JetBlue vs Virgin America: Short Haul Edition (Trip Report)

This trip was the first of three in a two-week period, so get ready for a couple more trip reports down the road. This particular trip was for the first CAPA Americas Aviation Summit in Vegas, so it was just a quick hop. The conference paid for the flights ($145.98 out and $97.10 back), and naturally I wanted to come out of Long Beach. That was easy on the way out but not coming home. That gave me the opportunity to compare JetBlue and Virgin America head-to-head. (Stay tuned for the long haul comparison soon.) Both were good, though I think I’d give a slight edge to JetBlue, mostly because of Long Beach Airport but also because of the fast, free wifi.

JetBlue at LGB

I haven’t been able to fly out of Long Beach for awhile so I was excited to be able to swing it this time. As usual, I left home an hour before my flight, walked through the Pre Check line, and was at the gate with time to spare. I spent the weekend on the Strip with my wife and some friends before the conference began, so I took a Friday morning flight to get the weekend started a bit early.

The gate area was busy, and boarding began right on time. For some reason people seemed to be confused about which rows were boarding despite clear announcements being made. It all settled down and I hopped on board to grab my spacious seat.

JetBlue Legroom

April 24, 2015
JetBlue 280 Lv Long Beach 1005a Arr Las Vegas 1110a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 10, Runway 30, Depart 5m Early
Las Vegas (LAS): Gate E11, Runway 25L, Arrive 4m Early
N625JB, Airbus A320-232, Blueberry tail colors, ~90% Full
Seat 9A
Flight Time 48m

I plugged in my headset and watched some terrible movie on Comedy Central while we sat at the gate. We pushed a bit early and made our way to the end of the runway on a cloudy, chilly day. We punched through the low clouds quickly, and soon we were cruising through 10,000 feet in brilliant sunshine.

JetBlue Work and Snack

I guess I haven’t flown JetBlue in awhile because this is the first time I realized the annoyingly long TV intro/advertisement was nowhere to be found. I just watched my crappy movie in peace and then flipped on my computer. This was my first time using JetBlue’s FlyFi internet and it was the best kind of internet: fast and free. Since it was such a short flight, the flight attendants came through with water or soda and no other drinks. They did have a choice of snacks though. I took the bag of pretzels.

It wasn’t long before the last ten channels of TV stopped working… So much for the thrilling conclusion of whatever that awful movie was. We were descending anyway, and soon I had to shut off my computer. I just sat back and enjoyed the fantastic view out the window.

JetBlue into Las Vegas

We landed and taxied over to our gate in the new Terminal 3. Some other friends were landing on United around the same time, so we all met up and went into town. We spent the weekend at Vdara on the Strip. It was nice because it was a non-gaming hotel, but the pool was in a bad spot. The winds forced them to close it down while we were there. (Side note: still trying to figure out if “Vdara” should be the name of an STD or the medicine you use to cure one.)

Once my friends and wife took off, I headed out to the CAPA conference way out at Lake Las Vegas. If you’ve never been, then I highly recommend you keep it that way. Lake Las Vegas is dead. We stayed at the Hilton (originally a Ritz Carlton that failed, became something else, and then rebranded again) and the little shopping village next door was basically empty other than an Irish pub and a Mexican restaurant. Even the casino that used to be there failed and shut down. That’s bad.

This, however, was a good venue for the conference because we were a captive audience. I’ll have a post or two coming on what went on there next week.

As mentioned, I wanted to fly JetBlue back, but I was moderating the last panel at the conference and it ended at 350p. With a thirty minute ride ahead of me and the last JetBlue flight just after 5, there was no way I’d make it. I had plenty of options into LAX but knowing I had a long haul comparison ahead for JetBlue and Virgin America, I figured I should fly Virgin America home this time so I could do the short haul comparison as well. (Thanks to all the people on Twitter who chimed in.)

Las Vegas Terminal 3 Ticket Counter

My ride to the airport left at about 430p and I was in Terminal 3 by 5p. I grabbed my boarding pass from the deep ticket counter area and pondered how it was possible this thing cost more than $2 billion to build. It was nice but it didn’t look overly fancy. Where did the money go?

