By Shashank Nigam

***This is an article written and published from scratch at 35,000 ft, in-flight on Virgin America flight 342 from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale. Made possible by Gogo Wifi. A first on SimpliFlying**

In a recent conversation with a South American airline executive, we were talking about the state of commercial airlines in the US. And the consensus we reached was that the travel experience  within the US is just bearable at best, often frustrating and most noteworthy innovations are actually taking place in other regions around the world.

Then I took my first Virgin America flight. And I stand corrected – innovation is indeed taking place in the US too. And in addition to just flying their own airlines regularly, I’d highly encourage every senior airline executive in the world to come give Virgin America a shot on their next trip to the US. And here’s why.

Red, White and Purple –

Virgin America probably has the best in-flight product on a narrowbody aircraft (trust me…I’ve flown a lot of them). And the brand personality truly stands out!

The ambience: The number of innovations inside the cabin are astounding. The first thing that strikes you is the cabin ambience – purple lights and swanky music. This may be common on some interrnational airlines like Emirates, but is a rarity in the US domestically.

The IFE: The advanced IFE allows you to order food on-demand, watch movies on demand and chat with other passengers on the flight – and for things you need to pay for, you just swipe your credit card right in the IFE screen! It’s all very user friendly.

The seat: When I relaxed into my seat, it felt very comfortable. After checking, I realized that they have one of the widest seat in a narrowbody aircraft… in the world… both in First Class and Main Cabin (Economy), and the seat pitch is generous too.

The Service: On the flight, I was served by Aladdin, his brother Mazen and Cheryl (see photos below). One has been flying for almost 20 years, another is a former lawyer! Mazen actually made the effort to pronounce my name right – which was impressive. Again – the personal touches made an impression.

At the airport: Even on the ground, there is a diffence. Only two airlines use the International Terminal for domestic flights from San Francisco – Virgin America, and JetBlue. Is it a surprise that they’re two of America’s favorite airlines? The good thing is that you can choose to relax in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse (another world beater), which is at the same terminal.

In-flight connectivity = future of IFE

The biggest revelation has been the in-flight wifi made available thanks to Gogo in-flight. Now, I know that there are a number of airlines trying it out, but only Virgin America and AirTran have implemented it fleet-wide. And that I feel is a competitive advantage, until the others catch up.

I have shared my views in the past that the future of in-flight entertainment, especially for budget airlines, might mean providing a power outlet and a wifi connection. These are both enablers. They empower passengers to use their own devices the way they want to.

And after flying Virgin America today, I feel the future of IFE is indeed in-flight connectivity. For the first time, I did not feel “jailed” in a tube. I even Skyped my mom and showed her the view from my window!

Delivering on the brand eXpectations…

Now,  you’ve probably already heard a number of the things I’ve shared here about Virgin America. After all, it’s been over two years since the airline launched all of what I’ve just experiencedfor the first time today. But that also meant I had sky-high expectations of the airline.

The good news is that they not only met the brand eXpectations (remember, the whitepaper?), but exceeded them at times too. And that in itself is an achievement.

The Verdict

If you’re in the airline industry – you need to fly Virgin America (and soon) to get a glimse of what the future looks like. If you are living outside the US, make sure you fly Virgin America on a domestic route if possible – it will be a totally different experience.

And if you are living in the US, then come fly probably the best airline flying domestically in the US.



P.S: Special thanks to Bowen Payson from Virgin America for meeting me for coffee early in the morning at the airport!

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  • Yogesh Pagar

    Thnx for sharing your experience, Shashank. Those inflight pictures speak the rest..
    Best wishes,

  • Harold A

    This would be a useful article if the author remembered that the US domestic airline industry is an oligopoly where organic growth is slow, barriers are high, and non price competition exists along with mutual price dependancy.

    While the mood lighting and category killer IFE are certainly game changing, I'm afraid they are no match for a vast hub network, alliance partnerships, and frequent flier programs that recognize elite status. Until Virgin can serve 70-90 domestic and international destinations on their own metal, introduce a FF program that recognizes elites, and rolls out a million more ways to earn and spend miles; its no more than Allegiant with IFE.


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