Virgin America, Breanna Jewel, sits at LAX after arriving.

Virgin America, Breanna Jewel, sits at LAX after arriving.


Airline: Virgin America
Aircraft: Airbus A320 (named Breanna Jewel)
Departed:  Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Arrived: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Stops: None
Class: First Class
Seat: 1A
Length: 2.75hrs

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.

Virgin America’s first class seats are spacious and colorful.


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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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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:
Classic Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727 Commercial
Simon Allardice (@simonallardice)

I’m so glad you mentioned the windows, I thought I was going mad! Consistently when I’ve been in First with VX the windows have been filthy. Why, I do wonder?

Interesting. I have flown in the rear and never had a problem. Guessing that maybe there is more debris in the water by the time it hits the front windows and it sticks. By the time the water hits the rear, it is clean?


The only thing I don’t like about Virgin’s first class is that you can’t watch movies during takeoff or landing. What am I supposed to do, read?! 🙂

Best domestic airline…i prefer it over United

I’ve never flown Virgin before, but maybe I should start!

I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic before and was quite pleased with the service, it’s nice to see a domestic airline move back toward a focus on quality rather than budget.

Just wanted to note an error in the article. The voice for the safety video is not that of Richard Branson, it is the voice of the Director of the video, Gordon Clark, made by Wildbrain.

hugh forward

Are they affiliated with any airline alliance, including the other Virgin brands?

Peter Franco Jr

Flew Virgin-Atlantic EWR-LHR. Great service in Upper Class. The Club House in LHR is AMAZING!!!!! my flight left at 8:30pm but, I arrived at the Club House at 1:00pm. Had lunch and dinner, took a shower, got a haircut and had great conversations with the staff. Great Airline,great service.
Also flew Virgin America from JFK-LAS, non-stop in First Class. Really enjoyed the personal service that Virgin is known for. @David…next time u fly Virgin America in First Class. Try to sit in th 2nd row. It’s a bit more room.

But what about the REAL customer service issues on V.A. ? :

First of all Jeff, I am sorry to read about your sister. No question is that a horrid experience to go through. It would be great if airlines would come through in situations like this, but I hope to give some perspective for you (this is my opinion, not the airline’s obviously).

When passengers are purchasing tickets, they have the option of getting non-refundable tickets or spending more to get refundable. Most of us will go for the cheaper non-refundable ticket.

Why is it then the airline’s fault, when a customer takes a risk for non-refundable and life happens and a change must be made? Maybe traffic made me late, maybe I had a flat tire, maybe there was a tragic event in my life. But this is not the airline’s fault right? I have been stuck having to pay change fees or more out of my pocket because of changes, but over my life, I have still won by choosing non-refundable tickets

Is it fair for the customers who pay more for a refundable ticket for you to get the same treatment? How would you feel if you spent more money on your ticket “just in case” and find out that someone who did not pay the extra cost was able to change their ticket for free?


PS: I see that you brag about your SEO rankings on the story (which might not be the best call). I am happy to have a convo about this topic with you on my story and keep your links, but if you are just looking to use my story to increase your rankings, I might choose to remove your links.

David, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond, and even more your kind words about my sister. I’ve taken to describing that loss with the simple word “icky”, because honestly there aren’t any better. Believe me, I’ve tried to find them.

I’ll start at the end of your note: while I have been known to brag about how good I am at what I do, I didn’t actually brag about our SEO services so much a throw down the gauntlet at Virgin’s feet. This post wasn’t a story about SEO, but about customer service, and what I said at the end was “hey Virgin, it’s my intention to rank high for the phrase “Virgin America Customer Service”, because I want people to hear this story”.

That campaign has succeeded. less than 48 hours after posting it, Google sees as the 7th most important page on the Internet for the phrase, Yahoo as #3, and Bing as #1.

Here’s where this conversation becomes really interesting, at least for me:

I’m a firm believer that everything impacts everything. On a personal level, that’s me excusing the way I do business, including talking about my sisters’ death publicly, knowing that some people will see that as awful. And as I said in Barbara’s “on-line obituary”, she, also a pragmatist, would have approved.

Personal stuff notwithstanding, the business angle is simple: I write the stuff I write to attract people to my business’ web site. I hope people enjoy it. For Real. I used to do radio and TV, and loved that people were entertained, but at the end of the day I was doing that stuff to make a living.

