On Sunday, I flew one of Virgin America’s (VX) newest routes; Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Los Angeles (LAX). I’ve flown Virgin America before, but only on a short hop from LAX to Seattle (SEA) so I didn’t really get to experience what it’s really like. Well, here’s my play by play.
CHECK-IN: Check-in at the FLL Airport was smooth as can be. It took less than a minute for the friendly agent to print my boarding pass and check my unusually large bag, which normally costs $20. Since I was a guest of Sir Richard’s it was free.
MAIN CABIN SELECT: There was no line at security, so I zipped from the curb to the gate within 4 minutes. Although I was a guest of Virgin’s, they didn’t give me a special seat (9D) on the A319 aircraft. It was comfortable, but a bit tight since I had a 6-foot seatmate. I contemplated upgrading to Virgin America’s “Main Cabin Select” (MCS), which are regular coach seats but with more legroom. I couldn’t justify spending $100 for an exit row or a bulkhead seat, especially since only middle seats in those two rows were available. The upgrade does come with perks, though, like priority check-in/boarding, designated overhead bin space, free drinks, food and an all-access pass to Virgin’s in-flight entertainment system (NOTE: 11 out of the 12 seats were taken).
TOO SHORT OF A FLIGHT: Virgin America has two flights a day on the FLL-LAX route. The first leaves at 7am and the other at 7:20 pm. I was on the latter and I planned on getting a lot of work done since I was playing all weekend on the Oasis of the Seas. Each VX seat comes with a 110-volt power port so you’ll never run out of juice. However, the moment I walked on the brand new plane and remembered the mood lighting (which just makes me want to sleep) and their individual 9-inch in-flight Entertainment system called Red with 24 live channels of satellite TV (CNN, ESPN, Cartoon Network, BBC), a variety of video games, MP3 music files, 25 pay-per-view on-demand movies and premium TV shows, I knew it was going to be too short of a flight. And it was. Actual flying time was 5 hours and 10 minutes.
FREE WI-FI I didn’t even mention the remote is a keypad so passengers can type; either messages to fellow passengers or surf the net using Wi-Fi. What’s crazy is that, thru January 15th, Virgin America is offering free Wi-Fi to all its customers thanks to a partnership with Google. It’s pretty mind-blowing to be 37,000 feet up and communicating with your friends and family below you via email or IM (they block Skype and other VOIPS). It’s even more mind-blowing that I was tweeting with colleague Spud Hilton from the San Francisco Chronicle who was also in the sky, but on a FLL-SFO flight. You have to love technology.
ON-DEMAND FOOD: This was the first time I was able to try VX’s on demand food/drinks by using Red. I ordered a chicken wrap ($9) and a bottle of water (free) but it took the flight attendants a good 20 minutes to bring it to me. I’m going to give them a pass since it was right after take off and the flight was very turbulent, but I’m anxious to see how quick they normally react. FYI: They still come down the aisle with the drink/food cart twice and there are all kinds of choices from Patrón Tequila ($8.99) to soft drinks (free) and snack choices like Chex Party Mix ($3). They don’t take cash, so have the plastic ready.
AWARDS: There’s also plenty of bottled water in the back near the bathrooms so passengers can grab one whenever they like. Why can’t all the airlines do this or be like Virgin America? No wonder they have been winning all kinds of awards like Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers? Choice Awards for ‘Best Domestic Airline’.
NOTE: In addition to serving LAX from Fort Lauderdale, Virgin America offers twice-daily service to SFO. Virgin’s closest rival, JetBlue, has also begun offering those same nonstops.
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Virgin America