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California Dreamin’: Virgin Airlines First Class SAN-SFO


Exiting San Diego

After the dust settled at the end of Comic-Con, we needed to reposition ourselves to San Francisco to catch our A350 flight home. Back during trip planning, we’d already decided that we would be flying out of San Diego to avoid traffic – it also made more sense since we really just wanted to get to SFO airport.

By the time we’d confirmed our Comic-Con badges and started making arrangements for the flight out, though, we’d found that first class (really equivalent to our regional business class, but that’s US domestic flight labels for you) was selling for just US$19 more than coach for the flight we wanted. If that isn’t a good excuse reason to go for first class, I don’t know what is.

Virgin is generally a rather interesting brand (I’d taken one of their trains in London previously), with the American airline advertising stuff like in-flight Netflix streaming and curated Spotify mood lists based on the route you’re flying (how very millennial). They also feature funky things like all-white seating and mood lighting. Here’s what they look like without mood lighting:


(Image from Virgin America website)

Unfortunately, the days are numbered for this hip and happening hardware (oh hey, alliteration) – Virgin is currently in the midst of merging with (being absorbed by, more like) Alaska, and word is that the existing VX hardware will be axed along with this merger.

“With 50 percent more premium seats being introduced to the Airbus fleet, elite loyalty members will enjoy the most generous complimentary upgrades in the industry,” says Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ VP of marketing…

Wow, cramming more seats in the first class cabin definitely sounds like an enhancement, said nobody ever. I mean, just take a look at Alaska’s First Class cabin:


(Image from Alaska Airlines website)

While not terrible, it’s definitely more cramped and less… interesting. It’s a sure shame to see that VX hardware go away.

So, how did it feel flying on the VX product? Here’s a quick review of the <90min experience.

The VX Experience

Premium domestic/regional travel is usually nothing to get excited over, but Virgin America’s first class cabin contains a total of just 8 seats laid out in a 2-2 configuration. I can’t say the purple mood lighting really made a big impact on my experience, but it certainly made it feel… different.

It wasn’t the case that the cabin was just extremely small, either – seat pitch was very generous at a healthy 55″  (translation – with the seat belt on, I could fully extend my legs and still have space to spare in front of me).

I’m clearly not the only one enjoying this generous legroom, I thought, as I creepily stealthily took a picture of the other half of the first class cabin.

No meals were served on this super short flight (that’s only for flights above 2h), but I did get to order some sparkling wine (Le Grand Courtâge, I believe).

The in-flight entertainment system was pretty comprehensive, though the screen (the type that swings out from the arm of the seat) is rather on the small side – more typical of other regional business flights I’ve taken – I imagine I would still be sufficiently entertained on a cross-continent journey.

Conclusion

All in all, I was really impressed by the level of comfort afforded by the first class seat – perhaps because it was such a short flight, there wasn’t really all that much to focus on. I’ve never expected to enjoy flying US domestic, but Virgin Airlines managed to make me do just that. It’s too bad that it won’t be staying around for much longer – if you happen to be moving around in the States in early 2018, it might be worth trying to see if you can catch this experience before it’s gone forever, especially if you are able to get tickets cheaply.

For what it’s worth, Alaska Airlines’s Mileage Plan can be used for redemption on VX, though I think the number of miles required seems rather excessive for first class redemptions (e.g. 25,000 miles for the same SAN-SFO flight I’d taken).

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