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
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
Chicken breast sautéed with sliced almonds, served over red quinoa pilaf with minted lima beans, sugar snap peas, and an apricot rosemary sauce
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
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
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!