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Virgin America Flight Review

August 13, 2007 at 9:49 AM | by | ()

We were on Virgin America's inaugural flight last Wednesday from JFK to SFO, and posted a full report last week. However, many of our readers wanted to know how Virgin America would perform once revenue flights were up and running.

Fair enough. With that in mind we arrived at the SFO international terminal last Friday night to board a 9:10 PM Virgin America flight to JFK, scheduled to arrive at 5:45 AM the next day. What did we find? Lots. As a caveat we would add that Virgin America is a brand new airline, and it just so happens to have the best cabin slash in-flight features we have seen on an airline. With that in mind, you should know we are rooting for them. We too want air travel in the U.S. to be a pleasant experience.

Ok, enough, here is our Virgin America flight review.

Flight details: August 10th 2007
Scheduled: Leave SFO at 9:10 PM :: Arrive JFK at 5:45 AM
Actual: Leave SFO at ~11:00 PM :: Arrive JFK at 7:08 AM

The flight was comfortable and the mood lighting actual did help dealing with the red eye. Seat pitch of 32" wasn't a real issue for us, and if it wasn't an issue on the red eye, it won't be an issue. However, we understand many taller than average folks may feel differently. We covered Red in detail earlier, so no need to rehash that now.

Ok, so the flight was late. Big deal right? It happens, especially if you fly SFO to JFK. Well, let us tell you about some concerns we have about Virgin America's flight patterns. First, our plane to JFK was coming to SFO via Los Angeles. We all know the LA to SF route is hardly the pillar of on-timeness. Our plane did not arrive until an hour after our scheduled departure. Add in de-boarding and getting the new passengers and crew on the plane and you have a two hour delay.

A two hour delay alone, when flying west coast to east coast, isn't the end of the world. Catch a bit of a tail wind and you can pound out that flight in under five hours easy. The real issues came when we arrived at JFK. Our plane arrived on the tarmac outside terminal four at JFK. We de-planed and boarded a bus which brought us to the terminal. Next we worked our way down to baggage claim and waited for our baggage. Again, not the end of the world, but something about boarding a bus after a red eye always rubs us the wrong way. Looking at Virgin America's FlightStats for August 12 seems to back up our experience. Even so, all this can be chalked up to airline newness. Soon, we are sure Virgin America will get a permanent terminal home at both JFK and SFO.

The real issue is this -- if you are planning on connecting once you get to JFK, forget about making any connection within say four hours of your scheduled arrival time. Put another way, schedule your JFK connecting flight four plus hours after your VA flight to JFK is scheduled to land. When you factor de-planing, retrieving baggage, Air train, possibly taking not one but two buses, you just can't get around needing that layover cushion.

In any event, once Virgin America adds more destinations, which is happening early this fall, there is a very good chance these early scheduling kinks will be a thing of the past. In a best case scenario you will be able to take VA all the way to your final destination, which is much easier than connecting through another airline.

Our advice? For now, ride Virgin America point to point and you will be extremely happy with all the in-flight options. However, if you fly VA coupled with other airline connections, prepare for some possible snafus during this "beta" phase.

Your turn. Have you flown Virgin America? Put your flight reviews here.

Related Stories:
·   Virgin America Coverage [Jaunted]
·   Our Virgin America Tour [Jaunted]
·   Jaunted on Twitter [Twitter]

Archived Comments:

Well your ARTICLE underlined ZERO information!

So back to the article: please inform us regarding the seats, in-flight service, the selection of coloring on the aircraft, the toilets... did they work? Were the crew members polite and professional or were they DOGS and POWER hungry as most American flight attendants?

It is PATHETIC that we have put Richard Branson and his company through unnecessary protectionist BULLSHIT to get his company off the groud because we are NO longer interested in fair competition. I HATE flying within the United States because it is worse that a boulder hemorrhoid in your asshole.

Congratulations Virgin America on beginning the process to clean up the sloppy American travel industry. I pray and hope that you are successful. Teach the lousy and belligerent US carrier industry how they MUST treat paying customers. I hope you put all American carriers out of business for their crummy, shoddy, and disrespectful condescending behavior and lack of standard services for yyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrssssss.

Grade A Consumer


I want to state that no one has been more excited to hear about an affordable, comfortable, stylish airline that files out of SFO, instead of Oakland, and into LAX, instead of Long Beach or Burbank.   The virgin america experience is good and fun and modern, but the backbone of quality service is not there.  I have officially flown on four VA SFO-LAX or vice versa flights and every one has been delayed for asinine reasons.  Just this past week I was delayed three hours for an hour flight because the pilot was double booked on another flight.  We waited for a pilot to show up with no ETA as to when such a ridiculous mistake would be rectified.  I have been repeatedly underwhelmed by VA.  I hope against hope that these issues are just growing pains but airlines are not known for maturing well.  Please, Air Colbert, make flying fun again!