In this case (in many cases, actually), the “everything impacts everything” angle gets well served by how I do what I do. People are entertained. SEO dominance for the things I choose to dominate for is achieved, broadly, that promotes our SEO practice, and it also promotes our other business consulting activities. The pie in the sky goal on this would be a call from Sir Richard when someone in his downstream points out that many people who search for “Virgin America Customer Service” are very likely seeing my ugly little story instead of being pointed at VA’s Customer Service team. And no, of course I don’t think that will actually happen.

Bringing me back to what you point out about buying products, the pricing, etc.

You aren’t wrong. But you aren’t “right”, either. While I don’t advocate the kind of bend-over-backward customer service that Nordstrom provides, where people bring back shoes two years later having worn them through, complain that they don’t fit, and receive a new pair, If there’s no harm, there’s no harm. And in the story I told I hope I was clear that I had

a) asked for special treatment knowing full well that I was doing so
b) discussed the matter in detail with several VA employees, including the reality that they were going to make money off my suffering by reselling my original tickets at a profit
c) I was thus asking, in this revenue-neutral situation to them, for what amounted to just a little compassion. The kind of compassion (bereavement) that airlines do still offer.

So David, I hear you, and as I said above I really appreciate you taking the time. But at the end of it all, I’, afraid I disagree.



I read your article, I understand were you are coming from. I just lost an aunt to cancer and had family members fly in from out of state. However, the manner you requested the refund was very unprofessional and down right rude. While we are all human and have emergencies and family problems, the people that work for the airline also have the same issues. If you would have booked a “refundable” fair you could have done the change with no issue, things do not always work out like we want. Such is life. The most important thing is that you were able to see your family member alive and in better condition than you hoped. Look at the bright side. Stop complaining because you didn’t get your way, instead spend time with those who are important to you in your life.

Ben, I appreciate both your perspective and the time you spent. Addressing the last point you made … I think you missed what I was actually doing in expressing my indignation such as I did. But more to the point (for me, anyway) is that I don’t believe there was anything unprofessional about how I approached the issue, and certainly not rude. Further … c’mon, Ben: what WAS rude was that I was IGNORED by people at Virgin whose job it is to respond to people who have and voice issues!

I’m a bit surprised when people suggest that being direct and asking for what you want is either unprofessional or rude, but … I guess that’s the world a lot of people live in. I just happen not to be one of them.

Thanks again,


@Jeff Yablon – I’m a travel agent so I have quite a bit of knowledge about how airline fares are constructed. I’m sorry, but everything Virgin America told you about the different class of seats, your old seats going back into rotation at their original fare class, change fees plus tax and fare differences, etc is absolutely correct. You have said that all you wanted was their compassion and understanding in the situation, but basically, because you didn’t get what you wanted, and didn’t take out travel insurance to cover you in the event of unforeseen circumstances, you think that you have the right to bad-mouth a company and it’s people, when they didn’t do anything wrong. Your rant is akin to a toddler throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get what he wanted. Grow up! And next time, buy a flexible airfare, or take out travel insurance to cover you for things like this.

Jason Buchanan

Hey guys, about the windows…..
Unfortunately, they’re not dirty, they’re scratched. If you sit in first class, on the left side of the plane, that’s where the jet bridge seals rub on the side of the plane. As the jet bridge moves and jiggles as people are boarding, those big grey seals rub and scratch the aircraft. Try requesting seats 1F or 2F (right side) next time.
Some airlines counter this by blocking out those windows altogether. Check out this photo and you’ll see the scratches from the jet bridge as well as the solution to the problem at AA.

Jason Buchanan
A-320 Captain
Virgin America

Thanks Jason for the insight! That is good to know.


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Stephen Browning

I’m just sick that I have already have reservations on Alaska for this particular leg this week! I would have loved to take VA as I enjoyed them when I lived in CA. Somehow, I doubt FC on Alaska will compare based on past experience.

As a frequent traveler on many global airlines, I 100% agree with David’s response to Jeff Yablon. Virgin America Customer Service response was courteous and they went beyond what was required to refund $200. If Jeff wants to use the article to score business, that’s a different thing but he cannot legitimately blame VA for poor customer service. His 2nd and 3rd email requests were unprofessional and were not worthy of a response. My perception of VA’s customer service has actually improved after reading Jeff’s article. David’s response is spot on.

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