Mini-Review: Virgin America First Class Los Angeles To Chicago

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Mini-Review: Virgin America First Class Los Angeles To Chicago
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I reviewed Virgin America’s first class product between Newark and Los Angeles a few months ago, so I’ll keep this review shorter, as I just want to touch on a few aspects of the Virgin America experience. This time around I was flying a midcon rather than a transcon, so I was curious to see how the service differed for the shorter flight.

As a Virgin America first class passenger flying to Chicago I got free access to the Alaska Lounge, though I didn’t have much time to use it. Boarding started at 4:45PM for my 5:25PM flight.

Virgin America A320 at LAX

Virgin America 1236
Los Angeles (LAX) – Chicago (ORD)
Wednesday, September 20
Depart: 5:25PM
Arrive: 11:35PM
Duration: 4hr10min
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 2A (First Class)

Virgin America’s first class cabin has just eight seats, and since I upgraded day of, my only seat choice was 2A, which worked for me. While Virgin America’s first class isn’t terribly competitive in premium transcon markets (like New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the competition has flat beds), it’s a fantastic product in other markets, as it’s significantly better than what you’ll usually find in domestic first class. Too bad Virgin America’s current first class product will be discontinued in 2019.


Virgin America first class seats


Virgin America first class legroom

Virgin’s cabins are gorgeous. They intentionally close window shades during boarding (partly to keep the plane cool, and partly to create a cool ambiance). It’s not often you board a US airline and overhear a countless number of people talk about how cool the plane is. Almost everyone, from tweens to senior citizens, said something like “wow, look how cool this plane is” as they walked by.


Virgin America economy cabin

Waiting at my seat was the same blanket I had on my Newark to Los Angeles flight, though there was no pillow this time around. I guess they only offer those on transcons.


Virgin America first class blanket

During boarding the friendly inflight team leader came through the first class cabin to take drink orders. I just asked for water, and was offered a small bottle, which I quite appreciate (given my tendency to spill things on laptops).


Virgin America first class pre-departure drink

The next thing I want to comment on about Virgin America is how fantastic their announcements are. On some airlines I feel like their announcements are made in an authoritarian way. Virgin America’s announcements actually make you feel welcome — they refer to passengers as “guests” rather than “customers,” they phrase safety announcements in a fun way (“we know how tough it is to get off those phones, but we’re going to have to ask you to put them in airplane mode”), etc. I know it’s subtle, but I find it makes a big difference in terms of how the crew communicates with passengers.

About 20 minutes after takeoff the inflight team leader passed through first class with warm towels.


Virgin America first class warm towel

He then presented the menus. Virgin America has a single menu they hand out on all flights, and then you can figure out which one applies to you based on your flight:

The drink list read as follows:

I was expecting we’d get the “under four hours” service since the flight time was 3hr24min, but to my surprise, we got the “over four hours” service.

While I don’t usually drink domestically, it was one of those days, so I had a glass of the white wine (specifically, they had the second white wine on the list onboard, and it was okay). I got an unnecessarily large pour. While my Newark to Los Angeles flight had mixed nuts with the initial drink service, this flight didn’t.


Virgin America first class wine

After drinks were served the meal orders were taken, and by the time they got to my row, they only had one beef left. I left it up to my seatmate, and he chose the beef, so that left me with the miso glazed sweet potatoes. The salad, main course, and bread, were served on one tray.


Virgin America first class dinner service

Originally I wasn’t looking forward to the miso glazed sweet potatoes, but it was actually really, really good (thanks mainly to the sweet potatoes only being a small part of the dish). The dish had sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas, caramelized onions, farro with black rice, portobello mushrooms, radish sprouts, and chimichurri sauce, and tasted great.


Virgin America first class dinner main course — miso glazed sweet potatoes

The side salad was also so much better than what I usually get on any other US airline.


Virgin America first class dinner salad — mixed greens and grilled peaches

Cinnamon gelato was for dessert, and it was tasty as well. I had a coffee to go along with it.


