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 if the USD30 are 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. 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 the passengers concerned 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 First Class 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 Class 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 from above the overhead bins. The lights are a mix of blue and magenta, which 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 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 the 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 competition and just being annoyingly pretentious.

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…