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.
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.
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.
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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I only read the best stuff while on my flights. Taken just a few minutes ago.
I am currently posting this from 36,239 feet on a Virgin America flight from San Francisco (SFO)Â to Seattle (SEA).Â The in-seat map tells me we are over Central Oregon.Â Today I flew to San Fran and I’m now flying right back to Seattle to test out Virgin America’sÂ in-flightÂ entertainment system. I will post a full review of my experience on Monday, but while enjoying the Wi-Fi, I wanted to talk about it a little bit.
I am currently accessing the internet via GoGo and I don’t have to pay a dime. Virgin America, with Google, is offering free Wi-Fi on all their flights from now until January 15, 2010. Â Delta Air Lines, with eBay, is providing free Wi-Fi for a week starting November 24th.
The free internet is not only for folks on an airplane.Â Until January 15, 2010 Google will provide complimentary Wi-Fi in 47 airports across the country, including Las Vegas, Boston, Houston, Miami, and Seattle.
Seattle was supposed to be one of the 47 airports with free Wi-Fi. However, when I was there earlier today, I was excited to do some blogging while waiting for my flight to leave but it wasn’t free. Luckily I have an iPhone (airline and tech nerd) and found that there is a contract issue between AT&T (the current provider) and the airport.
Other airports got the Wi-Fi this Tuesday, but Seattle won’t be seeing it until November 18th. Every cloud has its silver lining; Seattle and Burbank airports will have free Wi-fi forever. I guess I will be ok with no Wi-Fi today for perpetually free Wi-Fi in a few days.
I am no stranger to technology and I fly quite a bit, but every time I have the access to the internet while flying, it feels magical. Some people say the magic of flying is gone but I disagree, it just depends on who you fly.
Internet is the future of airline travel. I feel that all airlines will have internet access in the near future. Once an airline cuts the Wi-Fi for landing, it is only a few minutes to re-connect on the 3G network and be connected once again. Awhile back, I talked about the possibility of having free Wi-Fi on airlines, butÂ Andrew Compart with Things with Wings came up with another possible change that Wi-Fi could cause.
He caught something interesting in the Google media release about the free Wi-Fi, “A recent study conducted by the Wi-Fi Alliance reported that 50% of business travelers take red-eye flights in order to be “reachable” during business hours, and an overwhelming 82% said that being connected through Wi-Fi would help solve that problem.”
He brings up a good question that with business travelers having access to Wi-Fi during their flights, will fewer take red eye flights? Will that affect an airline’s business flying at night? I hope not. For personal travel, I enjoy red-eyes since I am able to sleep and I want as much vacation time as possible.
A year ago, there was barely any Wi-Fi on any flights. Hopefully a year from now Wi-Fi will be so common that there’s nothing left to even write about.. I think I am going to wrap up now, time to play Doom for the rest of the flight back home!
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Delta Boeing 767 - taken after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
This new segment looks at the airline industry head-on, reporting first-hand experiences of air travel.
Date: June 21, 2009
Airline: Delta Air Lines
Flight: 1059 Atlanta to Seattle
Plane: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 17A/17B (flying with girlfriend)
Extras: $2 for ear phones, $5 for beer, $8 for salad
I was a little excited since I haven’t been able to fly in a Boeing 767Â for sometime. I wasÂ flying with my girlfriend and it was nice knowing we would have two seats together (this plane was configured in 2-3-2 layout).
Folks loading up on the Delta Air Lines Boeing 767
Had a little issue with checking in. I love using the e-podiums for speed and efficiency, but took about five minutes to have someone come to get the bag and to tell me it weighed 53lbs (3 lbs over the 50lb limit). She said they would have to charge me $90 for the 3lbs. Sigh. I got to play the “Let’s Re-Pack in Line” game. After getting the weight down to 47lbs took another 5 minutes for the lady to come back.
After that, it was easy getting to the gate. The flight was on time and boarded very quickly (I was impressed since it was almost a full flight).
I was hoping the flight would have WiFi (it didn’t), but it did have the Delta on Demand in-seat entertainment system.
I am dpb. And I am not doing well.
It has movies, satellite tv, real-time airplane location, and games…yes games. The movies and games cost money ($6 for a movie and $5 to play all the games), but on a long trip,Â this can beÂ worth the money.Â There is a free trivia game, where one can play against others on the plane. Argh. I did not do well and since it shows my score and seat #, people walking by could see who the idiot was whoÂ got 0/11 questions right. I stopped playing at that point. I swear I am not that dumb, but there were questions I just didn’t get. Found it interesting that people in first class kept winning. Still, this is quite a cool feature and I hope airlines expand on this concept (like Virgin America) where passengers can interact with one another.
Then I was excited to catch up on some Mythbusters on Discovery Channel, but my sound didn’t work. Turned on my call light and no one came to assist for 10min (it happens, I know), but I finally caught someone while the drinks were being served and they had to reset my seat. Ah, they run linux — neat. And sound worked fine after reset. I am going to say I was able to crash Delta’s on board system!
That is Bellevue, WA (right out side of Seattle) seen before landing. My window was oddly dirty.
It was a long flight and I wanted a (grown-up) drink and my girlfriend was hungry.Â I got a nice cold Â beer and she got a pretty good salad. Delta is still accepting cash, but prefers credit cards, so it is nice to have a choice still (although, had to watch the flight attendants try to make change which is always a pain).
About 2 hours into the flight the TV started to go out. After about 15 minutes about 8 channels started working again (there are only 18 channels to begin with — 4 of which are sports). Luckily the channel I was watching was one of the ten that worked. I have to say being able to watch TV while in flight sure makes the flight seem VERY short.
The rest of the flight went smoothly. I was able toÂ do some workÂ (no wi-fi, but offline work is better than nothing).
Was able to check out Bellevue, WA while landing and some sun was popping out of the sky. Yes, it was cloudy and a bit rainy, but that was ok. We had just spent 10 days in sunny, humid Tampa, FL and we wereÂ looking forward to the clouds.
My two favorite moments of the flight come at the end. #1 having to sit there, waiting for the plane to unload and #2 waiting for bags. Had a close friend come to pick us up and back home to blog!
Overall very good flight. The only downsides wereÂ some customer service difficulties. Mostly dealing with having to wait for someone to take our checked bags and no one coming when I called the flight attendant. The lure of technology let me forget the service issues, but this might have been a different story if my seat reset wouldn’t have worked!
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That is AirTran Capt Greg Cleath on the right and he is not a fan of lasers on landing.
In Seattle, WA (where I live) there has been someone with too much time and a laser causing havoc with airliners. Over the past few months there have been about 2 dozen incidents. Mostly with a green laser, but more recently there has been a red. Either the same person is trying out a new laser or someone else thought it was neato to play with people’s lives and join in on the fun.
Although it is highly likely this person enjoys being talked about in the media, this got me wondering how often something like this happens.
There haven’t been any incidents so far, but being distracted while landing a plane with possibly hundreds of people on board is not a good situation.
This isn’t an isolated incident; it actually happens quite often, however, nothing beyond pilots complaining of damaged vision has been reported.
In June 2004, CNN reported thatÂ when pilots were exposed to a laser during a simulation, 67% experienced “adverse visual effects” and with a high powered level lasers, nine landings were aborted.
Although this has mostly beenÂ just annoying, I really don’t know how someone could live with themselves if they caused an airplane to crash. Many in the Seattle area speculate the local perp might be upset and protesting the new third runway.
Thanks to Dorothy from Ireland for the tip! Source: KOMO Image: TheAirlineBlog.com