Virgin America Airbus A320 "Air Colbert" the aircraft I felt from SEA to SFO and back, sitting at SEA

Virgin America Airbus A320 "Air Colbert," the aircraft I flew from SEA to SFO and back, sitting at SEA.

Spending most of a Saturday just flying to one airport then flying right back is not most people’s definition of “fun.” But for airline nerds like myself, it can be!

I fly a lot for personal and business reasons; however I have never been able to fly on Virgin America. Others in the aviation world, my friends, and my family have all given this airline and their in-flight entertainment system (called RED) positive reviews.

I decided I needed to experience RED first-hand. I talked with the fine folks at Virgin America and I was invited to take a flight from Seattle (SEA) to San Francisco (SFO) and back! Game on!

The lights really create a unique and pleasing atmosphere in the main cabin.

The lights really create a unique and pleasing atmosphere in the main cabin.

I would be flying on an Airbus A320 named “Air Colbert,” after the comedian “Stephen Colbert.” I was hoping this was a sign that it would be a fun ride.

The first thing you notice when getting onto a Virgin America plane is the awesome pink and purple lighting. My flight left around 1:45pm, when it was still light out, and the cabin lights were streaming pink and purple. On my flight back in the evening, the cabin was lit a lighter purple. I learned that they change the lighting as the day goes on to have less pink. I overheard the people in front of me say, “feels like we just got onto the party bus,” and I think that sums it up nicely. Virgin America doesn’t seem to install any special new lighting, they just replace the normal white bulbs with purple and pink. Why don’t more airlines do this?

Taken when landing at SFO. I love landing at this airport, it is nothing but water until the last second before landing.

Taken when landing at SFO. I love landing at this airport, it is nothing but water until the last second before landing.

You are also welcomed by black leather seats, all with headrests and of course RED. On my flight to SFO, I purposely decided to sit in Row 13 (since I just wrote a blog on it the day before). Row 13 was lucky for me, since no one sat in the middle seat, even though the flight was quite full.

During the whole flight down to SFO, I played with RED. I have to say this is the most sophisticated in-flight entertainment system I have tried and should be something other airlines aspire to. There was free satellite TV, games (including Doom), chat, music (with 3000 mp3’s), and some internet movies. These alone would keep someone entertained for hours. However, there was also some premium content, like recently released movies, and recorded TV shows that one can purchase.

Virgin America has a standard drink cart service, however there are no free snacks. They make it easy to buy a snack, meal, or premium drink (a.k.a. one with alcohol) right on your RED screen. You can go through the menus, adding food and drinks to your cart (even free drinks), and then check-out. You can pay with your credit card via seat-back credit card swipe or the swipe in the RED remote. Then your order is sent back to a screen for the flight attendants to view, so they can fill and deliver your order. Ah yes, of course I had to test it out, and it worked wonderfully! Before I got my iPhone I would have considered the touch screen interface very high-tech, but I kept finding myself sliding my finger sideways to go to the next menu (like on an iPhone).

Ordering a drink or food is easy. Just push what you want on your screen, pay via your credit card at your seat, and someone will bring it to you.

Ordering a drink or food is easy. Just push what you want on your screen, pay via your credit card at your seat, and someone will bring it to you.

Passengers have another option besides touching the screen. Every seat has a mini-remote, where one side lets you change channels, volume, go to the food menu, and on the other side you have a full QWERTY keyboard and video game remote control. You have the ability to chat one-on-one with someone in another seat (which is good if you are traveling with people you are not sitting next to) and you also have an overall chat room for the whole plane. I was very sad that no one came into the main chat room. Jaquelyn, the In-Flight Team Leader (who had an awesome accent) informed me that the chat function is very popular on flights to Vegas and when kids are flying in big groups. Luckily I was able to chat with a passenger one-on-one, who turned out to work for the airlines. I had a hard time working the mini-QWERTY keyboard with it being dark, but I think she got the jist of what I was saying.

If RED doesn’t entertain you enough, all their planes also have Wi-Fi and luckily for me, it was free and will be until January 15th. During the flight to SFO, the middle seat was empty and a laptop was easy to use, but on the flight back to SEA I had someone next to me, and being 6’1″ it isn’t easy to use a full sized laptop in my own little space. Under each seat there are USB and electrical plugs, so no need to worry about your device going dead mid-flight.