VA LAX/JFK Round Trip

While I was preparing to fly the recently launched Virgin America for the first time last week I had mixed feelings.  The VA website looked fairly cool especially the mood lighting, but the "elevate sign in" wasn't working, so I couldn't help but think "I hope this is not a foreshadowing of my trip".

My flight was scheduled to leave LAX at 7:00 AM so I had to get to the airport very early.  My driver to LAX was savvy enough to know to drive approx. 3/4 of the way around the departures horseshoe to find Virgin America rather than to drop me off at the Virgin Atlantic terminal which is barely 1/4 into the LAX departure horseshoe.  In my not so humble opinion Virgin should have stuck with Virgin USA.  Another Virgin "A" name compounds the confusion.

At the terminal the VA representative greeted me with a friendly smile literally at the curb as I was getting out of the car and asked me if I had already checked in over the Internet or not.  I had, so he pointed to the elevator and instructed me to go up the elevator and told me which gate to go to.

I always look for the appropriate signs and read the departure screens for verification when traveling through an airport so it threw me off when I didn't see any Virgin America signs to validate that this was indeed the elevator I should be taking...especially when the signs at the elevator stated "Continental Only".  I told the airport security person that was checking boarding passes at the base of the elevator I was going Virgin America and he let me proceed. So I figured I must have understood the directions from the VA rep correctly after all.  So on I go...

I get to the top of the elevator and I'm thinking did the VA rep say 37a or 37b or was it 39a or 39b?  Hmmm, no problem I'll take a look at the departure monitors and find my flight...Virgin America wasn't listed.  Now I'm thinking well thank goodness I got to the airport with time to spare in case I have to go back down stairs and get instructions again at the curb.

Finally, I get to the gate that I believe I am supposed to be however if it wasn't for the aircraft with the name Virgin America paint on it parked at the jet way I would not have had any confidence that I was at the correct gate because there wasn't any Virgin America signage to be found at the gate.  Early passengers like me kept showing up and asking each other, "is this Virgin America and is this the gate to JFK or SFO"? In about 45 minutes the crew showed up and it was soon sorted out that the SFO flight was at the next gate, I had made it to the correct gate.

Time to board...I always purchase two tickets when I fly because I am an oversized person and need the extra room to travel comfortably. I just get my own seatbelt extension out of my carry on luggage and push that pesky arm rest between the seats up & out of the way take my seat comfortably.  This way I don't have to concern myself with spilling out into someone else's seat and imposing on them and no one has to worry about me.  One little problem however on this flight and this is very important to big people who fly to know about that is as of now, the arm rests in the VA Airbus A320 DO NOT go up but about ½ way!  I had no choice but to stay on that flight if I were to make my meetings on time in Manhattan, so I sat in my seat sideways for the painful 5hr 25min flight to JFK and the just as painful 6hr 15min back home to LAX. Uggh!!!!

The flight attendant was very apologetic and said that it's "stupid" that the arm rests don't go all the way up and that VA has already decided to have them all reworked so they will go up so as not to interfere.  She really did feel bad about it and offered me a free movie and snack.  Also, when we got off the plane at JFK she met me at the gate check in desk and explained to the VA rep that I had to sit sideways in my seat for the entire flight and asked the VA rep to see what can be done about refunding the cost of the second seat.  She really did everything she could under the circumstances.

Now about Red...clearly VA has work to do on their Red system.  It's nice when it works.  The mini plug for the ear buds was very loose fitting for the seat I was in so sound was intermittent at best, but the receptacle for the seat next to me was somewhat better so I used it.  That meant that I used both seat's units in order to watch TV.  Each of the computers had to be reset during the trip.  Not sure why but it was only a minor inconvenience.  I am one of those who like to monitor the progress of travel on the built in GPS software.  The GPS for my seat got stuck over the state of Utah.  Even when we landed the GPS said that the plane was still over Utah.  Several of the channels were not yet functional while a couple were working on and off during the trip.  The only good channels available were CNN and BET.  Everything else was pretty much undependable.
The trip back was pretty much the same except that the gate at JFK was much better marked and GPS software worked this time.

