A nice big sign welcomes you to the Virgin America Loft – Photo: Mal Muir / AirlineReporter.com
Virgin America has tried to differentiate themselves from all the others by providing a better product than others, not just in flight but on the ground as well. They have all but taken over Terminal 3 in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). When Alaska Airlines moved out of the terminal over to Terminal 6, it left a big empty space in the upstairs area at T3. This space was at one time the Alaska Airlines Boardroom, but as of early December, this is now Virgin America’s first airline lounge, known as “The Loft”
Unlike most airline lounges, there is no memberships for sale; the lounge is open to anyone with a Virgin America ticket and a willingness to pay the entry fee of ($40). Not even the top tiers of Virgin America’s own frequent flier program, Elevate, get unlimited access (they get a few passes). Thankfully they do allow access to passengers who have Virgin Australia Velocity Gold & Platinum members free of charge (of which I am one coincidentally). It is also the lounge for those passengers who are flying Virgin Australia Business Class to Australia.
BONUS: Video tour of Virgin America’s The Loft at LAX
The lounge is located upstairs above the main terminal area, but unless you knew it was there, you would probably walk straight past it. If you did notice the sign directing you up the steps there is still a very non-descript doorway, which with the push of a button, you are allowed into a very modern and fashionable lobby. The dominating feature of this lobby is the glass partition with the engraved Virgin America aircraft (something that would look great on any AvGeeks wall).
Even though T3 was packed full of people, (thanks to the daily arrival of the international flights from the South Pacific and Asia and their connecting passengers) when I was visiting the lounge was nearly empty. This gave it a feeling of an oasis away from the mass.
Does that Face look familiar? It should, its Richard Branson
Even more disturbing is the female signage looks like Richard Branson
As you leave the lobby behind the glass partition are the bathrooms (sadly no showers for those wanting a quick freshen up after a long day in the LA sun) and from there the lounge is divided into two main areas. To your left is the “TV room” with some very comfy, albeit unique looking seats in clusters around very low tables. To your right is the main lounge area and bar, with the a buffet connecting the two. As you would expect for an airline lounge in North America your snacks are free.
The spread for breakfast was a wonderful array of small pastries and muffins, cereals, breads for toast (and all the usual adornments such as peanut butter, jelly etc.) and even some cold bites like a smoked salmon bagel or a fruit salad wrap.
The lunch spread was also lovely with cold salads and wraps along with sushi and some cold meats and cheeses for a sandwich (with every condiment you could want). And if you want to plan ahead, you can check out The Loft’s food menu on Virgin America’s website.
Pair that up with the fully staffed bar serving cocktails, beer on tap and also wines in lovely big stem less glass ware and you have yourself a great experience.
Feel like something on the softer side? There is also Espresso (with a choice of beans), the usual soft drinks and some lovely flavored ice water (lime and a pineapple strawberry combination on offer that day). Even a pair of binoculars adorns the bar to allow you to check out the Hollywood sign (though I know a number of AvGeeks who would use them to check out who is on the downwind leg for landing).
Binoculars provided to check out the Hollywood Sign or that 747 on Downwind to 24R – Photo: Mal Muir / AirlineReporter.com
One thing that does remain from the old Alaska Boardroom days is the floor to ceiling windows. In my opinion, they provide some of the best runway views available at LAX. With a straight view out onto the taxiway and the parallel north runways (24L & R), this is a prime location to sit back and enjoy the view with a drink or a snack. You don’t even need a great lens or set up to get good shots. A small point and shoot camera should get some nice close up shots of the heavies as they go past.
The seats in this area are comfortable & relaxing, combined with the free Wi-Fi, this could mean that long layover between flights is spent being as productive or as chilled as you desire.
For someone who has 4 or 5 hours to wait after an international connection or between flights in LAX, the Virgin America Loft seems like good value considering the price and all the inclusions on offer in the lounge. Your entry fee would easily be covered after a number of cocktails and some food at the usual terminal pricing (and of considerably better quality compared to a Burger King or Starbucks probably). For me though, those views are the sell, the rest is just a bonus!
||This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.@BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos
I talk about airlines and airplanes a lot; it’s a part of who I am. Fairly often, my conversations about such topics end up on Virgin America. At this point, I am forced to divulge the fact that I had never been on Virgin America, a statement which is often met with a blank stare followed by the response, “really?”
Most of my domestic flights are on JetBlue and Delta, simply because of their much larger route network out of New York, where I am based. When I finally had the opportunity to give Virgin America a try, I immediately jumped at the chance. I flew from New York’s John F. Kennedy International (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO) and back in 12 hours as part of a media event, so travel was paid for by the airline (note: the airline paid for my trip, but all opinions are my own).
