I bought my ticket back to California on Virgin America a few months ago and was really psyched about it. The cabin description sounded excellent, and the fact that they let me pay $25 up front to reserve a bulkhead seat with extra leg room was a big win. Here are some more impressions after flying with them.
The pre-flight safety speech was pretty funny – “If you are part of the 0.001 percent of the population who have never used a seat belt before…” If I flew them all the time, it would probably get old, but the variation on the standard speech (while still covering the same material) was nice.
The inflight entertainment system is excellent. I loved it.
- They had satellite TV to watch, plus two dozen TV shows available without commercials for immediate play – I watched a couple episodes of Dexter since I’d heard good things about the show.
- The music selection of MP3s was decent – I listened to tracks from a couple artists I’d heard about but didn’t know the music of.
- Decent movie selection (I chose The Bourne Ultimatum but there were several I would have been happy to watch). Movies were $8, but it was nice that I could watch it at my own pace without worrying about falling asleep or when it was starting or anything. I could just pause it, take a break, etc.
- Food at my convenience. It was so civilized that I could order the food I wanted when I wanted it. It was $10, but I ordered a sandwich and chips when I started watching my movie, and my meal showed up less than 10 minures into the movie. It felt almost like the Parkway theater.
- The games were pretty cheesy 2002 shareware games, and I didn’t try the “inflight chat” option.
Unfortunately, all of the goodwilll generated by the entertainment system was thrown away completely by the fact that the flight was delayed three and a half hours. It was scheduled to depart at 6:35pm, boarded after 9pm, and then sat on the runway and didn’t actually take off until after 10pm. We didn’t get in until close to 2am Pacific time, and then there was only one ground crew working so we had to wait 20 or 30 minutes for our bags. A friend of mine who had also had delay issues with Virgin America theorized that they get low runway priority since they are a new airline, and that makes sense but is unfortunate.
It actually made me think of the Peak book and its pyramids. No matter how much the inflight entertainment system delighted me, if my base pyramid needs of getting to where I’m trying to go in a timely fashion aren’t met, then I won’t be happy as a customer. So Virgin America has some work to do.
It’s not a good sign for the airline industry as a whole that I ended up thinking fondly of my Greyhound bus experience. The Greyhound may be crowded and slow and sometimes late, but I can literally just walk into the station and hop on a bus 5 minutes later which is wonderfully convenient. For this flight, I had to spend an hour commuting to the airport. Then I forgot to pull my laptop out of my bag before security, so I got pulled over and they had to do a full bag search. And then my flight was delayed hours. I’ll stick to the bus and train whenever possible, I think.