Thursday, May 29, 2008

Virgin America and the future of Air Travel

Flying from LA to San Francisco on Monday night, I sat in first class. This is not because I am ridiculously wealthy - it is because I noticed only a $30 margin between the first class and coach tickets. This seemed like a perfect way to end my short trip, and I would be able to review Virgin's first class features. We flew Virgin in coach last month to New York, which was still quite the experience given all the hype surrounding the airline's various in-flight features. While most airlines are floundering, Virgin is attempting to succeed through both enticing entertainment and cheap tickets. The airline of course makes up for the cheap ticket by charging for extras such as food, movies, etc. This what Wired's Chris Anderson might refer to as the "Freemium" model - "1 percent of users support all the rest."

So, how about the features? Everything about Virgin's aesthetics are posh and slick. Even their waiting areas at the terminal look ten times cooler than the surrounding ones. Inside, you would think you were flying in an iPod, with the white seats and overhead purple lights. The opening safety video is animated and funny. You have your own personal television screen from which you can watch cable television, order and watch movies, listen from a catalog of MP3s (that includes Beck, Mark Ronson, and Amy Winehouse), listen to a number of streaming radio stations, play video games, and even order all your food and drinks. The touchscreen food ordering is exceptionally helpful and convenient. The streaming radio stations (including one curated by RCRDLBL) seem like a great way to discover new music, except for the fact you cannot see the song or artist name. While all this is cool, you still cannot change certain people's flight etiquette - the dude next to you will probably hog the armrest, and the lady up front will probably learn her chair back and get totally in your grill. At least the features make it a little more bearable.

First class is a whole different story. I would say that 50 minute flight had to be the best flight I've ever taken. I was one of the first to board, had plenty of room to stow my bag, and sat down in a seat with more than enough ample legroom; it was great. The staff was very attentive - mixing up drinks before takeoff. I kicked back pulled out and adjusted my personal television and proceeded to try out the cable tv. Most of the channels weren't working, so I checked out some on-demand shows. I watched episodes of The Simpsons and 30 Rock and threw back a few drinks. They also brought everyone a posh box, with small portions of mushrooms, noodles and yogurt. First class was amazing, and I really have zero complaints about it. I arrived home just high on life.


Allison said...

"Inside, you would think you were flying in an iPod, with the white seats and overhead purple lights."

Brilliant description!

I'd like to fly with Virgin sometime, but I don't think the wallet will allow for it. Unless I score a deal, like you did.

I remember taking the Eurostar a few months back and being blown away at the champagne bar in the waiting area.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You high roller, you! I think you made premium use of your 50 minutes in first class. Did you do some training in preparation?

Never have I flown first class. sigh.