Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2014: 360,327
2013: 330,818

Virgin America — Still Got It?

After being at LA for less than 12 hours, it was time to board my Virgin America flight and head home.

Virgin America Airbus A320 – Photo: David Parker Brown

It has been a while since I’ve flown on Virgin America, and to be honest I’ve sort of missed it. The purplely-pink mood lighting, good food, and that awesome entertainment system; it was a light cutting through the otherwise dark and dank scene of American domestic economy flying.

Thus I was rather looking forward to getting back in the air with Virgin, spurred on by its new codeshare partnership with China Airlines (which I recently sampled and detailed here). Arriving at SeaTac on November 30th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I expected mayhem but was instead met with relative calm.

Space means weight, which means money. Photo: David Parker Brown.

The economy seats in Virgin America’s Airbus A320 – Photo: David Parker Brown

Virgin provided me a ticket in its Main Cabin Express (MCE) block of seats. The benefits are slight, basically amounting to early boarding after first class, seating in the first few rows of economy as well as guaranteed overhead bin access. The service and product are otherwise identical to the rest of the economy cabin.

Boarding was a bit chaotic, mostly thanks to the gate agent never actually announcing that it was time for MCE to board. Suspecting that I’d missed something, I joined the boarding line which now included main cabin passengers, and was ushered on the plane and into seat 5A.

Continue reading Virgin America — Still Got It?

“And the Winner is…” – Taking a Closer Look at the 2014 Airline Quality Rating Report

The First Virgin America A320 With Sharklets

The first Virgin America A320 with Sharklets – Photo: Virgin America

This story was written by John Cameron for AirlineReporter…

The 2014 Airline Quality Rating report was released last week and, for the second year in a row, Virgin America was ranked #1 amongst major US carriers. How did the other airlines fare? Who received the dubious distinction of being ranked worst? You’ll have to read on to find out.

But first, a bit of background information.

The Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report has been published annually since 1991. Yes, 24 years. That’s a long, long time in the commercial aviation industry. To put that into perspective, consider that the AQR predates the prohibition of in-flight smoking in the US (1998), the Embraer ERJ family (1995), the Boeing 777 (1994), the Airbus A330 (1992), and even the ubiquitous Bombardier CRJ (which took to the air one month after the inaugural AQR report was released).

Back then, as the 1990s were just dawning, professors Brent Bowen and Dean Headley realized that the majority of existing airline rating systems relied heavily on subjective surveys of customer opinion that were infrequently collected and largely unreliable. What was needed was a timely, objective, and quantitative rating system that could be used to compare airline performance from year to year.

Thus, the Airline Quality Rating was born.

Continue reading “And the Winner is…” – Taking a Closer Look at the 2014 Airline Quality Rating Report

Gogo Unveils New In-Flight Technology

 

Gogo's Test Plane - Photo: Gogo

Gogo’s Test Plane – Photo: Gogo

Gogo announced today significant new technology upgrades that will boost the speed and enhance the reliability of their in-flight wifi service.  These upgrades will be rolled out first with Virgin America (VX) in 2014, who also happened to be the first customer to introduce Gogo service fleet-wide, and the first to implement the enhanced ATG-4 high-speed service.

The essence of the new technology is a refined antenna that utilizes a “GTO” protocol (or “Ground-to-Orbit”).  This system will build upon Gogo’s existing ground-based antennas to utilize multiple satellites for enhanced speed and reliability.  Gogo claims upwards of 60 Mbps speeds to planes running their service.  That’s up to 20x faster than what you can expect on most planes equipped with Gogo right now.

Another benefit of the new antenna is that it can communicate with multiple satellites at once, which increases stability.  If one connection fails, another can pick up the slack.  This will hopefully prevent what happened on my last Gogo-equipped flight; a 20-minute loss of coverage in the middle of writing an AirlineReporter.com story.

Continue reading Gogo Unveils New In-Flight Technology

Virgin America Invites New Jersey To Fly Like A Boss

Virgin America held a press conference at Newark International Airport on Monday, celebrating the beginning of service from the New Jersey airport out to the West Coast. Newark International lacks much competition to the west coast, and Virgin Americas introduction to the airport has already started to lower costs on transcontinental routes, while passengers “fly like a boss.”

“This day is a great day for our company, but it poses a huge challenge for me,” said  David Cush, CEO of Virgin America. “For five years, when the media would ask me ‘what is the number one airport on the top of your list that you want to fly to,’ its always been easy, its been Newark Airport, and now I need to come up with a new number one,” Cush remarked. “It was an under-served airport from the Bay Area, and if you look at the importance of Newark, it is the number two business market out of San Francisco after JFK,” added Cush. After just one week of service, Cush said that fares have dropped by 40 percent on those routes.

