June 6, 2009

Virgin America – A New Experience in the Skies

So, I took my first Virgin flight today – Virgin America, that is. Being a former commercial airline pilot, I find it necessary to comment on the experience. And, for airline experiences, I have to admit it was pretty good.
When I arrived at the airport I was met by a typical check-in procedure with automated kiosks and typical gate agents. Then of course I next went through a standard TSA screening process. But, then when I got to the gate things started looking up. The cheery agents were cheery and helpful. Boarding began a few minutes and the agents ushered us down the jetbridge in a very organized manner.

Then I walked onto the airplane. Wow, it is different. The purple tinted ceiling lighting, transparent purple cabin dividers, leather seats (white in first class and black in the main cabin) and chill music give the vibe of a swank lounge. But, this is just an Airbus 319 going to Las Vegas, right? Yes it is! Like the gate agents, the flight attendants were friendly and helpful. Also, the gate agents and the entire flight crew – both flight attendants and pilots – wear all black uniforms with silver accessories. (Much more stylish than my old polyester navy first officer's uniform!)

My flight supposedly had WiFi, but I had difficult connecting to the internet. This is a new feature of their service, so perhaps it is still a work in progress. Maybe it will work on my return trip. Having a power outlet at my seat was very nice. And the rest of the entertainment system was pretty cool. Personal movie and television screens in the seatbacks are becoming more standard on many airlines – but this went beyond that. There is a food on demand menu incorporated in the entertainment so you can order snacks, beverages, and (of course) cocktails right from the touchscreen in the seatback in front of you. Then flight attendants bring your order to right to you – simple and when you want it. I also liked the Google Maps option where I could watch our flight's progress as we flew from SFO to LAS.

As a marketing professional, I found the whole brand and customer experience fascinating – as well as the co-branding incorporated into some of the inflight amenities. (From Google Maps to Le Tourment Vert Absinthe to Illy Issimo coffee beverages – all hip branding.) The Virgin America look and feel is almost artfully woven into the atmosphere and experience.

From the gate agents to the flight attendants to the entertainment – Virgin America is working very hard to make my flight not just transportation, but an enjoyable experience as well.

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