Virgin America, First Class Plus – Airbus A 320: Los Angeles to San Francisco

VIRGIN AMERICA LOGO

Date: 14. August 2016.
Departure: 18:40.
Arrival: 19:40.
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 1A, window seat on the port side.

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CHECK-IN
Location: Terminal 3.

Facilities: Web check-in, self-service check-in at the airport or check-in at the counter.
Counters: There are two counters open for First Class passengers and another two for Economy Class passengers. In addition, staff are on hand for passengers needing assistance checking in at the self-service machines.

Virgin America is the only airline I know of that has lounge music blaring away in the check-in are. Just because they are so completely different from the other carriers…

LOUNGE
Location:
One floor up from the main airside area. The stairs are by the Burger King.
Type of Lounge:
Virgin America lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets. That’s it. There are no workstations or anything of the sort. But there are plenty of power sockets.
Catering: Soft drinks and a limited selection of snacks – things like fruit or nuts – are complimentary. In addition, full meals and alcoholic drinks are also available against payment.
Internet:
Wifi is available in the lounge. The password can be obtained at the bar.

From what I understand, only members of Virgin’s frequent flyer programme have access to the lounge. For all other passengers, even when travelling in First Class, access to the lounge is only against payment. You can purchase the lounge access at the time you make your booking or later when you check-in online. The fee for the lounge access is USD30.

It is hard to say really if these are USD30 well spent. On the face of it, certainly not. Because the only thing this lounge has going for it is the excellent view of the two northern runways at LAX. On the other hand, having said that, Terminal 3 is a real stinker of a terminal. The place is old and tatty. The floors are carpeted, which make the whole place stink like a pair of really, really old socks. And the waiting area is somewhat crowded. So considering the alternative, USD30 to access the lounge is perhaps not such a bad deal after all.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
The first boarding call is for First Class passengers. What always strikes me in the US is how well trained the passengers are. The call for First Class is made and literally nobody moves until those passengers have passed the gate and the gate agent invites everybody else to board. If that were Europe, everyone would be pushing their way to the front of the line before the gate agent even manages to finish the announcement.

CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2.
Seat: There are two rows of seats in First Class, which makes for eight seats in the First Class cabin. In the main cabin, Virgin America distinguishes between Main Cabin Extra and normal Economy Class. The difference between the two is the seat pitch. The seat is a recliner, so not fully lie flat, but it has a leg rest.
Pitch: 55 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: There is a reading lamp and a power outlet for every seat.
Audio and Video: Every seat in First comes with its own 9 inch screen. There are roughly 3000 MP3s to choose from, but the selection of films is somewhat limited. There are also a few television programmes available, including the first ever episode of The Big Bang Theory. The earphones, by the way, are completely useless. Wifi is available on board.

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All the window shades are down as I enter the plane. The only light in the cabin is dark blue coming out from above the overhead bins and a shade of magenta from the lights over windows. It certainly makes for a dramatic effect during the boarding process.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

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SERVICE
There are two cabin crew standing in the forward galley welcoming passengers aboard. At least I think that is what they should be doing. But the young lady obviously has an attitude issue and will not say ‘hello’ until the passengers say it first. The young man is very different in that respect: he just does not say anything at all in principle and averts his eyes when you look at him. Fortunately though, the co-pilot steps on to the plane at some point with his delivery from Starbuck’s and mood lightens. In fact the two cabin crew are so engrossed in their drinks that they forget about the passengers and just completely ignore everybody.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Orange juice in a plastic cup.
Choice:
There is a selection of snacks to choose from, things like popcorn or crisps.
Type of meal:
Meal is a rather generous term to use here…
Meal:

  • Salted Popcorn.
  • Diet Coke.

I know the flight time is only one hour and I had been warned about the lack of service on US domestic flights but this so much worse than I expected. I ask for a Diet Coke and all I get is one cup. Apparently, the whole can would really just be asking too much.

ARRIVAL
By the time we land the sun is already setting. We have a short taxi to the terminal, which looks modern and clean – and does not have carpets! And with that my Virgin America flight comes to an end.

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The first time I flew virgin America a few years back was on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Back then I thought their product was innovative and fresh. But from what I can tell, it has not aged very well. It is a thin line between really being different from the rest and just being annoyingly pretentious.

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11 Responses to Virgin America, First Class Plus – Airbus A 320: Los Angeles to San Francisco

  1. James Burke says:

    I would have though a small sandwich, perhaps on a croissant or focaccia would be more appropriate at that departure time for something marketed as First Class. With so many choices on the LAX-SFO route, it’s tough to see what extra value VX offers compared to any competitor – purple lighting I guess… I would think the snack quality and a full drink would be just about the only differentiator one has on this route.

