Monday, October 18, 2010

Transport: Flying Virgin America

The interesting colors of a Virgin America plane interior were noted on a flight on 18-October-2010

PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA - Flying on airlines with few flights out of a given airport often leads to a completely different experience than flying out of an airline's hub. Once, when I was flying Continental Airlines out of the Zurich, Switzerland airport, I encountered the same employee three times before boarding the flight--at initial check-in, at an intermediate security checkpoint, and at the gate. This particular person--employed by Swissport, if I remember correctly, under contract to Continental--happened to be Dutch, and spoke impeccable English. However, when she asked me whether I "had purchased anything from an official store," I had no idea what she was talking about--any store at the airport, just the duty free store in the immigration area, or what. We both had a good laugh about that in our final interaction at the gate.

I knew I was going to have one of those kinds of experiences as I took my first flight on Virgin America today out of Toronto, as with only two flights a day, Virgin hardly has big presence at Pearson International Airport. As I walked up to the check-in counter, there was a boombox playing rather aggressive mood music for the early morning. It didn't take long to deduce that it was tuned to Virgin Radio in Toronto, at 99.9 FM, CKFM-FM. Despite the fact that the radio station is owned by Astral Media and not the Richard Branson conglomerate behind the airline and merely leases the rights to the Virgin name on-air, it has been adopted as the official radio station for Virgin America airlines in Toronto. The boom box would appear two more times, at the gate desk and in skybridge heading for the plane.

The other major different thing about the airline was interior decor of its Airbus planes. Rather than having any sort of normal white lighting, the ceiling of the plane is lighted blue and the overhead bin lights are red, to create not only an illusion of sky above, but red, white, and blue to match the flag of the United States. There is something fundamentally odd about an airline that is ultimately British in hertiage displaying the American flag on its winglets and in its color scheme.

As for the much-touted system to order food and drinks at one's seat at any time, I didn't find it impressive at all. I put in an order for a (free) orange juice quite early in the flight, but was never visited by the flight attendants until the beverage cart came by serving the whole coach section, and then they asked what I wanted, rather than delivering an orange juice.

I have no complaints about Virgin America after one flight, but neither am I finding anything about which to rave.

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