Virgin America, Business Class – A 320: Los Angeles to Chicago

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INTRODUCTION

The Hilton LAX Airport is a noisy hotel. Apart from the aircraft spooling up for departure right outside your window, there is also the noise from inside the hotel. You hear everything, every word spoken in the corridor outside. But it is only for the one night, fortunately.

Today I continue my journey back towards my time zone. On my way there, I will be stopping in Chicago.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: Complimentary shuttle bus.
Departs from: Right outside the hotel lobby.
Frequency: Every 15 to 20 minutes depending on traffic.
Journey time: About 5 minutes to terminal 3.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 3, departures level 2.
Facilities: Curb side check-in, check-in counters, web check-in.

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It is only a very short distance from where the shuttle drops me off to the First Class check-in counters. Everything here is branded in typically Virgin style, with dark colours and magenta light everywhere.

From check-in I head one floor up to security and the gate area. The place is quite busy this morning, but there are no queues worth mentioning and passengers are rapidly processed.

LOUNGE
Location:
In the atrium, on the third floor above Burger King.
Type of Lounge:
Virgin America Loft lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets in the lounge, bar, very few snack options and a toaster.
Internet:
Available, login and password at reception.

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The lounge is okay, but nothing else. It is plain and also slightly grubby. There are crumbs all over the place, no matter what seat you choose.

BOARDING

Priority Boarding: One thing I like about flying in the US is that First/Business Class passengers are boarded first. Of course, this means you have to sit there and watch the entire aircraft file past you. But at least you find space for your hand luggage, which is no mean feat, judging by the copious amounts of luggage that are being brought into the cabin.

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Eventually we depart at 11:54. Apparently the reason for the delay is the bad weather in Chicago.

CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 2
Facilities: Reading lamp, no power outlet.
Audio and Video: Available on demand, complimentary earphones in First Class or for purchase (USD3.-) in Economy.

The other nice thing about flying in the US, is that even the narrowbodies still have a proper, dedicated Business Class seat and cabin. The seats are rather wide and comfortable. The colours in the cabin are unusual and take some getting used to. As I enter the aircraft, all the shades are down to keep out the heat and, presumably, to maximise the effect of the mood lighting. But the black armrests, black bulkhead and magenta coloured glass also make the cabin look very dark and gloomy.

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SERVICE

There are three cabin crew working the flight. The young lady up front is doing an excellent job. She is very chatty and puts passengers at ease. She is also very conscientious about her job. One guy sitting in Economy plonks his large suitcase in one of the overhead lockers in the First Class cabin. But the young lady is not having any of this. She removes the suitcase and takes it back into Economy Class.

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THE MEAL

Hot towel before the meal: Available, but not scented; the quality of the towels is good and they are quite thick.
Choice:
After take-off menus are distributed. Alas, they are collected once I place my order and I cannot remember what the other dishes were.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch, hot meal.
Meal:

  • Salad of rocket with cherry tomatoes, melon and feta cheese, with olive oil
  • Rigatoni with a tomato salsa, beans and cheese
  • Bread and butter
  • Mini chocolate tart with fresh fruit

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The service on Virgin America reminds me a lot of my trip to Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines last year. First of all, as previously mentioned, the crew on this flight are really nice. Furthermore, you actually receive a meal and not just a packet of crisps.

The meal tray is set up by the flight attendant, it has not been prepared in advance by catering. The quality of the food is good, although the hot meal might have been heated a little more. Again, our flight attendant shows a lot of attention to detail and warms the plates in the oven before she starts preparing the food. During the flight, the crew pass through the cabin with a basket of snacks and other goodies.

I spend the rest of the flight reading and gazing out the window upon the sheer vastness of America. It really is quite an amazing place. Our flying time is just short of four hours, at the end of which we are not even remotely approaching the east coast. In contrast, from where I live in Switzerland I can cross the boarder into France or into Germany within a matter of twenty minutes and I find that quite normal.

ARRIVAL

Eventually we land with a delay of a bit more than one hour. Our approach brings us in over the lake, with the skyscrapers of Chicago peering out of the clouds to our left. The taxi to the gate takes quite a long time, and strangely enough, it does not say anywhere which terminal we are arriving at.

GETTING INTO TOWN

Transport: CAT – suburban train.
Departs from: Central station at O’Hare Airport.
Frequency: Regular trains, the frequency varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 80 minutes.
Fare: USD5.-

I figure if I take a taxi, I’ll probably end up getting stuck in the middle of the rush hour traffic. So instead, I head down into the basement and follow the sign for the CAT. To get to my hotel I have to change once at Lake, and then from there it is just one stop.

And now it slowly dawns on me that I am finally on my last leg…

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