I've been doing a lot of traveling for business lately and flying out of Baltimore usually means Southwest or AirTran, neither of which is associated with luxury service. Southwest is literally a flying bus with cattle car boardings that have only improved slightly with the new numbered line system. Southwest gates no longer look like a middle-aged version of the line for a Phish show when everyone arrived two hours early to camp out for the coveted head of the A-line. AirTran's sole redeeming value is XM radio at every seat. Otherwise, it's just another generic flying aluminum tube.
So when I started hearing raves about Virgin America, I arranged my schedule to make flying out of Dulles practical. That meant a 4 am wake-up time to make the 7 am flight. Just barely.
The first thing you notice is the ambiance of the plane. The sides and aisles are lit up like a hipster lounge with trance music piped in. Then rather than the school cafeteria seatback tray, the hardshell glossy white cocoon looks like an overgrown iPod case. Some of the trays even have cup holders so you don't even have to pull out the full tray to spill cranapple juice on yourself.
But the real selling feature is the video touchscreen at every seat. It has over a dozen channels of satellite TV, with CNN being the most popular, but SciFi and Cartoon Network also available. If those shows bore you, they have video on demand. I gorged myself on free episodes of Entourage that caught me up with what I missed from last season. They also have plenty of pay choices available ranging from $.99 for network reruns to seven bucks for every movie in my NetFlix queue. But even that wears thin. By the end of the return flight, I was watching bad student films and obscure music videos just to sample everything free. If you forgot to download a three month old Diggnation podcast, Virgin is your airline.
The seat back is also how you order food and drinks. After the drink cart makes its first pass, you have to enter an order on the screen and the
I've given up ever being fed on a plane again, so I've developed a habit of smuggling sub sandwiches on board in my carry-on bag. Good thing too, because the onboard food prices made the airport concession choices look like bargains.
All-in-all, a cross-country flight on any airline in the middle seat when the husky guy with the window seat needs a Flomax prescription makes any Gitmo enhanced interrogation sound delightful. But you can't blame Virgin for trying to make it more bearable. If only the little remote controls for the video screen didn't dig into your elbow when you tried to actually use the armrest.
And they are having some great rookie season specials. Pick the right flights and a round trip to the coast would be less than three benjamins if the TSA didn't demand their cut. Which is a real bargain. The same flight on Southwest would have cost $450 with stops in your choice of Phoenix, Denver, Tahoe, or Vegas.
I'll be taking the wife along on the next trip and we booked Virgin because of a new travel rule I have instituted:
Never pay more for Southwest.
Even if it is only a break-even deal once the extra gas, parking, and travel time are included for the trek to Dulles. And at least Virgin made me feel shiny and new.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What is your favorite airline?