Upon arrival back at LAX my driver (different driver than had taken me to LAX) had a very difficult time finding the Virgin America arrival terminal, as a result he was late finding me and picking me up.  Thank goodness for cell phones or he never would have found me. Even his dispatcher couldn't find which terminal VA arrivals were.  My driver said that there were not any Virgin American signs out.  I didn't see any either but then I wasn't looking for them too much I just was interested in getting in the car and getting home as it had been an uncomfortable ride sitting sideways in my seat since leaving JFK.

Will I travel Virgin America again?  Certainly after they get those arm rests to lift all the way up and out of the way.  I am confident they will get the bugs out of Red in due time. The service was excellent and the mood lighting is cool and relaxing but do me a favor will you?  Just let me know when the arm rests problem has been fixed.  In the meantime its back to Delta and American for this wide body.
LAX to JFK Traveler

uncomfortable seats, no live TV

Seems that they've taken all the cushion out of the seats in order to make room for the fancy electronics, most of which don't work anyway. The headphones they give you are terrible -- hard to get both channels working, and then as soon as you move one channel goes out. My Sony headphones work fine, though. I've never experienced such uncomfortable seats on any airplane -- wooden planks would be about the same. And the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system isn't ready for prime time yet -- only about four TV channels work, and they repeat after about an hour. The live TV doesn't work at all. So even though they're promoting the IFE as a market differentiator, it's not worth much yet, unless you want to play crappy 20-year-old public domain video games. Even the radio stations repeat after less than an hour. I've flown three flights so far and haven't had very good experiences. Once I finish up the trips that I've booked, it'll be back to JetBlue for me!

First Class was first rate

Flew round trip during th '07 xmas season from IAD to SFO and back.   Before this year, United had the only non-stop for this route.   All-in-all, I have to say the first class experience is significantly improved from United, and for less money.    

Check-in.  Online check-in would do me no good, because I had bags to check.  At IAD, the VA counter is hidden in a back corner of the airport.   There was a separate line for 1st class, but no one was at that desk.  However, the line was only 1-person deep anyway, so I was handled quickly enough at the regular counter.  Staff were freindly, and IAD has an express line through security.  Also, VA prints your baggage claim number on your boarding pass -- a huge plus, cutting way down on the number of pieces of paper you need to hold and keep track of.  

Bad weather in DC the day I left. About 1/2 of United's flights were canceled or delayed, but mine was indicated as on-time. Yay!

Getting to the gate. VA's gate is at the far end of D-terminal, where there is a bar, restaurant, newsstand, and plenty of room to spread out and plug in a laptop.

Boarding was a little slow -- took them more than 40 minutes to turn around the plane arriving (from LAX?).  So we didn't start boarding until the announced take-off time, and left the ground about 20 minutes late.

The flight itself was very, very nice! The seats are super-comfortable, recline way past 45-degrees, and have extensive leg/footrests that even for a 6'1" guy were comfortable.  There is a "massage" feature (whose buttons could be clearer) and basically what it does is slowly pump the lumbar support in and out (no popping a quarter in the motel bed :) ).  There was a "real" a/c plug for my laptop, but I never had to use it, because the in-flight "Red" entertainment system was terrific.  Dozens of movies and shorts to watch, music to choose from, and games to play.  Really made the flight go by FAST. No one was participating in the online chat as far as I could tell -- I don't see that feature lasting.

Staff were really pleasant and upbeat.  They seemed to like their jobs.   On my flight they wore reindeer antlers (except during the demonstration of the life jacket), and one had her nose red as "Rudolph".  Pilot and co-pilot were in business casual, instead of fake-military uniforms.

Food service in First Class was stylish, but lackluster in taste and portion size.  My salmon and veggies were overdone to the point that the fish had the consistency of day-old gum.  I definitely recommend that 1st class passengers not board the plane hungry on a long flight.  Drinks, however, were great -- many good choices for wine and spirits (e.g. both Dewars and Glenlivet).  

Other drawbacks seemed minor, or even "be careful what you wish for".  The mood lighting was very pleasant, but on my night flight I did have a bit of trouble sleeping because they keep it on during the flight, and with the great recline, you're facing right up into it.  Easily fixed next time if I bring an eyemask (but it would be nice if they had some on board).  Reports about limited under-seat storage were accurate, but I still managed to get my full laptop bag under it, so, no biggie.  There is no coat-rack (clear plexiglas bulkheads separate the cabin) but I -gladly- accepted the extra recline space for this small insult to my jacket and the mild sensation of being in a fishbowl.

(I'm comparing this whole experience to United, where half the time I wind up with a seat in "First Class" that was built in 1978, with little recline, no working power-port, and not even a headrest with wings so you can actually sleep against it.)

