Virgin America winning a fan in Chicago
Virgin's Chicago service is out to win fans with on-demand movies, Wi-Fi and lots more
Virgin America interior (September 2, 2011)
And I'm rapidly becoming a Virgin fan.
It was a while before I could take my maiden voyage, given my habit of booking flights months in advance. But it was worth the wait.
Online booking, check-in and the rest worked pretty much like any other airline, though Virgin's website gives you a running price total of your fare, even as you toggle between flights. You pay $25 to check a bag at the lowest fare level; everything higher gives you one, and sometimes two, free bags, but, of course, the fares are much more than $25 higher.
Virgin boards from the rear seats forward. "Now boarding Group A … that's A for Awesome," chirped the hyperfriendly gate agent. (I was F for Fabulous, the last boarding group, but there was plenty of overhead room for my wheeled bag.)
The plane looked as if it had been built, oh, a week ago. Everything gleamed. The white-plastic seatback in front of me (way in front of me, given the generous legroom) had a sheen. The leather seats were soft.
Coach seats are wider than most, and there's enough room to use a laptop on the tray table, even if the person in front of you goes into full recline; to me, that's luxury. But what I really loved were the interactive touch-screens mounted on the seatbacks. These give you access to on-demand movies (including foreign films), video games, music videos and at least 20 free TV stations, plus the ability to shop for everything from watches to dinner. I used the screen to order food and drinks (a nice fruit and cheese plate, plus a cocktail) and watch a Cubs game.
Through Sept. 30, Virgin allows passengers to check out a Google Chromebook and use it, with free Wi-Fi (requiring only a credit-card security deposit), for the duration of the flight. So as I (silently) cheered the Cubs to victory, I handled a couple hours' worth of email. At the end of the flight, someone at the gate collected the Chromebooks; I barely broke stride on the way to baggage claim.
One more advantage: Virgin flies out of SFO's Terminal 2, which reopened in April following a complete makeover and is one of the coolest concourses you'll ever stroll through. On my return flight, I arrived extra-early to walk through the market (artisan cheeses, gourmet goodies and a grill by Tyler Florence) and wine bar (Vino Volo). Next time, I'll try dinner in Lark Creek Grill, an adjunct to the famous Lark Creek restaurant.
My next Virgin flight isn't until October. Kinda looking forward to it.