  2. Jeff Dhedouville says:

    Even with the amount of money you pay for a first class seat I would not expect even a small meal on a one hour flight.

    • Xandrios says:

      Why not though? As a random comparison, Aegean in Europe serves the same 3-course meal on short flights (Eg ATH-IST) as they do on longer european routes. Pretty much exactly as described here: https://knightofmalta.net/2012/10/14/aegean-airlines-business-class-a-321-london-heathrow-to-athens/

      So its not a matter of possibility. Its a matter of wanting to serve your customers.

    • Barry Williams says:

      I flew on a Japan Airlines domestic flight from NRT to ITM in First Class last month. Despite the flight being only 45 minutes in the air, they offered a drink after take-off, followed by a full 3-course 1-tray dinner that was absolutely superb. They followed this with tea or coffee, cleverly given in takeout-style cups as we were already descending.

      US airlines are cash-strapped and lazy, and the staff are very often extremely rude. I have the severe misfortune of flying on Delta domestic F every month or so, and it’s always a disgrace.

    • George Eini says:

      Some airlines in Asia serve a hot meal in Y on a 1 hour flight. A sandwich in F would be appropriate.

  3. Jim Fry says:

    In the 70’s I flew PA, SFO-LAX on a 747 and a full breakfast was served in ECONOMY class.
    I kid you not.

    • Hi Jim

      Thanks for commenting. That really does seem hard to imagine these days. It’s pretty much the same in Europe. Most airlines serve so little nowadays that even a packet of stale Pretzels feels like a luxury in Economy Class! Then again, the prices for tickets have gone down as well, and as they say, you get what you pay for.

      Cheers,
      William

  4. Matthew Pouy says:

    I’m not entirely certain why anyone needs something more than a very light snack on a 45 minute flight

    • Daryl says:

      I’m not sure why people feel that need for a full meal either and want to compare what other airlines in Europe or Japan do as opposed to the US airlines 🙄. Take off to landing is 50-60 minutes. The expectation is that the crew fling the tray at them and yank those trays from them when the captain says prepare for landing. 50 -60 minutes from take off to landing is not a lot of time. Now if it’s over an hour then maybe sure why not. I’ve talked to crews who’ve told me how insane and rushed they had to be to prep the meals “fling” them and collect everything AND stow everything before that plane touches down. They weren’t lazy, the whole thing was ridiculous just like the people calling the crews lazy without having any knowledge of how a full service would be realistically on such a short flight. I’ve done that route before and it’s consistently 54-55 minutes gate to gate. The FAA mandates that all service items be collected before landing. For some reason Japan is able to do it but I kid you not, these same people complaining about wanting a 3 course meal on a 60 minute flight will be the first to complain that the service was “rushed”

      • Xandrios says:

        The point is, I think, that if other airlines *can* offer a full hot meal on a 60 minutes flight, how come these crews are stating it is borderline impossible? Obviously it is not such an impossible task as they make it out to be – other airlines can do it too. And have been for ages. No ‘flinging’ required at all.

        I do understand that if a crew is asked to cater a short flight differently than what they are used to it may be perceived as having too little time. But like anything else, with some getting used to (an a fresh perspective) I think any crew would physically be able to offer a hot meal on a 60 minute flight. And then it would only become a matter of being “willing” to.

      • Daryl says:

        I guess you didn’t read the full comment before replying.
        The airlines in the US did offer that service up until a decade or less ago. They obviously are capable of doing it but saw NO value in continuing to do so as opposed to Airline X in X country. You’ll notice that people have landed on Asian carriers with their meal trays in front of them because the flight is too short for them to realistically offer the service but still do. That would not fly with the FAA in the US because someone wants it and thinks the crew can physically do it hence US meal service on short flights being rushed.
        If you’ve ever been on a flight in first and actually paid attention to the service when the crew start right at the 10,000 ft chime then you’d notice even the fastest crews take an hour minimum to cater to a full first class domestic cabin.
        Taking drink orders, meal preferences, making and delivering said meal preferences, offering refills while meal is being heated, playing those meals on trays, delivering those trays, re offering drinks, prepping the dessert trays, picking up meal trays and offering the desserts AND still taking requests from said people in that first class cabin. No way in hell that service wouldn’t be rushed and flung at you with a 50-60 minute flight. What you think isn’t what reality is when you actually sit down and play it out in your head. I’ve asked to be shown the carts, asked how they set up, flown in first and business enough to see it.

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