Too Cool for School on Virgin America (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, Virgin America

We had to head to Dallas for a wedding, and it ended up being a super cool trip. Why do I say that? We flew Virgin America, rented from Silvercar, and stayed at an aloft hotel. That’s WAY too cool for me, but it was a fun one.

We flew Virgin America for one reason – it was cheap. In fact, I almost paid more to fly American because the first return on Sunday on Virgin America wasn’t until 240p and I wanted to get home earlier. But Virgin America had a little one day sale that had a discount plus a free wifi code. It was only $268.30 a person, way better than we could have done any other way.

The flight looked empty in First Class, so I went to check in the night before to see about an upgrade. Apparently you can’t upgrade until 6 hours in advance unless you’re an elite, and there was no way I was waking up at 3a to do it. By the time I woke up, First was full. But considering they were charging $138 to upgrade to Main Cabin Select, I can only imagine that the price for first would have been too high for me to bother anyway.

With little traffic along the way, we got to the airport early. Terminal 3 still looks the same at LAX except there’s a lot more red paint. Oh, and the other half where Alaska used to be is pretty empty. Here’s a panaroma shot I took while waiting for our flight on the other side.

January 18, 2013
Virgin America 874 Lv Los Angeles 9a Arr Dallas/Ft Worth 155p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 35, Runway 24L, Depart 8m Early
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate E33, Runway 18R, Arrive 14m Early
N638VA, Airbus A320-214, “San Francisco Pride”, ~65% Full
Seat 12F
Flight Time 2h33m

We headed over to the gate to board and I handed over my mobile boarding pass. It worked flawlessly at TSA, but here the agent was having trouble getting it to register. She hit the screen of my phone and that did it. It showed that the session had timed out so we had to step outside to log back on and check in again. These mobile passes are still a pain in the butt.

Once onboard we found that the flight was not that full. Most middle seats behind the wing were empty, but we were in a full row. No big deal. The captain came on to tell us that he wouldn’t be talking to us during the flight because he didn’t want to interrupt our movie-watching. He said if we wanted to know where we were, we could look at Google Maps. (The same announcement was made on the return.)

We pushed back a little early and were in the air right about the time we were supposed to be pushing back. Nice. I watched TV the entire time and used my free wifi code to get some work done. I was determined to try out the ordering system for food since I hadn’t done it before. (The only other time I’ve flown the airline was from LA to SF and back.)

They came around with drinks and I got a ginger ale. They also were handing out bottles of water for those who wanted it. Later, I ordered a tasty roast beef sandwich that was delivered to me in just a couple minutes. The system was definitely easy to use, although the touchscreen seems to require a little harder of a touch than I would like. I kept thinking I was bugging the person in the seat in front of me.

The rest of the flight passed very quickly since it was just like another work day for me. I think I must be shrinking because the legroom seemed much better than the last time I flew the airline. (Nothing has changed, so I really must be shrinking.) Overall it was a great flight. My only complaint was that the power outlet didn’t work.

Soon enough, we were descending into DFW and it was time to try out Silvercar. That post will be live on later this week. This was also my first stay at an aloft hotel. For $89 a night, it was great. But it’s kind of funny to see a loft-style efficient use of space in the wide open plains of Plano where it’s more novelty than necessity.

Thank you to everyone who came out to do a little Crankyspotting that Saturday morning. We had a good couple dozen folks come out, I’d say. Lots and lots of silver birds at DFW, but no sign of the new livery.

After a busy weekend, we were ready to come home, and I was determined to try for an upgrade this time. Sure enough, six hours before departure, I went to check in. It was $278 to upgrade. That’s way too rich for me for a 3 hour flight, so I passed.

When we dropped the car off, we hopped on the rental car bus to the terminal. I tried to check in on my phone to pull up the boarding pass and it just said “online check in not available for this flight” or something like that. Great. The Virgin America ticket counter is far from the gate, and we had planned on going straight to the gate. It was a slight annoyance that was alleviated when we found a kiosk right out front that worked.

This time, they offered us an upgrade for $139 each, half price. We decided to take it. It said ok and told us to pick a seat. There was only one on the seat map. We couldn’t move on without choosing seats for both of us, so we had to cancel and check in as normal. When we got to the gate, the agent said that First was now full. Bummer. We were ready to go.

January 20, 2013
Virgin America 879 Lv Dallas/Ft Worth 240p Arr Los Angeles 405p
Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW): Gate E34, Runway 18L, Depart 5m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 35, Runway 24R, Arrive 24m Early
N624VA, Airbus A320-214, Virgin America standard, ~65% Full
Seat 13F
Flight Time 2h48m

The gate agent was in a very good and extremely corny mood. She started by boarding the “Amazing A” boarding group. Then it was the “Beautiful B,” “Charming C,” “Dazzling D,” and “Excellent E.” We headed into the very long jet bridge at A34 and found it backed all the way up. Once down to the aircraft a few minutes later, we hopped on to find it looking about as empty as our original flight out.

We were buttoned up early and headed out to the runway complex on the west side of the airport. Soon enough we were airborne and winging our way west.

I had a nice brunch with friends beforehand so I wasn’t hungry on this flight. And I may have had a beer or two too many the night before, so I just stuck to water for this flight home. Really, all I needed was this:

The NFL playoffs were plenty, but I also had wifi and the air was smooth as glass. My only complaint? The noxious odor coming from someone in our general vicinity. Whew, it was bad.

Ok, I lied, I had one more complaint. My power outlet didn’t work again. But this time, the other one in our row did work and nobody was using it. So I stretched the cord out and we were good to go. My lithium ion battery didn’t even explode.

Soon enough, we were back home.

