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.