Nov 22nd, 2007
So, Thanksgiving day weekend, forget about trying to non-rev. So my partner and I decided to buy tickets to fly up to San Francisco. We decided to fly Virgin America between LAX
and check out all the hype...
We checked in at the kiosk at LAX
for the 630am flight to SFO
, easy enough. The red color VX
uses really brightens up the rather drab ticket counter environment. We waited a good half hour in the security line then proceeded to the gate and found a nice spot to wait, sitting face to face with a Continental 767-400. Upon arriving at the gate, there were at least 10 VX
employees huddled around the gate podium trying to check in - not sure if they were trying to commute to work or non-reving home for the holiday as well. Again, the modern white gate podium with purples and reds has a nice look but unfortunately, it stands outs and contrasts too much with the rest of the old terminal. The VX
décor simply looks out of place.
We waited and waited. 20 minutes till departure, we still haven't begun boarding and no announcements had been made. Boarding finally begins. I don't mean to be critical, but when everyone seems to complain about having reservation agents in India answering the phone, it's no better to have somebody making announcements at LAX
that you can barely understand or their English is poor -- for a domestic flight.
Pre-boarding begins and then group A. An off duty VX
employee wearing a uniform jacket and jeans tries to board ahead of everyone, but the gate agent stops him and asks him "Do you have a boarding pass?" He replies "Uh, No." The agent informs him he sorta needs a boarding pass in order to travel. A+ dude.
Stepping onboard is very interesting. After boarding through a very brightly lit jetbridge, you set onboard into a very dimly lit cabin becoming enveloped in purple light. It was kind of hard for the eyes to get used to as you couldn't tell if it was getting dimmer or brighter. Anything white glowed almost like in a black light. We passed thru first class which was quite nice with plenty of legroom, and into row 3. We splurged the extra $15 each for a bulkhead since my partner is 6' 7". I loved the thick heavy white tray tables that ejected towards you with a touch of a button. They were certainly sturdy and substantial, made of a high quality white lacquered plastic and nice that they weren't stowed in fixed armrests. But the middle tray table kept popping itself free every few minutes and had to be pushed back in and stowed.
We continued boarding. I noticed that the purple acrylic bulkhead that separates First and Main cabin was very narrow, no way for two people to pass each other. As a flight attendant, this would bother me especially during boarding when trying to move back and forth, you'd have to either halt boarding at the aircraft door or otherwise have people stepping into the legroom in front of seated First class passengers. With the bulkhead being so narrow and tall, you could also see how it was in fairly bad shaped being scratched up by passengers' bags and zippered jackets as they walked pass.
We waited for departure and turned my attention to the TVs. I heard how they had been having problems and sure enough, our flight was no exception. Computer code filled the screen and an announcement was made that they were trying to reset the TVs. After that, no other announcements referring to the TVs were ever made.
I then noticed anytime the Flight Attendant made an announcement, a single chime from the PA system preceded the announcement. I wasn't too impressed with her PA's. Completely scripted and informal, you could see her reading them at the door which prevented the sense of friendliness and down to earth they were probably meant to deliver. I don't like it when the airline tries to be my friend, simply be my airline. The sing-song "if you need help, go ahead and press the flight attendant button, that's what we are here for. Thaaaank Yooou." PAs as well as the "Your inflight team PROMISES to do our best for you" announcements was cheesy and sounded if they were trying too hard to be friendly and different. We push back 10 minutes late.
Time for the demo. The cabin still filled with mood lighting, they turn on all the reading lights to try and add some extra light. Again, more cheesy announcements like "A special message from our friends at the FAA. This flight is designated as one giant no smoking zone" followed by the guy who had to demo back and forth for First class and at the main cabin bulkhead. He would demonstrate nicely for First then walk to the main cabin bulkhead and seemed to be irritated that he had to do it a second time for the riff-raff in coach and really did a sloppy job like it wasn't a big deal.
Take off was smooth, normal. Within minutes of taking off, still climbing steeply, the lead was up starting her service. 50 minute flights aren't long at all. She took orders for all 8 First class passengers with a tray and hotel pen. I thought it would have looked nicer to have taken orders two at a time for each seat bank and deliver them instead of writing them down and making a the first class passenger wait another 10 minutes before they got their beverage. She then passed out snack boxes. The other two flight attendants began their service behind us with a cart. We continued to wait. The lead then came out to main cabin and took orders for the first few rows of coach. I had a diet coke. She seemed frazzled. Perhaps she felt she was rushed. Perhaps she didn't like walking all the way back to coach with a tray, but it seemed like she couldn't hand me my ice and can fast enough. And that was all we got for an hour flight. Just a drink. No peanuts. No snacks. I was surprised because of all the hype about being different. I guess I was expecting at least a little something.
Seatbelt sign came off. I don't know when because when they are turned off, they don't make a chime sound. However, when they turn on, not only do they make a chime, the seatbelt sign flashes about 5 times -- I was concerned at first, like "what the heck is going on?!" The only time lights or signs flash on my airline is cause something is wrong! But seeing as the flight attendant continued to read hear magazine and drink her coffee on the jumpseat, it was obvious there was nothing unusual.
During our descent, I noticed the TVs in first class were working and looked behind me and it seemed like other people were watching TV
, so I guess it was just the bulkdhead TVs that were INOP. Considering they never said the reset was completed or successful or we never noticed others we watching, all 6 of us in the bulkhead sat there with a frozen TV
. We landed in San Francisco and had a quick taxi to the international terminal. It was a rather uneventful flight and nothing special.
So, this flight left me rather unimpressed. Their uniforms aren't that great. Black button down shirt and charcoal gray slacks for the men. The women had white shirts and black skirts, but I thought they looked like manicurists at a day spa. I thought the Captain was a gate agent but later saw him leave the flight deck. They have no epaulets (stripes on shoulders), but instead have pins on the end of each shirt collar with 3 or 4 strips - looked like cuff links! There was minimal contact with any VX
personnel considering tickets were purchased online and check it was done via the kiosk. Onboard, I only received a hello during boarding and only saw the flight attendant during drink service and trash collection.
The only thing I liked about Virgin America was the cabin - minus the mood lighting. The high quality materials and the colors were very W hotel-ish, it would make anyone feel like they were stylish and traveling hip. There was a cutout/hole in the armrest to access the remote control while still cradled in the stowed position that proved to be a little annoying. You couldn't rest your arms or elbows on the armrests without them sitting atop the edges of the cutout and becoming sore after a few minutes. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but it cuts down on comfort. The mood lighting was kind of bothersome because it was always dim -- how are you expected to arrive fresh and alert when you just sat in a dark tube for a few hours? The reading lights are dimmer than normal too, but it was nice how they fade when turned on and off. I could see how it would be miserable to work a flight in that kind of mood lighting if you had a hard time sleeping on a layover or had jetlag. I wish the crew had been more attentive and inviting.
My over all impression is that Virgin America over promised and under delivered. They literally promised per an announcement made by a member of the "inflight team" for the best flight possible but left me thinking I could have spent $35 less and flown American or Delta Connection, not have left at such an ungodly early hour, and received the same service minus the purple light and stylishness... but it was all for the experience. I can now check them off my list.
"Sucka, I'm gonna send you out on Knuckle Airlines. Fist Class!!" ~ Mr. T