Virgin America first class dinner dessert — cinnamon gelato

The meal was done about 90 minutes after takeoff, though the inflight team leader constantly came around to see if anyone needed anything. About an hour after the meal he came around with a snack basket, though I was full at that point, so didn’t have anything. Another set of warm towels was also offered before landing.

The flight was smooth, I worked for most of it, and we landed in Chicago about 15 minutes early.

Virgin America first class bottom line

While there are some minor ways Virgin America could improve (it would be nice if they had something to nibble on with the initial drink, and it’s not fun when they run out of your main course choice), all around Virgin America offers a fantastic first class product. The quality of their food and service is a cut above the rest, and their seats are especially comfortable on non-transcons, where the competition offers significantly less spacious seats.

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Comments

  1. It’s nice to see that Alaska’s new premium seats will have foot rests. That’s my biggest issue with domestic first class on the Big 3 (and Alaska currently), and while Alaska’s new seats will still most certainly be tighter than VX, the foot rests will make a big difference.

  2. sad thing is that AS has no real intention of upgrading the rest of their F product to VX levels, but instead, downgrading VX to boring AS F levels.

  3. I have a choice of AA for $679 or VX for $897. Is VX worth the $218 difference? That’s about $25 per cabin-hour. I am tempted to say yes as I make much more than that per hour (I own my business) and will be eating on the flights — and last time I flew AA the stuff they served looked worse than my college cafeterias was practically inedible.

  4. @Elias — in my opinion, yes, it’s worth the extra money to go by Virgin America. Enjoy the brand while you can as with the takeover by Alaska Air it’ll disappear by 2018/19.

  5. did they stop giving out the airplane-shaped salt and pepper shakers, or did you already pocket it before taking the pictures?

  6. Lucky:

    You didn’t mention the awesome VX safety music video with Toddrick Hall and others. Yes it is over 4 years old now but is very entertaining and still seems fresher than many of the safety videos that copied some of the look and feel of VX safety video

    Never tire of viewing it.

  7. There is No Way VX is worth $218 more one way to fly this route. AA is almost as good on every scale if you’re in F, and that’s 2 c-notes plus a DECENT glass of wine at one end or the other, as opposed to swill on both airlines. I am a major fan of VX, but not to the tune of throwing away enough money for another ticket somewhere in order to enjoy their pink lighting.

    $10, $20, $40, $60, fine. You’ll probably have no delays with their superior new aircraft; their staff will treat you better; food is marginally better. But not $200+ For this one domestic flight. That’s burning money.

  8. I just flew SFO-JFK on VX 22 September in First. @Lucky NAILED it in one paragraph, which bears repeating:

    “The next thing I want to comment on about Virgin America is how fantastic their announcements are. On some airlines I feel like their announcements are made in an authoritarian way. Virgin America’s announcements actually make you feel welcome — they refer to passengers as “guests” rather than “customers,” they phrase safety announcements in a fun way (“we know how tough it is to get off those phones, but we’re going to have to ask you to put them in airplane mode”), etc. I know it’s subtle, but I find it makes a big difference in terms of how the crew communicates with passengers”

    I have flown VX almost 120 times since they began flight ops in August 2007, and I know all the words to their safety video (if you’ve never seen it, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg). I can only imagine how it must be drilled into the heads of the FAs! Being in F means your video displays are folded in your armrest, so they have one flight attendant do the safety demonstration in the “traditional manner.” But on VX, quite often (though certainly not on every flight) the FA will “dance it” up and down the aisle in First, singing or lip-syncing alone with the video. On this flight, the FA did the best version of it I’ve ever seen . . . and enjoyed. It’s a little thing, like calling the people onboard “guests,” but it is precisely these sorts of “little things” that continue to make VX loyalists just so loyal . . . and concerned that AS will ruin.

    Indeed, in speaking with the flight attendant later during the trip, I voiced my natural concern about Alaska being too “uptight” for Virgin. Her response will live in my memory, like “Remember the Alamo” or “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” —-> “The goofiness will continue!”

    Amen.

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