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28 comments on “Too Cool for School on Virgin America (Trip Report)

      1. That would be my daughter! While she was there with dad, she required no bribery… That kid is the most plane obsessed 2 year old I’ve ever met!

      2. David – Yeah, there were a couple of women at this one actually, but the kids were just there to play and roll down the hills. (And I use the word “hills” generously – this is Texas, after all.)

  1. FYI, the touchscreen responds really well to non-finger objects (i.e. completely opposite to a smartphone screen that requires a fingertip). I often tap what I want with a pen if I have one handy or use my fingernail so that I’m not feeling as though I’m shoving my hand through the screen itself.

  2. Why such empty flights? I’ve not seen a 65% full (or 35% empty) plane in years. Maybe this is why Virgin is having so many problems.

    1. sadly, its tough to both fill planes and do it at a revenue premium. VX can’t seem to do either. Slightly unrelated, does anyone know how many routes VX operates as a market leader in fares or LF? (highest of each)

  3. Maybe the aloft style hotel in Plano is liked by all the people who travel there on business. Plano does have a lot of companies headquartered there.

    Poor terminal 3, still getting kicked for it’s looks. Way past time for it to be torn down and rebuilt, but where would everyone go in the mean time?

    1. I live in Plano about 5 miles or so from where the Aloft is. In that particular part of town, they’re trying to create a “liveable community” kind of thing where you can eat, work, shop, etc. without owning a car, similar to the Mockingbird Station development in Dallas. The development itself (Shops at Legacy) is across the Tollway from where the Aloft is. The local transit authority recently opened a new Park and Ride in that area in keeping with the theme, though if you ask me, a development like this would have a far better chance of succeeding on the opposite side of town, closer to the light rail. Though loft-style living is an uphill battle in these parts to begin with, given how dirt cheap houses are in the northern suburbs.

    2. David – I actually like T3. It’s kind of retro and the big open seating area works better for me than the walled off gate areas. But it is old, that’s for sure. You notice it a lot more when you go into the center of the rotunda.

      MeanMeosh – That’s a goofy place to build a liveable community right on the side of a big tollway like that. But then again, who knows what else they have planned. It’s surrounded mostly be greenfield today, as you know, so there’s plenty of room to build.

      Nick – Aloft is actually considered a W hotel, so it’s sort of like W meets Hampton Inn. It’s kind of trendy and cool. The room itself is more open and they try to utilize space well. It actually has a very European feel to it in that sense (minus the huge TV and the working hot water).

  4. Word on the street has it that Virgin America are in the final stages of receiving more funding again. So those empty middle seats shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.

  5. The usual virgin America gates are normally right behind their ticket counter however construction has forced them to them to temporarily move much further away.

    1. Felix – Thanks for the background. I saw a lot of stuff about gate changes for them, but I figured it was a permanent change and not temporary. The car rental shuttle shows that you have to take the one that goes to the ticket counter. But since we were going to go to the gate directly, we took the other E shuttle that went to Spirit, I think Frontier, and “US Airlines.” It doesn’t look too easy to walk between the two areas with all the construction right now. Hopefully they finish it up soon.

  6. Sorry about the mobile boarding pass-pain, but glad to hear I’m not the only one having problems with them. Thanks for another great trip report, Brett. Keep ’em coming!

  7. A note on those pesky mobile boarding passes and their usability at DFW. It is a hit or miss proposition unfortunately. One of the nice things about DFW is the abundance of security checkpoints (2 each in Terminals A and D, 3 each in B, C, and E), so if the one closest to your gate is too busy, all you have to do is walk down the hall to the next one. The bad part of that is, not all of the checkpoints have been equipped with mobile boarding pass readers yet, and in some cases, only one specific line at a checkpoint has them. I found this out the hard way once, though the TSA agent was nice enough to escort me to the front of the line that did have the mobile readers. Terminal A in particular is a problem because of the construction, and resulting temporary relocation of the checkpoints. My advice, play it safe and print your boarding pass at home or the office before heading out, or if that’s not possible, build in a few extra minutes so you can grab one from a kiosk before heading through security (usually a short line, thankfully, so those tend to cancel each other out).

    1. MeanMeosh – Our problem wasn’t in Dallas since VX’s mobile site wouldn’t let us check in on the return. Our problem was on the way out at LAX and it wasn’t an issue at TSA there.

  8. Mobile boarding passes work well on airlines that have native phone apps or use the iPhone Passbook. I’ve been using the United iPhone app for a few years and it stores the pass on the phone itself so that you don’t need an internet connection while you are using it (which helps at Dulles where the main checkpoint is underground with spotty cell service). Passbook does the same thing, keeps a copy of the boarding pass on the phone.

    1. If you have an iPhone, I strongly recommend screen capturing.

      I was on a delayed AA flight once that was not updated to delayed in the system. My phone timed out and would not let me get the mobile boarding pass because the “flight has already departed.” I had to get out of line and go to the counter to get a new one, missing out on some overhead bin space.

      Mobile is a great idea, but there are still many bugs!

    2. Noah – I’m on an Android phone so as far as I know, I didn’t have that option. (Though I’m sure there’s some app for that.) I was just happy VX finally got its act together and got a mobile website at all. That hasn’t been around very long.

      1. Which phone? Modern ‘droids have a shortcut that involves the power button and another hard button, pressed simultaneously, that will give you a nice screen cap, though the method varies between phones.

        Re: mobile boarding passes, I too am a big fan of app-based passes. Though the two segments where I used Delta and mobile boarding I actually had fine luck with the website; I just bookmarked the boarding pass URLs (the ones with the actual Aztec code displayed) and opened ’em when I needed them (not a big deal at either PBI or ATL).

    1. Nick – Yeah, not malicious at all. She just couldn’t get it to scan, so she grabbed the phone from me to maneuver it and she tapped the screen accidentally.

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