Review: Virgin America First Class A320 (LAS – SFO)

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This review forms part a trip I took with Joanna to Las Vegas and San Francisco (introduction and full details of the trip are here).

Other posts in this series include:

Before this flight I’d only flown Virgin America once before and that was in Economy Class on a flight between Chicago and Los Angeles. At the time I remember liking the in-flight entertainment options (I watched the Bears been the Packers on live TV) and I remember the flight attendants being friendly and helpful. But, if I’m being honest, none of that had too much bearing on why I booked Joanna and I into Virgin America First Class for the short flight between Las Vegas and San Francisco.

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Virgin America will be going away soon. Like it or not the airline is in the process of being taken over by Alaska Airlines and, no matter how hard some airline executives may try to persuade us otherwise, the Virgin America brand and ethos will be absorbed into Alaska, probably to never be seen again. And I find that a little sad.

I’ve only ever heard good things about Virgin America (especially the First Class cabin and service) and I saw the fact that Joanna and I needed a flight from Vegas to San Francisco as possibly our last chance of catching a glimpse of what that’s all about. Sure, the flight is in no way long enough to get the full on Virgin America First Class experience….but it would be a taster none the less.

The one way fare was $225 per person but, as luck would have it, an Amex offer appeared which offered $50 off a spend of $250 or more (I really could have done with it being for a spend of $200 or more!) so that helped to reduce the cost a bit.

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Joanna and I got to the gate earlier than we normally would as I was keen to be one of the first on the plane to take some pictures. As luck would have it First Class was called no more than 5 minutes after we arrived so our timing was pretty much spot on.

Virgin America configures its First Class cabin in the same way on all of its aircraft (not that it has many types!) – they’re all configured 2 rows of First Class seats with 4 seats in each row.

virgin-america-a320-first-classVirgin America A320 First Class Seat Map – courtesy of SeatGuru

As I’d hoped I would be, I was the first onboard the aircraft and I got a taste of the Virgin America service ethos straight away.

As soon as I mentioned to the flight attendant that I just wanted to take a few quick photos of the cabin before we took our seats (we were well ahead of the other passengers so no one was being held up) she immediately moved to pull down the blinds to help minimise the glare from outside – I’ve never had a flight attendant do that or even offer to do that on another airline. Very cool.

Virgin America A320 First Class Cabin

As soon as I looked into the Virgin America cabin I could see the purple/pink mood lighting that the airline is noted for…..

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….and as soon as we moved to row 2 (where our seats were) I could see why people have been telling me just what a difference there is between Virgin America First Class and just about all the other US domestic First Class cabins. The leg room was fantastic:

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I don’t have any photos of row 1 but, from what I could see, row 2 is definitely the place to be if you like your leg room. There’s good space in row 1 but not as much as in row 2 – the bulkhead gets in the way.

The seats were comfortable…..

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….and a good width (although not necessarily wider than you’ll get elsewhere):

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The seat itself was far superior to any of the other domestic premium cabins I’ve tried (with the obvious exception of the specially configured trans-continental cabins that, for example, American Airlines offers).

The seat has as many settings as you would expect on a seat in an older international Business Class cabin….

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…..and the recline was impressive!

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From the seated position there was more evidence of the pink/purple mood lighting the airline uses….

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….and the reading lights attached to the seats were pretty funky too:

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The tray tables folded out of the arm of the seat and, like so many of the tables in similar aircraft, open up half way……

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…or in their entirety:

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Storage-wise there wasn’t anything special around the seat but the seat-back pockets were large enough to house devices of most shape and sizes….

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…and I liked the various compartments in the seat-back pocket – much easier to keep things organised than the regular seat-back pockets (a small thing but these things add up).

Virgin America First Class Connectivity

Virgin America offers high-speed (comparatively) WiFi on its newer A320 aircraft and GoGo WiFi on its older aircraft (of which this was one).

I didn’t get a chance to try out the WiFi as the flight was too short and I was far too busy playing around with the seat controls and testing out the leg room to remember to check how good the WiFi was or how long it was available for…..but this is GoGo I’m talking about so it probably would have been slow and infuriating.