At JFK, Virgin America is based out of Terminal 4, which mainly houses international carriers. Virgins gates are in the A concourse, which is simply not where you want to be. With extremely limited restaurant and shopping options there, you will want to spend as little time as possible at the gate. Thankfully, Terminal 4 is undergoing a massive renovation which will remedy this issue. The terminal is in the process of unifying the two security checkpoints, and when complete, passengers will have access to a markedly wider selection of restaurants and shopping.
Virgin Americas gate at JFK T4 does not stand out in any way over any other domestic airline. There is no fancy seating, no nice lighting, and not so much as power outlet in sight. However, the instant you board the aircraft, things immediately start to change.
Most passengers will quickly notice the colorful mood lighting, which is a great upgrade from the typical dim white fluorescent tube lighting. At first it might appear the lighting is all LED, like we are seeing in new Boeing interiors, but it is actually a combination of fluorescent tubes and white LEDs with a color gel on them.
It’s warm, inviting, and just overall pleasant. Once settled, I found the seat to be quite comfy. The adjustable head rest is a great addition to the black leather seat. At 6’2’’, legroom was not an issue, as I had room to stretch, something becoming increasingly rare in economy.
Virgin America features one of the most advanced in-flight entertainment systems I have ever used, and I took this opportunity to put it to the test. The system, called RED, features movies and TV shows on demand, live satellite TV, food and drink ordering, and other information features. What I liked most about the system was how responsive it was. I never encountered any lag in the system, which makes the user experience quite enjoyable. I was thankful that the live TV was free, as I found the other selections a bit too expensive for my taste. The satellite TV selection is limited to 18 channels compared to 36 on JetBlue, and certain channels did not work, but I was always able to find something to watch.
One thing that did irk me about the entertainment system was that there seemed be a lot of features that either didn’t work, or weren’t yet available. For instance, on the main menu there is a button labeled “read,” but when clicked, a message told me that the feature is not yet available. A feature that is not yet activated should not be displayed as an option to the passenger.
I was able to follow up with Virgin American and they explained to AirlineReporter.com that they are, replacing the Read section with an Info Section, “that includes static content that will be updated every six weeks, but that relates to travel, destination and other info that is more ‘evergreen’ and that fits better with what guests want to engage with in-flight.”
Similarly, I had some issues with the program guide for the live TV. I would click on it and an error message would appear. That must have just been an isolated instance. Additionally, I would like if some on-screen reference was made to the tethered remote in the armrest. Had the passenger next to me not removed it first, I probably would never had known it could be moved.
My favorite part of the Virgin America experience was probably the in-flight ordering process. Virgin has done away with the traditional cart down the aisle system, and instead passengers order what they want through their screen and a flight attendant delivers it. I was extremely impressed at how simple the ordering process was, and how quickly items were delivered. If I could change one thing, it would be the inclusion of any free food option, even if just a small bag of chips. All food is purchase only in economy, no freebies except for drinks.
Once arriving to SFO, I made my way to my hotel and did not really check out the terminal. The following day, I made an effort to arrive at SFO early in the morning and was relieved to discover how beautiful Virgin America’s terminal was. Wide open spaces, bright, restaurant choices to satisfy even the most picky of eaters. This terminal clearly reflected Virgin’s attitude.
Unlike the terminal at JFK, SFO features lovely seating areas, classy furniture, free wifi and power outlets everywhere. These upgrades go a long way when it comes to unwinding after passing through security, and I wish any of these features were present at JFK.
Now that I have finally flown Virgin America, I can give an honest opinion of this high-tech, feature packed airline. While the airline did not disappoint, I’m not sure I would pay a premium over other airlines such as JetBlue for the privilege. The entertainment system may be more advanced and the mood lighting may create a brighter atmosphere, but overall, I felt the overall experience was different, but comparable. However, when compared to some legacy carriers that fly the route, I would absolutely consider upgrading to Virgin America.
The flight from SFO to JFK was a special media flight to fly the San Fransisco Giants World Championship Trophy to New York… stay tuned.
||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.
@AirlineFyer | FaceBook |
Virgin America, Breanna Jewel, sits at LAX after arriving.
VIRGIN AMERICA FIRST CLASS REVIEW BASICS:
Airline: Virgin America
Aircraft: Airbus A320 (named Breanna Jewel)
Departed: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Arrived: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Class: First Class
Cheers: Best domestic first class product, hands down.
Jeers: Please wash your windows.
Bottom Line: You get what you pay for and you shouldn’t feel bad paying for this.
Virgin America’s first class seats are spacious and colorful.
