A Trip on Virgin America I Wish I Didn’t Have to Take (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, Virgin America

I realize I’ve done a lot of trip reports lately, but that’s because I’ve had some unplanned travel. This trip was the worst example of that. We had an unexpected death in the family, and that meant I had to head back to the Bay Area. While I don’t want to waste too much of your time on trip reports, frankly, I’ve been having trouble keeping up with my posting schedule in light of what’s been going on. And trip reports are easier to write than anything. So, I’m going to post this today, then take off Monday for Presidents Day, and hopefully get right back to where I want to be starting Tuesday.

I could have flown into either San Francisco or San Jose for this trip, but a quick check of pricing made for an easy decision. When I went to book tickets on January 31 for a flight the next day, I looked to JetBlue out of Long Beach first. No dice. The schedule just sucks. It was either an 8a flight, which was too early for us to be able to get someone to watch our kids, or a flight after 5p, which was way too late. On the return, it was 1p or 730p and I knew the funeral would be done by 2p. So I went to look at LAX.

Walk-up fares were running over $200 each way on everyone into San Jose or San Francisco… except for Virgin America. For some reason, Virgin America has put a very low $83.10 one way walk-up in the market. It’s in a low fare bucket, but there was plenty of availability. I booked the flights and went to get packed.

We checked in online and headed to a fairly quiet LAX. Though we had no checked bags, I did notice that the skycaps have a sign saying that they don’t take tips. I like that. Security was empty and we were on the other side with some time to waste.

My wife went to buy some essentials in the gift shop (I think it was Swedish Fish and Bugles), and it’s there that I found the dumbest airport souvenir that I’ve ever seen for sale.

Worst Airport Souvenir Ever

I mean, who the heck would ever buy that?

We wandered into the gate area and I was hoping to see if I could change our seats. We were scattered since no two seats were available together when we booked. I looked around for the counter for our gate when I realized that Virgin America didn’t have one. Instead, they had a cluster of counters in the middle which apparently work on all gates. It was a bit confusing and it made it hard to know if I should stand in line somewhere or not.

LAX Terminal 3 Virgin America Gates

There was no luck in getting better seats, but really, we didn’t care that much. I boarded first since I was further back.

February 1, 2015
Virgin America 927 Lv Los Angeles 1125a Arr San Francisco 1245p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 37B, Runway 24L, Depart 1m Late
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 50, Runway 28L, Arrive 13m Early
N623VA, Airbus A320-214, Standard Red and White colors, ~99% Full
Seat 23A, Coach
Flight Time 56m

Virgin America Mood Lighting

I’ve done this before, but I’m still taken aback every time I get on with the purple mood lighting. It just looks strange. I went all the way to the back and took my seat on the window. The flight was pretty full. I took my seat, pulled out my headphones, and flipped through the inflight entertainment system. I settled mostly on pre-pre-pre-pre-Super Bowl coverage.

The captain came on and I had to do a double take. His voice had that same wrasp and inflection as that of Doug Parker, CEO of American. Fortunately, Doug was not flying our airplane. We pushed back and headed north.

There was some light chop much of the way but Captain Kevin left the seatbelt sign off the whole time. Thank you, Captain. This was minor stuff, but I feel like most pilots in the US would have left the sign on. So, kudos.

I actually logged on to wifi with the hope of finishing up my posts for Monday and Tuesday because I knew once we arrived, I wouldn’t have much luck or be in a state of mind to handle it. The flight attendants came through and handed me a small bottle of water. Yes, a bottle. I love that because then I don’t have to keep it on the tray.

I finished my work, closed up, and started watching as we glided in over a green Silicon Valley.

Descending Over Stanford

That impossibly beautiful campus at the bottom right of the photo is Stanford. We parked in Terminal 2 nice and early, grabbed something to eat on the way out, and headed to the rental car facility.

After an incredibly difficult couple of days, it was time to come home. I was completely spent emotionally. We dropped the car off and headed to the terminal with just the right amount of time. We checked in and got our boarding passes, walking through security in just a minute.

My wife wasn’t in much better shape than I, so she went to get a 20 minute chair massage while I finished buying some wine and macaroons for our friends who stepped in to watch our kids while we were gone. I shuffled over to the gate area and thought it looked pretty empty.

