We have always wanted to try Virgin America. And yesterday, we finally got the chance, flying from LAX to JFK. And we have to say, Virgin America’s technology is something every airline should be aspiring toward, although it is by no means perfect.
Every airline we admire has something that stands out about it. Something that makes it different. Southwest Airlines, offers a distinctive gate configuration, boarding process, and customer service experience. JetBlue pioneered LiveTV and offers a consistent and free product we love.
But Virgin America has taken their in-flight entertainment system to a new level of complexity. You can order not just movies on-demand from the in-flight entertainment system, but drinks and snacks. Swipe your card, and the flight attendants will bring it to you.
We tested the system. Those of you following our live-tweeting @FlightWisdom may have caught us tracking its progress. The initial drink took an hour to arrive, and only did so after we asked a flight attendant about it. Apparently, we’d been missed, even though we watched the drink and snack carts pass by us during their initial run(see picture).
. Non-alcoholic beverages are the only free item. They do not provide snacks for free. We did not see how these orders are received and tracked by the flight attendants closely(it appears to be a tablet computer), or how a dispute over delivery of an item you paid for might be handled. But we choose to consider this atypical, because every other drink we ordered was brought in less than ten minutes, most less than five. We did not order any snacks, though they looked good.
We also didn’t watch the In-Flight TV for any length of time, or order any On-Demand programming for free or pay. But we did check it out. It boasts a program guide, which is a feature JetBlue, our usual LiveTV airline does not, and uses Dish TV, as opposed to DirecTV(which JetBlue offers).
So, why weren’t we watching TV? It was because of the In-Flight Power and In-Flight Wi-Fi…and our trusty netbook. If you bring your own entertainment, you don’t need theirs, not that it wasn’t nice and it didn’t look enjoyable, but with powerports, we didn’t have to worry, even though we had a 5 hour battery. And with wi-fi, we could do do work, livetweet, etc. We have wished it, but after a five hour flight, we say that Every Plane Should Have Wi-Fi. And we know soon most will.
We did enjoy the zoomable Google map that Virgin America offers. It is a vast improvement on JetBlue’s LiveMap channel, which we’ve critiqued before. But, most of the improvements are attributable to the fact the system is interactive. It even has a chat features, which no one appeared to be using.
Finally, there is the mood lighting. The cabin, instead of harsh white lighting, offered a dim purple lighting that created ambience and did not disturb.
Now, many of the features offered are common, but not on discount carriers, and not on domestic service. On-demand has hit international flights, and is getting quite common there. Even the Panasonic systems are not limited, although Virgin’s implementation, known as Red, which is being expanded to add new features, is.
Seats are industry average at 32 inches, Main Cabin Select seats, which is a premium economy product, are located in the Economy/Main Cabin at the bulkheads and Exit Rows. Passengers not only get the seat at 38 inches of pitch, but dedicated luggage bins, and refreshments. The First Class product offers a 55 inch seat pitch in the front of the aircraft, with massaging seats, and on-demand for free.
Virgin America is a great little airline. One we hope other airlines are inspired by. But we don’t doubt they will be. The only reason most of this technology isn’t on more domestic flights is a matter of money. But the airlines are starting. We just have to wait.
We’d spend more time on them, but they are a West Coast airline. As we are a primarily East Coast based blog, we are likely to spend more time on airlines with greater coverage in our area. But we’ll certainly think of them the next time we’re heading west. If it works out for us.
We do have more pictures, and may be posting them, as appropriate.
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