FULL VIRGIN AMERICA FIRST CLASS REVIEW
It has been a while since I have done a review on Virgin America and when I recently flew from SEA to LAX for #Dorkfest, I decided it was time for another review. I have flown Virgin America quite a few times, but always at the back of the (air) bus. I was hoping to review their premium product; First Class and luckily I made it work out. (Note: I paid for an economy ticket and was upgraded one-way by the airline to do the review).
Having a premium ticket gave me access to use the TSA priority line at SEA. My flight was leaving at 7:10am on a Saturday, so the priority line only saved me about a minute.
After getting through security with a first class ticket, do not expect lounge access. There is no lounge for Virgin America passengers in Seattle and lounges in New York, San Fransisco and Washington DC will cost you from $35-$75 to enter, even with a full fare first class ticket.
Have to love the Starbucks coffee sitting on the tray table in the Virgin America flight deck.
I was running a bit late and missed the first class priority boarding period. When doing a review, I prefer to board as soon as possible (or get pre-boarding access), but luckily the front cabin was still empty when I entered the A320.
It never gets old boarding a Virgin America flight. Where most other airlines welcome you with white lighting (snoozers), Virgin America gives you a pink and purple feast for the eyes.
Hunting down my seat, 1A, was not too difficult. After taking some photos and settling down I watched as the front flight attendant, Justin, was interacting with the kids boarding the plane. One was dressed as a superhero (seriously rad) and he was invited into the flight deck, but wasn’t having it (even super heroes have bad days I guess).
Every other child that boarded was given a similar invite, which most agreed. Well heck… I finally asked if adult-kids can go see the flight deck as well and I was more than welcome to do so. I have found that Virgin America is pretty welcoming to pre-taxi flight deck visits, which many other airlines are reluctant or just do not allow it.
After the kid in me got to check out the front of the plane, I was back to enjoying my pre-flight drink (coffee) and see what my seat has to offer.
If you love purple, you will love Virgin America first class. I had to take pretty photos inside the cabin, since taking photos of the outside weren’t happening.
The safety video, which features Richard Branson’s voice, has been playing for a while now, but I haven’t quite gotten sick of it yet. However, I wasn’t able to watch it on this leg of the flight. Those in first class can hear the video, but a flight attendant shows the safety features, since the TVs remain in the armrest.
My biggest problem with the entire flight were the windows being filthy. Not a huge deal for your average traveler, but one that needs (okay, maybe wants, but it feels like a need most times) to take photos out the window. The pain became much worse when our flight flew right by Mount Rainier and out of about 30 photos taken, none of them turned out remotely decent. At least there were great things to distract me inside the aircraft.
No matter what cabin you fly in, passengers get access to free satellite TV, games, ability to order food from the screen and some of the other things that make RED awesome. The bonus of being up front is all the on-demand tv and movies are included in the price of the ticket.
Probably the best banana bread I have had. How did they keep it so moist?
Talking about free; you also get free drinks and food. And we aren’t talking about a meal in a box food here, we are talking real food — the best I have had domestically.
For breakfast, I decided on the steel-cut oats (not sure what that means) and American breakfast: “Chilled steel-cuts oats tossed with oranges, apples, maple, walnuts, dried cranberries cherries, currants, and creamy yogurt, topped with multigrain granola, raspberries, and blackberries. Served along cage-free scrambled eggs finished with chives and cream cheese, accompanied by cheddar hash browns, apple and chicken sausage, roasted tomato, grilled green onion and mini French toast filled with vanilla and orange cream.” Dang, that is impressive – remember this is on a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles.
They even had Glenlivet 12 year old scotch, which is rare to even find on an international business class flight. Only if it was later in the day, I would have enjoyed it, but some OJ and coffee sufficed.
It is hard to remember this is a domestic product. Sure, the seats do not fold flat, but they get quite comfy.
If you want to guarantee a seat up in the front, make sure you purchase your first class ticket well in advance. If you are willing to take the risk, you have the ability to grab an upgrade for pretty cheap.
Elevate Gold Members are eligible to purchase First Class upgrades for themselves and a travel companion from 24 hours before departure. Elevate Silver Members are eligible to purchase First Class upgrades for themselves and a travel companion from 12 hours before departure. All other Elevate Members and other guests are able to purchase upgrades to First Class from 6 hours before departure. For a short-haul flight (like SEA-LAX) you can get a economy to first class upgrade for $79 each way. That goes up to $139 for medium haul and all the way up to $299 for long haul.
I have had no problem stating that I feel Virgin America has the best domestic economy product and I am happy to say the same about their First Class product. I am not one that has a ton of money to throw around, but I would feel okay spending the extra money for this product.
ADDITIONAL VIRGIN AMERICA FIRST CLASS PHOTOS:
Whoa, Virgin American got President Obama and Romney (impersonators) to join in on the flight. Image from Virgin America.
