Virgin America doesn’t get too much airtime on frequent flier messageboards, podcasts, blogs, etc. It’s likely due to their mediocre frequent flier program, lack of any status, and lack of routes around the country / world. I’ve only flown Virgin American (VX) from LAX-SFO and back before. Yesterday, my work life informed me that I needed to go to New York today with about 18 hour notice. I had phone calls early in the morning, and I had an early meeting the morning after my arrival. In other words, I couldn’t leave too early (phone calls) and couldn’t get in too late (need my beauty sleep). I went to United’s site, and to my dismay, every P.S. flight was sold out except for the 4PMish flight that gets in after midnight and the 6AM flight that was too early for my schedule. Bummed, I went over to Kayak, and the only flight not sold out was the VX flight at 1:40PM non-stop to JFK from LAX. I figured, what the heck, let’s do it. The fare for main cabin select was not that much more, so I decided to opt for that, as I was intrigued by the unlimited booze / food, expanded legroom, and priority boarding.
Virgin America at LAX is located in Terminal 3. It’s a pretty crappy terminal, if you ask me. There’s a Gladstone’s there, though, so I grabbed a clam chowder before my flight. Off to the gate I went…
We were about ten minutes late to board. They start with First Class, and after First, they invite Main Cabin Select to board. For those who don’t know, here’s what main cabin select is:
- a seat in the main cabin
- an exit row or bulkhead with extra legroom
- unlimited drinks
- unlimited food
- a free checked bag
- unlimited premium entertainment
So I walked down to my exit room, took a seat, and noticed that there was a complimentary water bottle and set of headphones in the seatback pocket. Nice touch. These headphones are better than the standard VX earbuds. I’m not sure if these are the same headphones they give in first.
Legroom in main cabin select is pretty great. It’s not as much as you get in row 12 on a United A320 or anything like that, but I would describe it as significantly more than Economy Plus.
After taking my seat, the experience has been nothing but great thus far. I was able to start my movie, Get Him to the Greek (which I didn’t love), immediately after sitting down. There’s GoGo WiFi, there’s inflight entertainment, and there’s laptop power. What more do you need?
Ordering food on VX is cool. You pick what you want on the screen, and then you have a shopping cart as if you were online shopping. You check out, and then a flight attendant comes and brings you food. If you’re in a normal main cabin seat, you need to swipe your credit card. If you’re in main cabin select, everything is listed as free! NICE! So, missing my United hot nuts, I decided to replicate the experience as best as I could with an IPA and a bag of mixed nuts. Speaking of the IPA, I’m happy to see that some airlines actually care about the types of beer they serve. I’m so sick of United’s crappy selection.
The middle seat next to me was empty so my seatmate and I have been using that space for snacks. I was able to kick back, do some work on my charging laptop (with wifi), and watch a movie on the screen above. It’s been a really pleasureable experience thus far. After the movie finished up, I turned on some CNBC and then watched Michigan St v. Illinois in basketball. After a bit of working, I got hungry for dinner. Out of curiosity, I decided I’d load up the order to see if they would bring it all . I ordered a chicken salad curry sandwich, chocolate chip cookies, jelly beans, and a diet coke. As you can see below, they did!
Maybe it’s just my instinct to take airplane freebies and stash them, but I packed up the cookies and jelly beans for later. Later in the flight, I actually made another order. I got pop chips, and those came quickly once again. Keep in mind that this on-demand ordering experience is not unique to Main Cabin Select. What’s unique to Main Cabin Select is that it’s all free. As for the quality of the food, it’s pretty darn good. I don’t think it’s quite as good as United’s buy on board, which I find to be the best out there, but the selection is better, and the taste is better than most.
After finishing up dinner, I got back to work and turned on another movie. All in all, it was a great flight experience. I’d love to say, “After flying VX cross country today, I’ll never go back to United.” But c’mon… it isn’t that easy… I actually like good frequent flier programs, upgrades, routes to just about every city in the country, a partner network, and international routes. So with United I will stay. However, if you’re an infrequent traveler, and by that, I mean anyone who flies less than 25,000 miles per year, you really can’t go wrong with Virgin America. The main cabin experience is just so much better than flying in Economy on any of the other major legacy carriers.