Despite the slightly late start at IAD, we landed a bit early at SFO at the International terminal.  Bags were a LONG time in coming, which was disappointing, but that terminal is especially easy to get in and out of, so the trip to the rental car was a few minutes shorter.

Return flight was similar and quite pleasant (nice crew, staff, seat comfort, etc.), and I note the following:

  • Again, there was a separately-marked line for 1st class (I was the only one in it) but no one at the counter.  However, someone -walked out- to help me, and checked me in.  

  • Security was pretty quick at SFO, even though there wasn't a separate line for 1st class, as there is at IAD.

  • Again, the plane was delayed about 30 minutes (not announced until about 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure).  Again, though, the flight arrived at IAD on time.

  • For those in coach (and presumably 1st class, but I had my screen stowed) there was a video this time for the safety briefing, which was charming and a bit snarky.  ("And for the .0001% of you who have never operated a seat belt before....")

  • This time I had the pork, which was tastier than the fish -- better able to handle extensive microwave nuking.  

  • Again, it took 50 minutes between arriving at the gate and luggage arriving at the carousel.

In sum, my experience was much better than it would have been on United, and may actually be the best I've had on any domestic flight.    On the outbound flight, there were 2 screaming babies within 3 seats of me, but I hardly noticed.  Both planes were 100% full, but didn't feel oppressive.  The food, baggage, minor delays were nothing compared to the cheerfulness, comfort, attention to detail and efficiency that is behind this airline concept.  

With experience, the staff will only get better at the rough spots.  The bones of this airline are excellent, and I plan to fly them again.

Opened bags, loose and missing items

My partner and I just flew Virgin America for the first time from SFO to JFK with a brief transfer at LAX. We arrived in NYC on January 5th, 2008 to find that our checked luggage had been opened and pieces of the contents of our bags were found randomly scattered on the baggage claim turnstile. The bags were not opened by security as there wasn't proper notification inside. A couple of items were missing, but we are not so concerned with the loss as we are with the lack of care and complete disregard for our private property. We have since spent an entire day's worth of time and energy on the phone with various VA representatives who have not been helpful in any way. We also could not find a single Virgin employee at the airport who could help us after we discovered that our bags were opened. If an employee is stealing items from passengers' bags, then why isn't Virgin America taking responsibility for this?! I can assure you that we will never fly Virgin America airline again. I have never had anything like this happen and it feels like a total violation. Please help to spread the word of Virgin America's horrible service and the worst customer assistance ever.

damaged bag/ lousy customer service

So last week I went to LA, and because I thought it would be super cool, I forked up the extra cash to fly Virgin America on their new New York/LA service (or their "New York to Los Angeles" or their "Los Angeles to New York" or their "NYC to LA" or their "LA to NYC" flight, just so Google can get it right). I was so stoked by this super cool experience that I half-hoped to write a review of sorts, wherein I would extol the virtues of comfy seats, purple lighting, excellent cheese plates that can be ordered on demand, new release movies at my finger tips, mostly friendly flight crews, and a hip crowd of customers, and I was even going to forgive the exorbitant price of the food and the new release because my plane ticket was under $300, which if you aren't familiar is a pretty good deal for a cross-country flight. I was even going to say some b.s. thing about how flight service could be an art form. And when I wrote this review I wasn't even going to mention what happened to my luggage because I just knew that a company as cool as Virgin America was going to take care of that little problem with no hesitation because after all, they are brand-spanking new, and why wouldn't they do everything in their power to make happy repeat customers? Well, I didn't write that review because I figured why waste valuable space and time promoting a huge corporation with my little blog that I write for free? Also, I kind of wanted to see how the situation played out. You can guess how it's played out, but let me tell you a little story.

I have this black rolling duffel bag I bought last year and have used about 4 times. While it was only $50 and came from Target, I loved this bag. Since I turned over my granola-eating, trail-trekking days with a hiker's pack for my rock and roll artist's lifestyle and the need for costume changes between days, I've needed a larger bag but have always hated conventional luggage. So I immediately fell in love with this duffel bag that looked good and could be rolled like a normal carryon when it was full of too many shoes or hucked onto my shoulder when I was in a hurry or needed to lug it up and down subway stairs. Also, it fits perfectly on the luggage rack of a plane, so I have NEVER checked it. Until last week on Virgin America's flight from LA to NY. I was standing in baggage claim at JFK (Oh yeah, I forgot: "LAX to JFK" or "JFK to LAX" on Virgin America) and thinking how from now on I would pay just a little bit extra to fly the groovy skies whenever I had the chance because I was actually in a good mood after flying. Then my bag arrived. My bag arrived with a foot long tear in it like someone took a knife to it. So I took it to the Virgin America baggage office where I filled out my little form and was then told that my ONLY option was to send the bag to a mysteriously named entity called The Fixery who would then either fix my bag, which as the woman working there agreed would most likely not be possible, or replace it with a - ok, get this - "comparable piece of luggage," meaning that since my bag is no longer available and is generic, they would be replacing it with any ole bag they choose. Maybe some of you more sane people see no problem with this, but for me, who is clearly insane, it goes without saying that if someone (be it an individual or a corporation) ruins something you own, they should not have the privilege of just replacing it with any old thing. I wish I kept a list this week of my response to each and every representative of Virgin America who explained to me that this was my only option, but they went something like this:

