I flew Virgin America for the first time today for one of my semi-regular trips from San Diego to San Francisco. Normally I fly US Airways or Southwest, but Virgin was actually the cheapest option and I had been wanting to try them out, so I gave it a whirl as they advertise as having one of the best traveling experiences. Ultimately other than nicer seats with outlets, Virgin is much like any other airline, just with a little more lipstick on the pig that is the American flying experience.
The Boarding Experience
Like all other airlines except Southwest, they board in zones and have a handful of groups that somehow come before “A” as if no one ever taught them how the alphabet works, but overall no more or less painless than most other airlines. Still, points for not boarding out Southwest does, where humans are treated like cattle and herded into pins and pitted against each other by passive aggressively confronting other passengers to make sure they lined up in proper order, which they never do.
Verdict: Tie with all other airlines except Southwest
I gave them points here – the seats are very comfortable the interior of the plane is a step up, as the planes seem very new. Each seat has an outlet to charge your computer or phone (yay!), a little extra leg room, and a TV in the head rest. The outlet is the only real game changer here IMO, but much, much appreciated. Overhead space and the width of the seats seem no different than any other planes. I fly on an Airbus A319, for what it’s worth.
Verdict: Virgin is the clear winner here
The Amenities & Flying Experience
The plane has GoGo internet, but so does everyone else at this point – and GoGo is terribly slow, so while it’s nice to have internet it’d be great if someone could find a way to provide internet access that didn’t feel so 56K dial-up. The plane also has cool ambient lighting, but that doesn’t do much for me, as well as the TVs with entertainment systems which is cool I guess but I bring my iPad for that anyway, so not really that important to me.
The plane does has a nice layout and the pilot doesn’t interrupt passengers as often as other airlines with silly updates such as our altitude or visibility and allows the passengers to relax with minimal noise or interruptions. I’ve never understood why pilots feel the need to broadcast flying conditions to the passengers, this is all irrelevant information to us.
Verdict: slight advantage to Virgin for having newer planes, but no game changers
Their website certainly looks the most modern of any airline I’ve flown, and I like the Elevate Members portal; however, I struggled to change my itinerary (the site simply wouldn’t allow me to change my flight, nor offer a reason why) and I wasn’t able to get ahold of customer service on the phone due to wait times over an hour long. So while the website looks cool, I’m not convinced its any more functional than other major airlines.
The Service & Timeliness
Virgin still struggles with the same drama any airline would – my flight was delayed over an hour, communication and updates were pretty sparse, and then we sat on the tarmac for another hour for undisclosed reasons. Ultimately no matter how comfy the seats, it’s still the same old flying experience I’m used to – a necessary yet tedious experience where one plays by the rules of the FAA, rarely arrives on time, and can’t wait to get off the plane by the end of it…
Verdict: Same as an other airlines
Ultimately I will treat Virgin like any other airline and fly it when its cheapest or most convenient, but not go out of my way to fly them. My guiding rule will continue to prioritize cost & convenience, and in case of tiebreakers go with whatever airline I have the most miles to, as amassing Silver or Gold status on any given airline really does make a huge difference in the comfort and experience of flying.