When they called for boarding, they said our flight was almost half full. The gate agent was almost apologetic saying that it wasn’t late enough in the day for the business crowd but it was also an off-peak time of year. I told him he didn’t need to apologize. No traveler was going to complain about a half empty flight.

February 3, 2015
Virgin America 936 Lv San Francisco 410p Arr Los Angeles 530p
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 55, Runway 1L, Depart 6m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 35, Runway 24R, Arrive 19m Early
N842VA, Airbus A320-214, Standard Red and White colors, ~45% Full
Seat 17A, Coach
Flight Time 54m

Jet Bridge Mood Lighting

I never noticed before that Virgin America has taken mood lighting to a whole new level at SFO. Even the jet bridges have it.

This time my wife and I were sitting together and I slumped into my window seat, still wearing my suit from the funeral. We pushed back a little early and were airborne in no time. There were just a few high clouds around, but the captain said he expected it to be smooth. Turns out he was wrong. As we got near the bottom of the cloud layer, we had a good couple jolts. Not long after, he descended back down to smooth altitudes.

I thought about having a drink onboard, but I was just so tired. I had a bottle of water instead. My wife slept as I just stared off into the distance as we made our way home.

Heading Down to LAX on Virgin America

We landed early and our friends weren’t able to pick us up. Instead of taking a cab, we just hopped on to the Quikpark shuttle and got ourselves an Uber from there. Overall, I had a great experience flying Virgin America. It’s really the little things – like the bottle of water – that make it feel just a bit better. But of course, that’s not why I chose Virgin America on this very short flight. It was all about the price and a schedule that worked on a trip I really never wanted to take.

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48 comments on “A Trip on Virgin America I Wish I Didn’t Have to Take (Trip Report)

  1. First, my deepest sympathies and condolences to you and your family at this time of loss. Loosing anyone is always stressful but having to make travel arrangements such as the ones you did with connections and all the other details involved can add more stress and be upsetting in and of itself. Thank goodness you knew your way around the block, so to speak, so as as to be able to make these arrangements and get there safe and sound in time for the funeral services.

    I don’t know if your particular airline offers them anymore, but when working with a family who is preparing for a funeral and who have relatives who want to come from far away, I always suggest to them to ask for a “compassion” or “bereavement fare” from the airline. I know that Delta still offers this reduced fare. To qualify for it the passenger has to provide (and I may be leaving out a step here so it’s best to tell the agent when you’re calling all of the details involved): a) that you are flying specifically to attend the funeral of a loved one—a relative—that can include a brother, sister, mother, father, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece nephew, etc. The “inclusion” is, for most airlines, pretty expansive. 2) Then they’ll ask yiou for the name and the address or phone number of the Funeral Home and the name of the deceased person; 3) They might ask for the date and time of the Funeral itself (church, synagogue, graveside service).

    In all of the years I’ve been a priest and helping families with arrangements, no one has ever come back to me and told me that they’ve had difficulties after following these steps.

    The airlines will then offer you their better pricing for this. I am not ‘savvy’ in terms of what ‘the best’ or the ‘most reduced’ rate might be at the time you call…..but it’s a guaranteed seat on a specific flight and it will get you to the destination in time for the visitation, funeral service and burial and get you back home again when your affairs/arrangements are finished.

    It alleviates the stress and anxiety of the ‘travel’ portion of your already stress filled time in dealing with of someone you love or a person whose funeral you must be at.

    I hope this offers some help.

    By the way, some of the airlines have also extended this to people who need to sing, play an instrument, or give a eulogy at funerals who may not actually be related to the deceased. As a Pastor of a church, I have only been asked once by an airline, by phone, to confirm that a person was, indeed, singing at a funeral we had so that they could extend the bereavement fare to them.

    The savings on the fare may not be tremendous versus a full fare ticket but some parishioners have told me that it did, indeed, save them hundreds of dollars on each individual fare.