    "So you mean that if I was walking down the street and I bumped into you and spilled coffee all over your nice new dress, I would not have to give you cash or buy you a new dress of your choice, I could just give you whatever dress I felt like and that would be fine?" (In this case the response was: "But it would be new.")


    "So you're telling me that if I walked up to you and took your purse off your shoulder and took out a knife and slashed a long gash in it, you would be ok with me just handing over whatever bag I felt like?" (The response this time was, "Well, perhaps it could be repaired.")

    or (and at this point I'm clearly at the end of my rope)

    "So say someone kills your loved one, your wife, your kid. Then what you're saying is that you wouldn't actually want that person back, according to company policy it would be fine to offer a suitable replacement."

As you can guess, none of this worked. And each and every time I apologized very much for my horrific attitude and the fact that I was being so very rude but I was just VERY UPSET no one was willing to help me. After being given the run around, being told to call a different number because the people at the end of the line are not actually responsible, it's actually someone else who doesn't even return my call and though some companies are trying to pretend they're all cool and human and not willing to replace personal assistance with computers, they've taught their people to act like robots and deflect any actual responsibility. After hours of phone calls and hold times I am no closer to getting what Virgin America owes me: fifty lousy dollars. And despite the image they desperately hope to portray, clearly Virgin America does not understand fashionistas or crazy people, both of which I'm pretty sure are their major demographic. And I know, I KNOW, I have problems seeing the big picture, and I get all upset over trivial matters rather than focus on the important stuff, but there's nothing that steams me worse than a big fat corporation who treats their consumers as if they are insignificant - over fifty lousy dollars. I mean, shit, even Starbucks lets me use their bathroom without buying anything and will remake my coffee four times if I think there's something wrong with it. And what's even funnier to me is that it seems as if with policies like this, Virgin America is banking on the hope that their cool, laid back demographic will deal with situations all passive and easygoing-like. Not so.

the only people who leave comments

As for the baggage virgin doesn't go through Virgin for thier bags they hire out a company who does it for them..Which means that the people at the gate or baggage obviously can't offer you money because hmmm once you check the little bag it goes to the other company and you would have to call that company for a refund...plus what other airline has been perfect since day one...it hasnt even been 6 months since they launched and if anyone has not gotten it through thier heads THEY ARE NOT with virgin atlantic WHATSOEVER..so this is a BRAND new company...so get over all the little issues and maybe wait until they have been around for a few yrs..at least they don't trap people on an airplane with no bathrooms or the flight crew doesnt go off on you when you get up with the seat belt light is on..or lock the doors while landing..

Loved it!

I flew from LA to Seattle on Virgin America a few weeks ago. I travel a TON (2-3 flights per week average). I only wish they had more flight destinations. I would pay $100+ more to take a Virgin America flight over any other domestic flight - any day - PERIOD. Flight was on time, landed a few minutes early to our destination, tons of leg space, great entertainment, great gadgets, perfect temperature, FRIENDLY AND HELPFUL STAFF (this is always important, I dislike rude people) and I could go on. My business partner and I (who travel a LOT) vowed to try and find every Virgin America flight stop and take it from now on - that's the only down side. No flights to Georgia, Phoenix, Tampa or Texas :( but the service and staff are superior. No joke. I wasn't even in First Class (sold out). I was in main cabin select and that was better than any domestic First Class flight I had this year (10 total so far). I was refreshed, entertained and the staff are beyond what I would expect. Keep up the great job! Now...when do you add new flight destinations????

One of the better airlines in the US

Of course that is not saying much. Airlines in the US are pretty bad. I refuse to fly any US planes if I don't have to. At least Virgin is a little better. I will take Virgin when I get the chance when traveling just in the US. I found it a little more comfortable and the staff is good.