chip cookie was offered mid-flight along with bottled waters. I love these warm cookies.
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Snack basket was also available in the galley with the usual Dean & Deluca items.
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Descent soon began at 3:19pm and after some turns, we were eventually cleared for landing.
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We landed on R/W19 at 3:53pm.
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To my surprise, there was a water canon salute welcoming us at DCA, but the passengers were not that excited. Only a few people cheered and no one clapped.
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We parked at gate 24 at 4pm and thankfully DCA was much more photo friendly.
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The celebration here at DCA was even less exciting but there was at least some beverage and cake.
I love inaugural cake.
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Then I moved to the corridor between these concourses and finally snapped a few photos on the “neo kid on the block”. I got better pictures the next day.
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Just a note about baggage delivery time, ten minutes were pretty remarkable. Priority tag bags came out first too.
 
Carfield
Topic Author
Posts: 2099
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:49 pm

Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sat Jun 03, 2017 5:26 am

June 1, 2017
VX 2 DCA-SFO Lv1720 Arr2020 Airbus A321-200 NEO N921VA “neo kid on the block”

After a relaxing day here in Crystal City, I went back to the airport around 2:30pm. I wanted to make sure that I was able to take a few photos when the inbound arrived and parked at gate 24. Virgin America got a really good gate and gate 24 was right next to the window. I managed some great shots even using my iPhone 7.

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The inbound landed early once again and I managed to snap some great photos as “NEO kid on the block” taxied into gate 24. It is just a beauty to look at.

I noticed a bit more activities on the tarmac, as the staffs were still getting familiar with the new longer aircraft. The ground staff was discussing about turnaround time, and when the plane pushed back from gate, the staffs were more aware because of the length of the fuselage.

The load was 124 passengers (out of 185) this afternoon and I have a feeling that they are not booking a full load yet, just in case if they have last minute aircraft swap. It was not unusual for a new aircraft type. Anyway, most high schools are still not off yet, so it is a bit quiet.

Boarding began at 4:42pm and this time, I asked the F/As if I could snap a few photos in the Main Cabin before the crowd came in. They said “yes,” so I took all these pictures within minutes. It is a very longer plane. As you can tell, the configuration is a bit different from A319s/320s. However, they use the same black leather seats.
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First, Main Cabin Select is strictly in front of the plane.
Legroom
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Legroom on regular row
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Second, there is a jump seat next to the pair of seats, 8EF.

Third, there is a mid-cabin lavatory in front of door 3 and then two bathrooms in the aft. There is no mid-cabin galley.
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Fourth, all the exit row seats (8ABC/EF, 21BC (no 21A), 21DEF, & 22ABC) do not have windows, except seat number 22A.

21BC – right next to exit & 22ABC
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21DEF
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There is almost no under-seat video box now and there are now power outlets at each Main Cabin Select and Main Cabin seats. (Photo – regular Main Cabin row/seats)
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Basically, I will avoid these eight seats, as they are the worst in the plane.
Row 7– no window, no recline, and tighter legroom because they are located in front of exit row.
20DE - same reason – and also jump seat next to this pair

In general, the cabin looks fairly comfortable and Virgin America, as of now, does not squeeze in huge number of seats. But not sure if Alaska Airlines will change it.

My seats 1AC
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Door was closed early and we pushed back at 5:18pm. Things were busy here at DCA, but not too bad.
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We took off from R/W1 at 5:38pm for the five hours and twenty-three minutes flight. We stayed at 34,000ft most of the time, but climbed up to 36,000ft for a short period of time.

Taking off from DCA
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Passing Dulles
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The return flight was fairly good and I finally got a nice three course dinner served course by course.
I chose a different entrée this time, and the pasta primavera was strange, as they used fava beans this time. The dish lacked seasoning and the return menu was disappointing. Many passengers actually chose sandwiches from the Main Cabin menu.

Warmed mixed nuts
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Starter
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Pasta Primavera
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Chocolate Mint Tart – delicious
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Lots of great scenes today
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Over Colorado
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Over Sierra Nevada
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Cookie of the day: Freshly baked M&M chocolate chip cookie
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As I said earlier, WIFI was still acting up and I was unable to login or even go to the paying page. I gave up on this flight. The laptop situation was better and I think it was still free for this flight. However, I could barely use it.

