Virgin America Rocks

I just got back from the X-Ray Kid Google Lively ship party in Los Angeles, which was frankly awesome and merits a post of its own as soon as I can get photos to go with it. But for now, I just have to write about Virgin America.

Virgin America is a relatively new airline, and frankly, it's the best one I've ever flown on in the continental United States. Period. There is no better.

Not only are the flights comparable in price to other airlines (eg. Alaskan - hithertofore my favorite airline), but they somehow have managed to do something no other airline has in a very long time.

They're classy.

No, seriously. They care about the traveling experience, and it shows.

The view from the seat. Look at the pretty mood lighting. It's positively forcing you to relax

Not only are they running a fleet of brand new Airbuses, but they do lots of little things to take the edge of. Little, psychological things that you might think wouldn't really make a difference, but do.

Like putting flowers at the check-in desks and at the gate. Which isn't a big thing... but it's nice. And it makes you feel more comfortable.

All their staff are probably the friendliest people I've ever seen in an airport. Ever.

They have mood lighting on the plane, which makes for a more interesting experience than the usual horrible white fluorescent lights.

Free headphones that they hand out from bins in the gantry as you get on the plane.

Free soft drinks - the first round of which is delivered to your seat standard style. After that, you can use the in-seat entertainment system (which you can use to play Doom, or watch a movie you can buy... or watch free TV and TED Talks - which kept me busy for over an hour because they're always worth watching) to order more drinks, which they'll bring to you personally when they have a moment.

Which is freakin' awesome.

It's also the first airline where the pilot (Lloyd, on flight 715 from LAX to Seatac, 6:35pm, 8/24/2008 in case anyone wants to pass this on to him) made a personal point to come over to me & Darci (who were waiting to see if we could upgrade to exit-row seats because the check-in systems were down), and to thank us for flying Virgin America, and for our business, and to tell us that he was going to be flying us to Seattle today, and he hoped we'd have a good flight and that the gate people would be there shortly.

Darci and I stared at each other. We were sure he had been drinking - or something. And then a little while later, he got up again and left the crew who were waiting for their flight to come in, and introduced himself to another passenger.

No, he hadn't been drinking. This is old-school airline hospitality, the like of which hasn't been seen since the days of Zeppelins. And you know what? It's so sad that this is so out of the ordinary these days that we thought he was on something. Because you know... that shows class. I have more appreciation for Lloyd and the Virgin America crew because of that small gesture than I would have ever thought possible, and I had a much more enjoyable flight because of it.

Virgin America guys, and Lloyd in particular - in fact, all of the crew of that flight (and the prior one I took on Friday) - you totally and utterly rock. You have literally made my flying experience better than I could have imagined would ever be possible in today's world of cutbacks and penny-pinching. And it didn't cost you a dime.

BTW: Exit row seats? They're counted as premium, and will cost you somewhere between $50 and $15 to guarantee that you get one. Frankly, I'm more than willing to pay it to guarantee the seat. Their upgrade to 1st class is cheap too - $200 on the flights we were on. We didn't take advantage of it, but maybe next time. (Darci hates to fly, so this is a good tradeoff).

In seat entertainment system...

... running Linux. Unfortunately, it had totally crashed and would not boot up at all on our flight down to LA. Fortunately, we got free drinks and food for the entire flight because of this...

It's not all roses though...

Written on the flight from Seattle to LA:

Unfortunately, the Linux-based in-seat entertainment systems keep crashing. They've tried resetting them, but to no avail. They just hang on startup at the initial login screen.

Yay. Linux. Thank you, you wonderful Open Source operating system, for all the free drinks and food I'm getting on this flight. Knew you were good for something!

Although to be honest, I'd rather have seen the movies. Either way, next time someone tells you that Linux never crashes, never blue-screens, never dies... just let them know: yes, it does. Except it doesn't blue-screen. It just hangs and sits there. Which is worse, because now I've spent over 30 minutes of this flight just waiting, hoping, pleading with the cute red screen in front of me... praying that it will turn into entertainmenty goodness.

Also, on the flight back from LA to Seattle, the self check-in desk systems were all down. So far as I can tell, those ones run Apache Tomcat on Windows. The desk people were incredibly nice and helpful though, and we got past it all without a hitch.

For some reason, Virgin has a LOT of computer issues (issues with its web-based train booking system caused problems for me & Darci earlier this year - but the Virgin Trains team went above and beyond to fix the problem for us as well). Small glitches aside though, their overall level of quality service just puts them head and shoulders above everyone else in the industry. They really rock. Am I saying that too much?

So far as I can tell, this is because they actually care about service. They care about making sure you have the best experience possible. They really do. And that's as rare as hen's teeth these days.

Give them your money. They deserve it far more than Continental, US Airways, Delta, or pretty much any other airline out there. They deserve to succeed, because they're making travel an experience that hasn't been around in this country for at least 20 years. And frankly, given how much of a pain traveling in coach is, it's worth it.

Photos taken from Dave Zatz's collection

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

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