    1. Most carriers have done away with bereavement fares, as they were a discount off the full fare. In most cases there’s usually a readily available fare that’s cheaper, and the hassles of validating the fare became too much administration for the airlines’ tastes. Flyer in this situation are usually better off searching online and finding the price and schedule that work for them. I think bereavement fares probably offered a good option previously, but not so much anymore. I think only a couple carriers even have them anymore.

      1. agreed, I tried using it on AA a 3 or 4 years ago, but the price was higher than booking online (ORD-LGA). The only advantage was some added flexibility in flying, but if you know your preferred flight, it may not make sense, and in my market I figured a gate agent would make same day changes anyway.

        Once booked on Spirit, but they dont offer bereavement, and wouldnt reduce change fees when funeral was moved making whole value of ticket worthless.

    2. fatherandrew – As others have said, bereavement fares don’t really exist all that often anymore, but I think Delta may be one of the only ones left around here. In general, I find they’re great for flexibility but the fares aren’t all that great compared to what you can get elsewhere. And then the hassle of getting all the info together… it just never even crossed my mind to deal with that. I’m sure we wouldn’t have done better than we did with Virgin anyway.

  2. Am I correct in assuming that, although UBER isn’t allowed
    on the grounds of SFO, they can pick you up from one of
    the rental car parking lots?


    1. That’s correct helenor. Each time I fly into an airport where UberX isn’t allowed to pick up from, I’ll just take a hotel or parking car shuttle. Usually they’re far enough outside of airport lines that Uber will pick up from. To make it even easier, request Uber while on the shuttle so the car is waiting for you. Sometimes, I’ll even tip that driver. They sometimes know what I’m doing and will drop me off at the curb awaiting my Uber.

    2. helenor – As was mentioned, Uber is now ok at SFO, but I was doing this at LAX. There is no issue with doing it as long as you’re away from the terminals. (I did it in Phoenix once where you just take the skytrain, or whatever it’s called, to the end of the line at the 44th St side and Uber picks you up there.)

      1. So how much is an uber from LAX to Long Beach? I think a taxi is around $70, and a private shuttle (like Execucar) is about the same. Of course, 3 days of terminal parking at $90 is not that much more.

        1. Ron – Well, this was in rush hour when we landed so it was really slow
          going. It ended up being right about $70 using Uber Plus (which I didn’t
          know existed). No UberX vehicles were around or it would have been
          cheaper. Also, no tipping on top of that amount and it was a black car
          versus a cab. Definitely a better plan.

  3. CF – “While I don’t want to waste too much of your time on trip reports”. This reader says keep’em coming.

    I want to extend my belated condolences at the death in the family.


    1. I’m sorry for your loss.

      Your trip reports are the best. Way better than other travel blogs for sure. And it’s not like you post three every week. A little stretch of trip reports won’t hurt anybody :-)

    2. Please accept my condolences on your loss
      and my apologies for having omitted same
      during my previous post


  4. First off, very sorry for your loss. My condolences.

    Trip reports are my favorite part of the blog, so keep them coming when able. Your other stuff is great, but I love the details and snark of a trip report. For what it’s worth…

  5. Sorry to hear your trip was for a sad reason.

    I don’t get this mood lighting thiing, what mood is purple?

    The pic of the inside of the airplane makes it look dark. Guess Virgin America never heard of people with low vision who would find it difficult to see, at least while boarding.

  6. I think this goes to show why the little things matter. I can empathize with you completely and frankly, the absence of any annoyance on this flight is major plus for Virgin. I flew Virgin once and it was the pleasantness of the crew that really made the difference. You never know what a passenger is going through so when it really matters, a good crew attitude pays big dividends.

  7. Hi, With that title, I expected it to be negative about VA; yet I read it and it wasn’t negative. You’re right; VA does things right; I’m taking them to London next month and can’t wait. Bernadine Bednarz

    1. technically it is not the same airline. The guys that owns Virgin Atlantic owns ~20ish% (legally as a non-US citizen can only own <=25% i think) of Virgin America. anyhow, hope it meets your expectations.

      1. Opinions differ on which is better: Virgin Atlantic or Virgin America. I’ve flown both and prefer Virgin America. What I experienced on Virgin America, even in economy, is what I expected on Virgin Atlantic. Apparently Premium Economy and First Class are amazing. Economy was pretty standard. Apparently Virgin Atlantic doesn’t nickle and dime nearly as much as Virgin Atlantic though.