The TV situation was pretty rough too. The Live TV Feed was weak and I saw this scene a lot.
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Thankfully things improved as we got closer to SFO. At the same time, I could not get the right sound for few of the channels and the TV froze and restarted on its own four or five times. It was getting unstable towards the end of the flight. There was no longer a Panasonic technician on board, but he was there to greet the arriving flight. I presumed that they would work with the data. There are still many technical issues with it. Hopefully it would smooth out soon.

It was a beautiful day here in the Bay Area!

San Jose airport
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We landed on R/W28R at 8:01pm and there was a China Airlines A350 landing at the parallel runway.
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We parked at gate 51A eleven minutes later, and next to “San Francisco Pride,” a fitting plane for the Pride Month. It was also one of the few classic Virgin America A320s that I have yet to fly on.
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In conclusion, I hope you will enjoy this trip report and get an idea about the Virgin America’s new A321NEO cabin.

Carfield
 
DY789
Posts: 47
Joined: Thu Nov 24, 2016 12:05 am

Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sat Jun 03, 2017 7:55 am

Enjoyable report. Looks like a very welcoming cabin.
Flights for 2017:

LGW - HKG - LGW. CX A359
LGW - LAX - SEA - LAX - LGW. DY B789 + AS B737
 
ba319-131
Posts: 8214
Joined: Sat Jan 13, 2001 1:27 pm

Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sat Jun 03, 2017 4:49 pm

Nice read and pictures Carfield, thanks for sharing.

Catering looks good on the return flight.

Best Wishes

Mark
111,732,3,4,5,7,8,BBJ,741,742,743,744,752,762,763,764,772,77L,773,77W,L15,D10,30,40,AB3,AB6,A312.313,319,320,321,332,333
 
N415XJ
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Joined: Thu Aug 14, 2014 4:04 pm

Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sat Jun 03, 2017 5:39 pm

Great trip report. I've always been a fan of the modern and highly unique look of the cabins on Virgin America. I really hope Alaska keeps some elements of it once the merger is finalized. The catering looked delicious, too. I really need to try out VA soon!

Also, it's interesting that the art on the amenity kits still show Obama. I wonder if they'll depict Trump when they get updated (personally I think they should avoid showing any political figure on such things, even if it's in a fun and lighthearted way).
 
Carfield
Topic Author
Posts: 2099
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:49 pm

Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sat Jun 03, 2017 7:39 pm

Thanks for all your kind comments!

Honestly I did not even notice that Obama reference till you pointed it out. But honestly for most Virgin America's passengers, that is possibly okay.
Plus there are plenty of other cities that you can choose from.

Carfield
 
dcajet
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Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sun Jun 04, 2017 1:18 am

Congratulations on scoring yet another inaugural.

Now, it seems interesting to me that VX still has the older interior on these A321 NEO, as I flew on LATAM's latest A321 CEO and it already had the new, A350 style interiors, with new bins and all.
"Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten"
 
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jeffh747
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Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sun Jun 04, 2017 4:45 am

Great TR! I joined you on the inaugural to SFO! I'm glad to see that First got a couple nice tweaks, especially the overhead monitor. I do still really like the safety video however.
I'm glad you enjoyed the ride just as much as I did (probably more so :lol:)

Cheers,
Jeff
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ACCS300
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Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sun Jun 04, 2017 3:30 pm

Great report thanks!! The celebration at the gate at SFO looks very unlike previous Virgin parties, totally toned down, graphics aren't innovative, not sexy or fun, looks very Alaska influenced.
 
aeromoe
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Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Sun Jun 04, 2017 5:07 pm

Great report...thanks for posting. I savored the same experience yesterday June 3rd on the same flight, using Alaska miles to enjoy the First Class experience. I hope to do the westbound leg sometime soon.

Moe
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Jetmarc
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Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Mon Jun 05, 2017 1:09 am

I knew I could count on you to fly this inaugural!! Always a job well done, thanks for posting!
"Sucka, I'm gonna send you out on Knuckle Airlines. Fist Class!!" ~ Mr. T
 
Carfield
Topic Author
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Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:49 pm

Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Fri Jun 16, 2017 2:59 am

Just flew the second Virgin America's A321 NEO - N922VA which is named "frances" from JFK to SFO on VX 29 on June 14!
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Everything worked better including the VIASAT WIFI!

I have added my photos of the planes at the album.

Carfield

PS. It seems N921VA and N922VA are alternating between the SFO-DCA and SFO-JFK routes now.
 
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Slash787
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Re: Virgin America A321 NEO Inaugural SFO-DCA May 31, 2017

Mon Nov 27, 2017 3:20 pm

What an amazing report, thank you so much for posting pictures of the first class and writing everything in details.

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