/ / / /

Our Virgin America Tour: In the Belly of the Beast

March 13, 2007 at 9:40 AM | by | ()

Welcome to the Virgin America A320. Our name is Jaunted and we'll be your guide. If you're wondering how the impending launch of this value airline--so dubbed because no one's yet sure about exact pricing--will affect your travels, read on. And you should be wondering, because the legacy airlines are shaking in their boots. That's usually a good sign.

Let's start with the coach cabin. It's a 3x3 seat configuration with mood lighting throughout the cabin. HotelChatter editor Juliana, upon viewing the above video, perfectly compared the moodily lit environment to that of a tanning bed. This is too, too true, but we liked it and actually found it relaxing. The lighting will be adjusted based on the time of day you're in flight. That's a bonus if you wear contacts, which can make your eyes super light sensitive after a long red eye flight.

Now for the seats themselves.

More, including a photo gallery, after the jump.

They're pretty black leather, as you may have already heard. We found the padding to be remarkably comfortable and plush for a steerage product. The white seat backs are quite attractive. We were, however, disappointed with the 32" seat pitch (33" on VA's A319s). While 32" of legroom is pretty standard within the industry, we were hoping VA would find a way to go above and beyond in the comfort department. After flying an updated JetBlue plane with 36" of seat pitch in the front rows, we really noticed the difference. A flight on Virgin's inaugural route (between San Francisco and New York) could be tough (we will have to wait and see)--but that's where the electronic distractions come in.

It's worth noting that Virgin America's plane aisles will likely be clutter-free. Flight attendants will pass through once for beverage service, and the rest will be handled via the IFE-based food ordering option. FAs receive and view food orders in the rear galley.

In-Flight Entertainment:
Virgin America's on-demand entertainment system, Red, is, as the kids these days might put it, dope. Detractors point out that it's not unrivaled in the global market, but that's beside the point. Virgin America is not a global airline, it's a domestic one, and this is hands-down the most advanced and entertaining IFE in the country.

...and it plays DOOM! Sorry, it's going to take a while for us to get sick of that. Anyway, perhaps you've already learned a bit from Chuck Ogilvie's YouTube tour and Engadget's excellent tech coverage, but here are some more luscious details for you to digest.

That's a close-up of Red's chat feature. It's an interface that allows you to join multiple chat rooms--with just one user of your choice, the whole plane, or whoever is watching a particular television channel--and spew away using the QWERTY keyboard embedded in the IFE remote. We found the keyboards to be easy to use and as comfortable as you'd expect, and certainly something a seasoned Blackberry or Treo user wouldn't blink twice at. We were also disturbed by how much we enjoyed the chats, and while using them became paranoid that we were actually trapped in an episode of VH1's "I Love the '90s." Not that the technology is outdated, but it will definitely appeal to the part of you someone you know that used to chat on AOL.

Movies are for-purchase and there will be a healthy selection of 'em. You'll be happy to hear that movies will be shown unedited and in all their R-rated glory, thanks to a parental control feature that allows prudes responsible parents traveling with tots to pick and choose what their kids have access to.

As for the streaming music library, you'll be able to save playlists with a frequent flier number and access them on future flights. Nice touch.

One question we wanted to ask ourselves was: "How rich is the complimentary content? Would a passenger be able to entertain himself/herself solely with complimentary content on a 6+ hour flight?" Yes, he/she definitely would, as chatting, music streaming, and some TV and games are free. You'll pay extra for movies, premium channels and premium games, but there's also more than enough free content.

Overall, we found the Red interface to be intuitive and easy to use.

Now for first class...

There are eight seats in Virgin's first class, semi-separated from the main cabin with translucent purple dividers. As you can see, each first class seat is wider than its coach counterpart, similarly plush, and features bendable reading lights, pull-out IFE screens, and fancy, illuminated recline controls. We thought the seats were very comfortable. They're much better than what we've seen on Continental's domestic F, especially when you factor in the IFE. We're curious to see what the pricing premium will be on those babies.

Coming tomorrow: Additional video footage and insider tips. How do you feel about Virgin America so far? In what naughty or inoffensive ways would you use those chat rooms? Based on what you've seen, what's the most you'd pay for a transcon in VA's economy class? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or by emailing tips [at] jaunted [dot] com.

Related Stories:
· Let VA Fly [Official Site]

Archived Comments:

Tanning bed lighting be damned

this plane looks pretty sick. i'm actually pretty excited for it! and i can already see random couples falling in love, using the red chat. "i was in seat 2b..." "and i was in seat 22b." "and we started chatting on the in-flight entertainment system..." "and it was love at first type."

More tanning bed talk...

Juliana, if the first thing you thought was tanning bed, I now truly believe you're "a Jersey Girl at heart." To me, it looks more like one of the levels on Doom... Total in-flight synergy!