When most airlines start a new route, they might send out a boring press release to announce it to the world, but not Virgin America. The airline has a history of making a party out of each of their new destinations and their new route from San Fransisco (SFO) to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is no different.
Sure, Virgin America has been flying into DC for a while, but only to Dulles International Airport (IAD), not DCA.
Previously, there were no direct flights from SFO to DCA via any airline, due to restrictions on destinations more than 1,250 miles away. The recent FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (click that link if you want 300 pages of amazing reading), authorized the DOT to award a limited number of new flights to domestic airports located farther away. In May, United Airlines started flying the route non-stop and now Virgin America is the only other competition.
So what gimmick was Virgin American going to have for this inaugural? They had Always Sunny in Philadelphia for their PHL flight, Rat Pack for Palm Springs, Boxing with Chicago and just plain awesome with Toronto — which is no longer an active route for the airline. This is an election year and the flight is going to DC, so why not involve politics? The airline had presidential impersonators Jim Gossett as “Mitt” and Reggie Brown as “Barack” on the flight.
Use your smart phone to scan the QR code on RED and register to vote. Image from Virgin America.
This trip was not just a party, but also an effort to get more people registered to vote. Virgin America has partnered with Rock the Vote and passengers are able to register to vote using the airline’s in-flight entertainment system and their smart phones.
“We the people get to decide who will be flying to DC next year as our representatives, but no matter who you are voting for this November, you have to be registered first,” said Heather Smith, President of Rock The Vote. “Rock the Vote is thrilled to bring voter registration to Virgin America’s guests as well as the opportunity to make a donation to support our efforts to register 1.5 million new voters and educate young Americans about participating in our democracy.”
Virgin America currently serves 18 destinations, a fleet of 52 Airbus A320-family aircraft and over 2,600 employees.
SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE INAUGURAL FLIGHT ON VIRGIN AMERICA’S FACEBOOK
Directly from Virgin America’s Press Release:
San Francisco – June 11, 2012 – Virgin America, the award-winning U.S. airline, announces today that it is requesting U.S. Department of Transportation approval to place the Virgin Australia code on Virgin America services from Los Angeles to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle and Washington D.C. Once approved, this will be the first-ever codeshare agreement for the California-based carrier, building on a 2009 interline agreement with Virgin Australia that paved the way for a more seamless travel experience for guests flying between Australia and the U.S. This will offer seamless booking on a single ticket for guests traveling from Australia to multiple destinations in the U.S. Virgin America’s recent move to a new reservations system allowed the carrier to initiate this first codeshare alliance as well as significantly expand its interline partnerships in recent months.
“We believe this partnership will be welcomed by travelers on both sides of the Pacific, especially our most loyal guests – those who seek out the upscale service and amenities that the Virgin branded carriers are known for around the world,” said Diana Walke, Virgin America’s Vice President of Planning and Sales. “With touch-screen entertainment, an international grade First Class, a premium Main Cabin Select product and an award-winning Main Cabin – our product offerings are uniquely matched to Virgin Australia. With this new partnership, U.S.-Australia travelers will be assured best-in-class guest service in three well-aligned classes of service – throughout their journey.”
Earlier this year, Virgin America announced an enhancement to its Elevate® frequent flyer program that allows members to earn and redeem points across the combined route network of the Virgin family of carriers. And last month, all three award-winning Virgin airlines – including Virgin Atlantic – joined forces for the first time ever to launch a joint entertainment, digital and out-of-home “Virgin Skies” advertising campaign to convey the unique Virgin in-flight experience in the Los Angeles market and mark the airlines’ global frequent flyer partnership. The centerpiece of the campaign includes the creation of an independent short film shot entirely on three commercial Virgin flights while at 35,000 feet. For more on the campaign, including behind-the-scenes footage from the filming, visit: www.flyvirgin.com/#film
“The United States is a very important market for Australia; it is the third most popular international destination for Australian visitors and our fourth biggest source of overseas visitors to Australia,” said Virgin Australia Group Executive of Alliances, Network and Yield Merren McArthur. “Today’s announcement means Virgin Australia guests can connect seamlessly to key leisure and business hubs and earn frequent flyer points and status credits in the process.”
The new codeshare agreement will not change the airlines’ existing interline agreement, through which guests already enjoy a seamless “Virgin” experience at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Under the codeshare, guests will check-in once and receive all their boarding passes. Domestic to international connections at LAX are within the same terminal (Terminal 3), so guests traveling from the U.S. to Australia do not have to re-clear security. Both airlines will transfer baggage between connecting flights and to guests’ final destinations – with customs clearance of guests and bags still required for travelers coming from Australia to the U.S.
Note: Press Release posts do not show up on the blog’s homepage and will not show up in syndications… you need the directly link to access.