- I was excited to fly Virgin America after hearing it was the best airline.
- Disappointingly, my experience included a makeshift gate area and cramped seats.
- There were no free snacks, drinks, or entertainment on a 6-hour flight.
Virgin America is known for being one of America’s best airlines.
For four consecutive years (2012 — 2015) it was ranked
in first place in a list of America’s best airlines.
I tested out what it is like to fly on this seemingly glamorous airline, once the hailed the best in the US.
I flew Virgin America from Newark to Los Angeles on the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, departing at 5.59pm and arriving at LAX at 9.15pm. The return flight cost $US471.40, including tax.
I was expecting flights to be more expensive as it was a holiday weekend but specifically decided to travel Virgin as I am an avid Virgin Atlantic fan. According to Hopper, average return weekend flights on this route are actually cheapest on Virgin Atlantic, costing $US433.
My initial experience with the airline was great. The booking system was simple and it was easy to check-in on my phone without even having to download the app.
When I arrived at Newark airport I went through security and headed directly to the gate. It was here that the first seeds of doubt began to grow in my mind as I saw the makeshift peeling sign with the flight details in the distance.
What I hadn’t spotted, was the mini portable speaker below, which the boarding attendants were using to blare out loud and screechy departure information for the flight — I put this down to the airport’s scattiness and confidently boarded the flight, which was not delayed.
The first thing you notice is the airline’s signature pink and purple lighting, which according to Virgin, adapts to the outside light. This means rather than walking into glaring artificial lights you instantly feel more relaxed. This was true but the cabin also cramped and hot when I came onboard.
I edged my way down to the back of the plane, eagerly anticipating, what Virgin describes
as, the “devilishly good” seats.
This was not the case. The seats were rigid and uncomfortable and there wasn’t much room to stretch out.
Business Insider reported that the seat pitch (the amount of legroom) on Virgin America is 32 inches, which is in-line with most major US airlines. But it’s also two inches less than JetBlue — the last airline I had flown before this trip — and I could really feel the difference.
Never mind, I thought. Once I’m in full recline I won’t notice a thing.
After a series of announcements on the main speaker, the famous Virgin safety video came on screen. This five-minute video went viral when it first came out in 2013 and was praised for being a fun way to go through safety instructions.
The video is definitely fun but it also lasted for five minutes as they drew out the instructions to squeeze in a few more dance moves.
And it’s not just me, Ask The Pilot wrote: “They took a somewhat entertaining idea and made a monster out of it. Imagine being a Virgin America frequent flyer, or employee, and having to endure that thing over and over and over and over.”
No free food, drinks, or movies
But the biggest disappointment was yet to come.
I hadn’t bought any snacks or drinks on board, foolishly assuming that on a six-hour flight they might offer something for free. Maybe I had become spoilt after my last trip on JetBlue, where you could help yourself to free chips and were offered an ice cold drink when you sat down.
Nothing was free on Virgin. Not even the movies (which are on JetBlue), despite Alaska Airlines claiming in April 2017 that they would be adding free entertainment to all of its flights. A spokesperson for the Airline told Business Insider that this would now be brought to Virgin America flights in August.
The main perk was that you could order and pay for food and drinks directly from your seat on the screen, which made the whole process easier. Virgin America is said to have the healthiest aeroplane snacks of any other airline, according to a study done by the director of the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, but the snacks were expensive and in the end, I settled for a bag of popcorn which cost $US3.25.
JetBlue from now on
Resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to watch anything good on the TV without spending more than $US10, I finished my popcorn and decided to go to sleep.
I pressed the recline button, and my chair cranked back by what felt like an inch — I fell into a deep and uncomfortable sleep, full of dread for the overnight return flight home.
Overall, it wasn’t the travelling experience I had hoped for and definitely didn’t live up to its reputation, or to Virgin Atlantic’s. In future, I will definitely stick to flying JetBlue.
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