Security was a ghost town so I walked right through. The gate was just ahead of me, marked by this big electronic tower. I had plenty of time until my flight so I grabbed a seat and logged on. Wifi is pretty fast in that airport, and it’s free.

Las Vegas Airport E Concourse

Our aircraft pulled up and I someone who looked like our pilot come out to do a walkaround. He stopped under the wing, kept looking up, then pulled out his phone to make a call. I thought this couldn’t be good, but I was wrong. We had no issues.

The gates in the new terminal have subway style boarding doors, but they weren’t in use for this flight. The door just remained open while the agent took boarding passes.

Las Vegas E9 Boarding Gate

April 28, 2015
Virgin America 491 Lv Las Vegas 650p Arr Los Angeles 805p
Las Vegas (LAS): Gate E9, Runway 25R, Depart 4m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 30, Runway 25L, Arrive 2m Early
N641VA, Airbus A320-214, Standard red tail colors, ~65% Full
Seat 8A
Flight Time 41m

Onboard it quickly became clear this was not a very full flight. I took a seat right in front of the exit row again (same as on JetBlue) and I was happy to find an empty middle. I was unhappy, however, to find that somewhere in close proximity, there was a passenger who apparently didn’t know what deodorant was. It stunk…bad. I just flipped on the TV and tried to ignore it. Legroom was fine, but obviously not as good as on JetBlue.

Virgin America Legroom

The door closed early and soon we were pushing back. Just as I was getting into some new show, the safety video came on and ruined that plan. I really, really hate that video because it’s so catchy I can’t get it out of my head for days. Then we had a few minutes of commercials. It was about 10 minutes before we could watch TV again.

We taxied to the end of the runway and then we sat. Other airplanes started to go around us. Finally, one of the pilots came on the PA (we hadn’t heard from them at all) and explained that there was an air traffic control delay at LAX. We had to wait about ten minutes.

Once we were cleared, we took off quickly into the relatively smooth Vegas twilight. I kept watching TV while the flight attendants announced an abbreviated service with water, beer, and wine for free. Awesome.

Virgin America Departing Vegas

Then something weird happened. I don’t know if I was just so engrossed with Tosh.0 or what, but I never saw them come by with drinks. Nobody in my row or on the other side had a drink either. I couldn’t figure out what was going on because they said they’d pick the trash up soon, so clearly they must have come through. Did I black out or something? So strange.

We came in over the San Bernardino Mountains which surprisingly had a light dusting of snow on the highest peaks. It was a beautiful time of the day, and the views over Los Angeles and beyond to Catalina Island were spectacular. We plunked down on the south runway complex and then had to taxi over to our gate. After that long taxi, we made it to the terminal, but wait… we had to be towed in. The pilots made and awkward announcement that “we had reached our gate but we have to be towed in.” Several people took that first part as a cue that they could get up, but one of the flight attendants came back yelling “sit down, sit down” like it was an emergency evacuation or something.

Virgin America Arriving Los Angeles

We we finally blocked in, I did the math. From door close to door open, we spent 36 minutes on the ground and 41 minutes in the air. Sheesh.

We landed at Terminal 3 and I needed to grab food before heading home. That place is terrible. Other than some old-looking prepackaged sandwiches, Burger King is the only “quick” option. But it’s not quick because there was only one person working the registers and a long line forming rapidly. Once it was time to order, I found out that 4 of the 14 value meals weren’t available. Why? Because they use a regular electronic Burger King menu even though they can’t provide some of the meals at the airport location. How stupid. I felt bad for the person behind the counter who had to repeat this to everyone.

Once I finally got my food, I grabbed a cab and headed home.

Overall, both airlines did great. JetBlue obviously wins for me because it flies from Long Beach, but even without that, I’d still give JetBlue the advantage. The free wifi was really nice. Even if they charged a little it would be fine. But Virgin America uses Gogo, and I wouldn’t even think about opening my computer on a short flight with the rates they charge. While I’m not tall, I did like the JetBlue legroom as well. Though when it comes to drinks, Virgin America wins with free booze.

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