Virgin America review

This weekend I flew to New York City and decided to try Virgin America. They received some press when they launched mostly around the cool lighting and seat-back computers. Here is my review:

Service: A
Online check-in was painless and everyone was super nice. The flight crews even have a sense of humor.

Comfort: B
The seats, although leather, aren’t more comfortable than any other airline seat I have been in. The leg room is comparable with airlines such as JetBlue and Frontier. I would say United and US Airways have a little less legroom. Having power outlets under the seat is great, although I didn’t use them since there isn’t WIFI yet.

Technology: C
Although the seat-back computer systems (called “Red”) are cool and full of potential, they are currently full of bugs. My experience included the following:

  • Most of the TV stations don’t work at all. On the flight back, the flight attendant said they are scheduled to fix them in an update next month.
  • Slowness — on screen display is very slow and lags behind what you are trying to do, making the touch screen hard to use. Most games are not playable because of the lag.
  • On the way to NYC, half of the computers on the plane (including mine) didn’t work at all for the first part of the flight. After a reboot, they started working again.
  • On the way back, my remote stopped working half way through the flight.
  • The TV is on a 4 hour loop so on a 6 hour flight (NYC –> San Francisco) you get to watch everything 1.5 times.

Food: B
No free food or snack provided in coach on the transcontinental flight. Both are available for purchase, although the selection is very sparse. On the “food” side, you can choose from a sandwich or a cheese and fruit plate. I think each was around $7 or $8. What is really cool is that you order your food and drinks via the computer in front of you. Simply navigate the touch screen to select what you want, add it to your shopping cart, swipe your credit card, and it is delivered to you within minutes. This is how you order both paid for (food/snacks) and free (soda) stuff. This seems WAY more efficient and I suspect most airlines will start doing this at some point.

Price: A-
Pricing is in-line with the other major carriers, but the routes are very limited. There is a surcharge if you want to sit in an exit row or in the first row behind 1st class because there is more legroom. On the flight from NYC to SFO, the surcharge was $25 which was almost 20% of the one-way fare. That seems steep to me.

The Verdict
I have already booked another flight on Virgin America, albeit a much shorter one (SFO to LAS), but I think for the longer flights I will stick with Jet Blue for now until Virgin America can work out the bugs with their TV system.

14 responses to “Virgin America review”

  1. Flown BA to/from the US, Continental to the US and Virgin from the US.

    Virgin beat the other two by a long way.
    Continental just seemed to be in a lower league.
    BA was trying hard but not getting there.

    So it’s Virgin all the way there and all the way back too. I think I need to tell someone this .. 🙂

  2. […] blog review from David Winer. Another blog review. BoingBoing […]

  3. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  4. Glad to find this information, I am planning a trip to NYC in March and am selecting airline now. I’d point out to Mark that his good experience with Virgin Atlantic might not turn out the same with Virgin America, which I think is a separately-run airline.

  5. I’m about to take my first flight on Virgin America, but I already have a complaint. I shelled out the bucks for a first class round trip ticket between NYC and SFO and booked TWO months in advance. Because I have a back problem, I need an aisle seat for long flights, so I can get up and move around during the flight. Even though I chose an aisle seat two months in advance and have the printout to prove it, when I checked my reservation two days before taking off, I discovered that the airline had changed my seat to a window seat without asking me.

    When I called to complain, they had no explanation for the change and could not change it back. Though very nice and polite, the most they could offer is that I could ask to be moved when I check in at the gate at the airport. This is unacceptable for first class — even with Virgin America prices, it’s still not cheap.

  6. 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.

  7. I booked a flight for three people online but made an error. I did not discover it until a few days later. They charged me $40 apiece ea to change the flights, could only give us a decently priced flight there and could not get a flight back below $250 apiece. We were told to call back later, could change withing 24 hours, no problem, no fee. Checked in next day, morning, to see if anything turned up. Turned out the flights below that range were all booked. So we had to cancel the new flight. $40 apiece, despite what we were told. All total, $240 for nothing. They do not refund the money but give a credit only. Beware and don’t take what they tell you over the phone as truth.Will get a different story from each person.

  8. Once you look past the neon light, Virgin America is like Jetblue with less legroom…but with a far superior in-flight entertainment system. And, overall it’s a far superior airline than SouthLeast.

  9. I booked a roundtrip flight from SFO to JFK for about $300. I wanted to change my return flight from JFK to an afternoon one of the same day. The representative on the phone told me that they charged me $40 for changing it and with the price difference between my ticket and the one I am changing to, it came to $370. I thought he was referring to the total cost of my roundtrip. After half an hour, I checked my email and discovered that they charged me $370 for one-way trip (more than the cost of my round-trip)! I called their customer service immediately and told about the miscommunication and if possible go back to my original flight (all this is happening 40minutes after I did the change on the phone). All I got was and apology, a credit refund of $300 and how I was the first person to have this kind of misunderstanding, that their representatives are very clear etc… I was the stupid, dumb person who did not understand their super articulate representative!! With this kind of customer service they are not going to stay around too long! Oh and all the stupid lightning and so called TV service on each seat (which didn’t work 80% of the flight) does not make up for it!

  10. This is a follow-up to my May 15 comment. Today I learned that they put me on my original flight because the flight I changed to got canceled. Yet instead of refunding the price difference they are just giving me credit! I am flying with my original flight and also being stuck with a credit! Their customer service is horrible. They kept me on hold for 45 minutes, won’t let me talk to their supervisor, and treated me in a very condescending manner.

  11. IAN (I think employee# 135101) from first class was checking us in San Francisco (SFO).

    There was two of us with ONE 75 pound lugage.
    So, I stepped aside to re-packed it, then weighed 68 pounds. Only to be hassle again and then asked to weigh my carry on.

    The carry-on weighed 35 pound for two of us.

    The pushy IAN forced us to check our carry-on in because that too was overwieght. Split between two people would have been 17.5 pounds easily.

    Question is did IAN have a bad day with his boy friend or girl friend?

    Doing a job you don’t like is worse than losing your job.

  12. My sister flies Virgin twice month and has been reporting recently that they are going to extreme lengths to keep customers happy, must be the credit crunch!

  13. Thanks very much for your blog. Will eb back!

  14. I had made arrangements for my 83 year old Mother who suffers from some memory issues to fly from Fort Lauderdale Florida to Los Angeles. The Virgin staff were so accomodating it was incredible. The Virgin staff stayed in touch with me via my cell phone to alert me when she was arriving as well as her arrival on her return trip. On her return to Fort Lauderdale there was some confusion as to where her caretaker was to meet her, and they actually called me in Los Angeles and stayed on the phone with me until she was saftely with her attendant. What an incredible airline with the most respectful and caring personal. This shows the IMPORTANT part of an airline. I am less than interested if the T.V. or some other nonsence is not up to par in the cabin, this shows that in an emergency or if someone is in need Virgin America’s staff is on the ball and there to help.

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