The seat offered a  power port (not of the universal kind)……

virgin-america-a320-first-classVirgin America A320 First Class Cabin

…as well as a USB port and, for some reason, something that may have been an ethernet port:

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Having the USB port is a definite bonus because (a) USB connections tend to stay fixed in place throughout the flight while plugs have a tendency to come loose (especially the heavier Apple plugs) and (b) not everyone remembers to bring an adapter with them and, while a USB port isn’t much good for a laptop, at least it will keep a phone or tablet charged.

Virgin America First Class Entertainment

While the headphones supplied weren’t exactly anything to get excited about….

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…they were still marginally better than the headphones I’ve been given on other domestic First Class flights (barring the transcon routes). Besides, who relies on airlines for headphones nowadays?

The entertainment screen comes out of the opposite armrest to the tray table….

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….and provides the user with a touchscreen for navigation. If you’re not a fan of touchscreen technology then there’s always the option of the remote control that’s also supplied:

virgin-america-first-class-a320 - 09Virgin America A320 Entertainment

There was a pretty impressive selection of movies and TV shows on offer:

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And something I really liked was the fact that you’re not rationed to just 2 or 3 episodes of your favorite shows, there were whole seasons on demand…although some were not exactly new! 🙂

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All the entertainment options are free in Virgin America First Class but, if you’re not booked into First Class and you want to see what’s currently showing onboard and what you will or will not have to pay for, you can check out the Virgin America “Flying With Us Page” which should have all the info you need.

As I mentioned right at the beginning, Virgin America offers live Dish Network Satellite TV on board…..

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….but, for some reason (possibly because the flight was so short), all I managed to get was this screen:

virgin-america-first-class-a320 - 27Virgin America A320 Entertainment

I had my own entertainment with me anyways (as I always do) so I’m generally more than happy just to have the airshow on in the background:

virgin-america-first-class-a320 - 31Virgin America A320 Entertainment

Virgin America First Class Food, Drinks & Service

There were two bottles of water waiting for us at our seats when we boarded….

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….and it didn’t take the flight attendant to come around to see if we wanted an pre-departure drinks….which we declined.

On short flights like this one Virgin America don’t offer a meal in First Class. In fairness there’s no need for a meal on flights of this length and no US airline does…but it’s worth pointing out that it is possible – British Airways serves a meal on its Dublin to London route which is shorter.

What is on offer is a selection of snacks from the airlines Dean & Deluca snack basket and, although we weren’t hungry after our time in the airport lounge, we selected a couple of items to see what they were like.

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We also ordered a couple of Bloody Marys to go with the snacks:

Virgin America A320 First Class Virgin America A320 First Class

Virgin America definitely don’t skimp on the Vodka in their Bloody Marys! 🙂

The snacks were ok but nothing special…I guess adequate would be the best way describing them.

The service, however, was a lot more than just adequate.

It was really nice to see a crew that actually seemed to want to be on the aircraft and seemed to be interested in actually offering a good service.

Everyone from the captain down was friendly, smiling and helpful….exactly what a crew should be like but rarely is on most US domestic airlines. It was really refreshing.

Bottom Line

Let’s get the weak spot out of the way – the snack basket was mediocre and could really be (and should be) a lot better.

But that’s the only criticism I can think of.

I really enjoyed our all-too-brief Virgin America experience and, if anything, I’m now even sadder that they’re being taken over. I really, really hope that Alaska find some way to take on board some of the best parts of this airline because it deserves to live on is one guise or another.

I’m always very wary of hospitality/travel providers that go for a “hip” look as there’s always a very real risk of the “coolness” being more important than execution (just like most W Hotels in the US) but Virgin America seem to have got the mix just right. That’s quite a hard trick to pull of and Virgin deserve credit for managing it.

I hear that jetBlue is another domestic airline that offers a pretty decent service but I’ve yet to fly with them so I can’t compare them to Virgin. I can, however, compare Virgin America to the likes of American, United and Delta and Virgin beats them all hands down. It’s not even close.

The seats in First Class are better than anything you’ll find on a non-transcon flight elsewhere and the service attitude is spot on….now if only the legacy airlines would learn from this.