Leading up to beginning of service from Newark, Virgin America held a content called “Fly Like A Boss,” where contestants chose the name for a brand new Airbus A320. The winning name for the aircraft was “Jersey Girl.”

Also in attendance at the press conference was the legendary Richard Branson. “Five years ago, we started Virgin America, and the first place we wanted to fly from was Newark, but we couldn’t get any slots,” said an enthusiastic Branson. Later on in his speech, Branson joked about the rather dull appearance and features of Newark’s terminal A. “Another announcement today,” Branson claimed. “I’ve just had a word with the wonder people behind me, and they’re going to make this terminal look beautiful. So it’s going to be beautiful, no queuing to go through, no security and all that, and it’s going to be the best terminal at Newark, so that’s something to look forward to. We’re going to come back in 12 years time to celebrate this,” said Branson. Sadly, this probably won’t happen any time soon.

Exclusive: Virgin America CEO David Cush Talks Plans For Flights To Hawaii, Sharklets

The First Virgin America A320 With Sharklets

The First Virgin America A320 With Sharklets

At Virgin America’s Newark Airport inaugural celebration this week, I had the opportunity to sit down with CEO David Cush for AirlineReporter.com. While talking about their new Airbus A320 with Sharklets, Cush detailed his airlines future plans for flights to Hawaii.

Jason: “You just took delivery of your first A320 with Sharklets, when do you expect that to enter into service?

Cush: “It should be in about two weeks, let’s call it around April 25th or so.”

Jason: “Do you have any idea which route it will be flying initially?”

Cush: “It’ll be flying some of the longer routes, because of the efficiency, so probably San Francisco-Boston, San Francisco-JFK. We took delivery of that one in Hamburg, and it was a beautiful airplane on the way over. Our chief pilot flew it over, and we actually saw greater than 4 per cent efficiency from Sharklets. So they estimated 3.5, we saw a little bit over 4.

Jason: “How do you estimate that will impact your operations?”

Cush: “We fly these aircraft kind of at the edge of their performance. When we’re flying Boston to San Francisco, in the winter and into headwinds, that’s about all that aircraft can do. Now what we got is an airplane that can do that easily without weight restrictions. So it’s not only a fuel efficiency thing, it’s a performance thing.

Jason: “I know that JetBlue had taken delivery of the first production retrofit a couple of months ago, and they have been doing that exact route, and they report that they have to make fewer tech stops to refuel. Do you anticipate less stops or was that a problem initially without Sharklets?>

Cush: “We don’t take tech stops. If we’ve got a long flight plan or strong winds, what we do is we basically buy passengers off the airplane. So, rather than inconveniencing everyone, what we’ll do is will find people to buy off, and they’ll wait for the next one. We take very few tech stops, usually when it’s an unplanned change. But what this will mean is that we will never have to take passengers out of the aircraft again.

Jason: “How often do that [buying passengers off the flight] happen right now?”

Cush: “I would say during the dead of winter, with a bad jet stream, I would say maybe as much of 10 per cent of the flights out of Boston.

Jason: “Do you anticipate the impact of Sharklets being able to open any new routes in the future?

Cush: “The main thing is that it lets you do West Coast to Hawaii, and that’s something you can’t do with the current aircraft. And so we’ll be using Sharklet equipped airplanes in 2015 when we start flying to Hawaii, and we can’t do that without the Sharklets.

Jason: “Are there any plans to retrofit current aircraft with Sharklets?”

Cush: “We’re going to wait and see. You know, there’s a lot of work you have to do on the wing, a lot of weight you add to the aircraft, which is a little bit of a challenge for us. We like the fuel efficiency, we don’t like the additional weight, so we’re not in a big hurry to do it. I know JetBlue is really blazing that trail, we’ll probably just sit back and see what their experience is, and if it’s good, we’ll probably go ahead and do the same thing.

Jason: “All future deliveries of Airbus aircraft at this point, will they be Sharklet equipped?

Cush: “All of ours will be. We’re not taking any more airplanes until 2015, and then we’ll take 10 from 2015 to 2016.

This story written by… Jason Rabinowitz, Correspondent.

Jason is a New York City native who has grown up in the shadow of JFK International Airport. A true “avgeek”, he enjoys plane spotting and photography, as well taking any opportunity he can get to fly on an aircraft.

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