Browsing Tag: SFO

Virgin America Airbus A320 on the Tarmac in Toronto (N631VA)

Virgin America Airbus A320 on the Tarmac in Toronto (N631VA)

Normally airlines do something special when they open up a new route. Maybe a few balloons, some cake and a get together. Well, Sir Richard Branson pulled out all the stops to celebrate Virgin America’s new route from San Fransisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto (YYZ) and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. So what is it like to party like a billionaire? I didn’t know, but I sure as heck wanted to find out.

The whole event started for me at SFO,  however, Virgin America (I am going to go with VA for short) started the flight at LAX and stopped in SFO to pick us up. The  gate area had a party atmosphere to it.  There were fancy cupcakes, champagne and nice decorations, and everyone there was waiting for the flight to come in from LAX with Sir Richard Branson, CEO David Cush and Govenator Schwarzenegger on-board.

Party time! People up in the aisle during the flight! I love the VA lighting.

Party time! People up in the aisle during the flight! I love the VA lighting.

Branson might be the world’s most famous entrepreneur(or at the very least, he’s the most famous in the airline industry), and Schwarzenegger is easily one of America’s most notable politicians.  Seeing them exit the plane together was pretty exciting. I didn’t realize the govenator was going to be there, but I was clued in when I started asking questions about the obvious police and body guard presence. Yes, he does look bad-ass in person and I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him.

There have been very few flights in my life where I get to know the people around me; this flight was one of them, which seemed like we were all friends going to a celebration together.  Because of the comradery, it took quite a long time to get the near-full flight boarded and seated.

City of Toronto from the rooftop!

City of Toronto from the rooftop!

During the whole five hour flight (except takeoff/landing), the aisles were filled with people. There were a few camera crews on-board trying to do interviews, which is difficult to do in an Airbus A320. There were a lot of people to walk around and talk to. I think I was in my seat for a whole 30 minutes of the flight, which you normally don’t do on a regular flight.  The flight attendants did an amazing job. Not only did they have to deal with everyone in the aisles, they were constantly working and all their bosses (and boss’ bosses) were on the plane.

There were more than VA employees, guests, press and the five actual (and shocked) customers on board; a few famous people were on the plane as well. Unfortunately I am not really into the whole celebrity thing, so I didn’t find out who was there. I knew Drake (musician) was on-board since there was a photo of him on the side of the plane, which was also renamed,  “Air Drake.” I talked with Eric Roberts for a bit, before realizing who he was (if you care to know the whole guest list, Jaunted seems to have it). I did get a little star-struck and made sure I got a photo of  Sir Richard Branson and me, which I am very excited about.

Bunch of people having a good time on the roof of the Thompson Toronto Hotel

Bunch of people having a good time on the roof of the Thompson Toronto Hotel

The five hour flight went extremely quickly and the head honchos were put to work. VA CEO David Cush was handing out customs forms (yes remember, Canada is another country) to people on the flight and Sir Branson was making announcements. When we landed I was sorry that the flight was over, but the real fun was just about to begin.

At Toronto we were greeted by a very friendly flag waving welcome party and a couple of mounties.  I had to wave and pretend I was someone they would care about. We were bussed over to customs before getting on a shuttle to the hotel, Thompson Toronto. The hotel was brand new, very nice and very trendy. We had 45 minutes to get freshened up and head to the roof pool deck for a pre-party.

Almost everything VA does has a sexual inuendo. This sign was in the elevator at the hotel

Almost everything VA does has a sexual innuendo. This sign was in the elevator at the hotel

I have never been to Toronto before and being on top of a 16 story hotel right in downtown was pretty amazing. Add to it great food, nice drinks, sunny weather and in the company of  some pretty awesome people…I felt like I was somebody.

Once it started to get cold, the party moved downstairs in the hotel where music was playing. There was a VIP section where the famous people were, but again I didn’t know who they were (more came from around Toronto I guess).  I was more interested in talking to the pilot who landed our plane and Christian who is in charge of the Toronto base. To me (the airline nerd) they are the real celebrities.

The shuttle to go back to the airport was leaving at 5:00am, meaning I had to get up at 4:00am. With lack of sleep on the trip already, I was only able to make it until midnight before getting my precious four hours of sleep before that annoying alarm went off. I didn’t hear any amazing stories of things that happened after I left, so I am going to assume I didn’t miss anything.

Even though the party was amazing, we did hit a little snag trying to fly out of Toronto. When an airline starts at a new city and new country, it is common for things to go wrong.  A few things happened at about the same time that caused a lot of stress for the VA staff working in Toronto. The self check-in podiums weren’t working (people were trying to fix them) and VA’s computer system kept going out. This meant it took a long time to get everyone checked in and actually caused the flight to be delayed. However, passengers were constantly informed of what was going on and there really wasn’t anything anyone could do, but wait.

The flight from YYZ to SFO was very short, because I slept. There were a lot of VA employees on that flight, but no one up in the aisles, no more celebration and a lot of sleeping. It was a lot of travel for only 15 hours in Toronto, but totally worth it. It was fun to step in the world of a Billionaire and see how they party. Although, inviting some friends over to my house for some beers is pretty cool too.

Additional Fun:
* Over 165 pictures from the whole travel process & party
* Photos from CNET (I am in 3 of them…can you find me?)
* Nice story from Hotel Chatter about Virgin Hotels

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.

SEE MORE PICTURES OF MY ADVENTURE >>>

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I only read the best stuff while on my flights. Taken just a few mintues ago.

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) to Seattle (SEA).  The in-seat map tells me we are over Central Oregon.  Today I flew to San Fran and I’m now flying right back to Seattle to test out Virgin America’s in-flight 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.  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.  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, but  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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