I am impressed with Virgin America’s level of service, the seat quality, and of course their in-flight system. Both my flights were about two hours, but they felt more like 30 minutes and I still don’t feel like I was even close to be bored with RED.


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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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Great article! I can’t wait to try out a Virgin America flight now. The RED system sounds great and the convenience of ordering and paying for your snack/cocktails right from your seat is very appealing. Also, I’ve never been on a plane with mood lighting, and from the pictures here, it looks like a really nice touch.

The lighting really helps out! Most airlines seem so drab compared to the mood lighting of Virgin America. However, looks like Boeing is adding more mood lighting options with the 787 and 747-8, so I hope to see more soon!

David Parker Brown

Great insight on your Virgin America trip! It is awesome that they will offer free WI-FI during my flight – I have never experienced using the internet on a flight before. I’m really excited to fly with them to my trip to southern California in December!

Having a smaller laptop or an empty seat next to you is very nice. I have flown a few Wi-Fi flights before, but it is nice they have outlets you can plug your stuff into. Just be careful, the plug-in is by your knee, so warn your seatmate before going for the plug 🙂

David Parker Brown

Virgin America is awesome, I flew them the last time I went to LA for a business trip. Given the choice I would certainly choose them over another airline all prices being equal. Do you have a breakdown of how their prices compare other airlines? Bag fees, cost of inflight meal/snack options, how much will the wifi or RED service cost when no longer free.

The cost of the wifi will be the same as other GoGo-Wi-Fi flights. The cost for the meals, premium drinks, and movies are very comparable to other airlines.

Their prices are very cost effective compared to other airlines. Was looking and my flight down to SFO, last minute was as cheap as $69 one way, but with more heads up it can be only $45 one way.

They have a $20 baggage check fee, which is pretty standard now. However, on my flight to SFO, it was full and they were offering to gate-check bags for free, since they were afraid there wouldn’t be enough room for carry-ons. I saw many people take them up on the offer.

David Parker Brown

Great review, and totally agree. Flew SEA – SFO last month and was blown away by the service. Over here in the UK nothing at all – including several premium products – compare, and other low cost carriers like Ryanair have made bad service an art form. So I’m very envious of you folks!!

Haha, yea Ryanair is just a little different than Virgin America :).

I have had nothing but good experiences on Virgin America. However, there are a couple of factual errors in this report. First, if you are in coach, there are two power plugs per 3 seats. Not everyone gets to have one on a flight full of business folks. Second, the power is not always on. There is limited generator power on planes, and on Virgin America, the priority is not at the passenger seats. When it is used for passengers, the power is rotated to different rows (you can tell if it is on by a blue light on the aisle). On a flight last week from JFK to SFO, my battery was in the reserve power range before the power was applied to my seat row, and even then, it was on for less than half an hour. The flight attendants say that to reset the power for your row, you have to unplug the cord, wait a few seconds, then replug it. This essentially did not work. That aside, the crews are amongst the friendliest, and they handle most situations easily, calmly and professionally.

I wanted to mention something about price on VX. They are not always the cheapest or competitive for that matter. I’ve flown VX twice now this year to San Diego from Boston and just happened to luck out on a good deal each time. The 1st time I paid $240 and the 2nd time $340. I paid the $240 because of a special promotion taking place earlier this year and $340 was a 30% discout on a code that was given to me by VX just for being an Elevate member. I would have paid over $400 for a transcontinental flight without the discount. Typically VX is almost always the mist expensive on the route. I assume this could be attributed to the fact that they do not have as many aircraft yet or flights for that matter to drive the cost down and be more competitive with the likes of jetblue and even some of the legacy carriers which flys out of Logan. I’ve seen tickets on VX as high as $400+ one way on the route and we are talking more than a month or two out. I always wait for a sale before I buy a ticket with them. Although I love flying them, I’d never pay more than $400 roundtrip to the west coast. Don’t get me wrong; VX is my favorite airline, just not at an overinflated price.

Nice article! Yes, Virgin’s in-air entertainment system is nice. It reminds me of when JetBlue first came out with their TV, and everyone was awed. No their TV is good, but definitely not the best thing going. What will some airline come up w/ next?

The in-flight system makes it so hard to actually get any work done when you’re on a business trip! That’s the only downside as I see it.

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