        An apples to apples comparison (sort of, but not entirely) is Virgin America vs Virgin Atlantic Little Red. Little Red doesn’t/didn’t have the glitz of Virgin America (and no first class), but provided free snacks in addition to beverages. Same aircraft as well.

  8. Please accept my condolences on your loss, Brett. I’m sorry you had to travel during this time (and, as always, appreciate your trip report). Please don’t feel any obligation to write another post until you feel like it.

  9. Sorry for your loss, Brett. May the rest of the year be more pleasant and Cranky Concierge make record profits.

    As for the trip reports, keep them coming as you are able. Even one a week (on average) would work. Maybe a couple of your concierges that fly on occasion could write a guest article about their trips to fill the gap when you don’t fly that week. Brett, in general you present a unique viewpoint so absent on most flight blogs as you have worked in the airline industry and understand their reasons for changing/doing things that travellers in general don’t like. That in and of itself is refreshing to read even if I may disagree sometimes (granted I think airline deregulation should not have happened in the first place and that creates most of the things people don’t like about air travel today IMO so I probably think radically different about many of these issues anyway).

  10. SO sorry for your loss :(

    and like the other readers, i love the trip reports as well! the more the merrier!

  11. I thoroughly enjoy everyone of your trip reports. Of course, sorry to hear that this was a trip you really wish you didn’t have to take.

    Makes one ask: What percentage of trips are taken under circumstances where the traveler really wishes they didn’t have to take the trip. My guess the percentage is a lot higher than we might expect.

    Death situations, how can anything be worse, but think of all the times we travel for work where we dispise everything about having to make the trip. Maybe we are simply ill, have people sick at home, the weather is frightful, our finances couldn’t be worse.

    Haven’t even gotten to to the airport yet. Everything at the airport makes us go ballistic. The airline is operating as usual, late, “what, you think we care about your personal problems? You people make me sick!” Or, so it seems!

    Oh yes, the fare. When is someone going to do something about this? A bereavement fare? Like you want a discount for every little issue you have with your life? Oh please!

    Well, a nice well written trip report like yours is always welcome. Oh, so other people have problems, too? Who knew?

  12. Condolences Brett.
    Having made similar day trips in the past for funerals, it’s a tough, long, tiring day that sucks all the joy out of travel.
    Sounds like Virgin America made it as smooth as it could have been, at a very reasonable price.

    Subject: A Trip on Virgin America I Wish I Didn’t Have to Take (Trip Report)

  13. Thanks to everyone for the condolences and well wishes. For those who are wondering, it was my cousin Danny who died… shy of his 30th birthday. We don’t have a big family, so Danny was more like a brother than a cousin. My trip up to San Jose in January was also a last minute trip to go see him. At least I was able to spend time with him then.

    1. Cranky… You write the absolute BEST of the airline blogs… you write as many trip reports as you D*** well please! Your readers were here before and will certainly be here after. I can’t understand your loss but am keeping you and your family in mine’s thoughts and prayers!

    2. I am so sorry Brett. Even though many are “sainted” after death, your cousin gives proof to the old saying “only the good die young”. In accordance with my faith tradition, I will pray for the repose of his soul. May he rest in peace.

  14. Brett, I’m so sorry for your loss, and to hear that Danny died so young.

    Please take as much time and space as you need. We’ll all be fine without blog entries here for a few days.

  15. Very sorry for your family’s loss Brett, my sincere condolences.

    I do enjoy 99.73% of your input on this industry, so keep it coming Cranky…!

  16. My condolences to you and your family, Brett.

    Out of curiosity, how was there so much availability in a low fare bucket on an almost full flight?

  17. Please accept my condolences to you for your lost of your cousin.

    I expected a negative review of Virgin America based on the title. This led me to read it and check it out because I always had the feeling that Virgin America was on of the better airlines. However, your report of your trip just confirmed that. I once had to travel for a loss and back then, they had bereavement fares which I took advantage of (didn’t have the internet then). Today, it does not seem necessary and as proof, you did find a good deal. That sure is great that you did not have to experience any more pain.

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