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

JetBlue, Trip Reports, Virgin America

I told you that you wouldn’t have to wait long for the long haul version of my JetBlue and Virgin America head-to-head comparison trip report, didn’t I? (Read the short haul version here.) A mere 4 days after getting back home from Vegas, I was on the road again. This time it was for a good friend’s wedding all the way in Boston. The result? Both airlines did well, but I think I still like JetBlue better. Correction: I’ll like JetBlue better once they get their wifi act together and have it installed fleetwide.

Final Approach Into Boston

Though I naturally would have loved to fly from Long Beach on this trip, it wasn’t in the cards. JetBlue has only a single redeye heading east and an evening return. That didn’t fit my plans. So, to LAX it was. I wanted the earliest flight out and JetBlue fit the bill with a 7a flight costing $178.10. Then for the return, Virgin America had the late morning departure I wanted at 1115a for $163.10.

That 7a departure from LAX was going to come early, but fortunately since it was Saturday I didn’t have to worry about traffic. I woke up at 5a and got in my car within 20 minutes. Soon I was parking as usual at Quikpark and then I was on the bus. Even at this off-peak hour, LAX had a lot of traffic on its mangled roadways. There is so much construction right now, it’s worse than usual. But hey, at least they have fancy light posts lining the roadway now.

LAX Light Posts

I made it to Terminal 3 and sighed that I had to be back there so soon. That terminal is terrible. The security lines were messy, and I think Pre Check was the longest one. Still, it moved relatively quickly and I was through with time to kill.

JetBlue T3

I parked myself at the gate and watched the 625a Spirit departure to Vegas push back. Full of Pacquiao and Mayweather fans, no doubt. (And probably the only time that flight has people on it.)

At LAX, JetBlue boards by row number, and I was one of the last to get onboard being in row 9.

May 2, 2015
JetBlue 288 Lv Los Angeles 7a Arr Boston 334p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 33B, Runway 24L, Depart 4m Early
Boston (BOS): Gate C33, Runway 15R, Arrive 19m Early
N504JB, Airbus A320-232, Blueberry tail colors, 85% Full
Seat 9F
Flight Time 5h5m

We were on one of JetBlue’s oldest aircraft. This guy has been around for about 15 years now, and he’s still soldiering on. The flight wasn’t full (lots of empty seats in the extra legroom seats), but my row was. I figured I’d just plug my headphones in and watch TV, but it wasn’t working. Uh oh.

The flight attendants announced that this aircraft was equipped with FlyFi, JetBlue’s wifi, and then stopped mid-sentence. Oops. This was one of the 20 percent of A320s left in the fleet without it. Double uh oh. (Side note: Might be nice if they could schedule the A320s without wifi on flights that aren’t the longest ones in the system.) I was really looking forward to giving the wifi a work out, but that wasn’t to be. I hadn’t prepared for 5 hours without TV or internet, so I tried to figure out how to pass the time.

We pushed back and were airborne into the still morning sky in no time. The pilots turned us around and pointed toward the opposite side of the country.

TV still didn’t work right away, but that long intro video with ads was back, unlike last week. I guess they just don’t show it on really short flights. Fortunately by the time we reached 10,000 feet, TV was back on again. Whew. Now I didn’t have to worry about desperately searching for some game pre-loaded on my phone to help me avoid boredom.

The flight attendants came through with drinks, snacks, and food for sale. I just had water and PopCorners. I was planning to sit back and relax and watch a movie. (This one is easy to identify…)

JetBlue Entertainment

I remember JetBlue as being the one airline that had a little switch on the seats in front of the exit rows that would allow them to recline in the air. I tried but couldn’t recline. So I asked one of the very friendly crewmembers about that. The flight attendant told me that those switches were long gone. Anyone know when that happened? Those were a great idea.

So, no reclining for me (on an airline with this much legroom, I do like to go back just a bit). It was a smooth morning to fly until we hit a few bumps over the Plains. The seatbelt sign went on, and then I’m guessing the pilots forgot to turn it off. The ride quickly smoothed out, but the sign didn’t come off again until we were abeam Chicago.

A cocktail of Comedy Central, ESPN NFL Draft coverage, and the (still very poor) live map kept me busy for much of the flight. Oh, and looking out the window of course. I was lucky to see a C-17 cruise by a few thousand feet below us at one point. That was awesome.

The girl in the middle seat must have had a rough night because she spent most of the flight with her head on a pillow on top of her tray. As we headed over the Great Lakes, I was getting really thirsty and hadn’t seen a flight attendant in awhile. I didn’t want to wake this girl up, so I did the unthinkable; I rang the call button. A friendly flight attendant came and had water in her apron, so she handed it over and I was happy. Nice job.

JetBlue Snack Center

Sleeping beauty finally woke up somewhere near New York, so I took that opportunity to go to the lav. The flight attendants had set up a mini-bar there with bottles of water and snacks on a little tray. I made sure to grab some on my way back. We began descending over Eastern New York and had a fantastic view all the way into Boston.

Terminal C Boston

Once on the ground, I wanted to use Uber, but I didn’t know if they were allowed to pick up in Boston. So I asked one of the JetBlue agents at the customer assistance counter, and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah, they can pick up everywhere.” I told her that where I lived in LA, they weren’t allowed to pick up at the airport so I just wanted to make sure. She simply responded. “LA sucks.” *sigh* Welcome to Boston.

I had a great time at the wedding and the weather was fantastic, but after two short nights, it was time to go home.

I thought about trying for an earlier flight home since Virgin had one at 9a and I could standby for free, but I had successfully kept myself on Pacific Time for this entire trip and figured it wasn’t worth changing that now. So I slept in late and took Uber over to the airport.

I haven’t been to Logan a lot, but once I arrived at Virgin America’s spot in Terminal B, I had flashbacks. Virgin America uses what I can only assume are the two worst gates in the entire airport, B37 and B38. Those were the home of America West Airlines when I worked there.

Gates B37 and B38 Boston

I grabbed my boarding pass and then went into the security line. These gates are completely isolated from the rest of the airport so they have their own dedicated security line. And that means no Pre Check. There were many of us with Pre Check on our boarding passes, and the agent could only apologize, telling us that we could leave our shoes on but we still had to pull out liquids and laptops.

The line moved very slowly, but I had plenty of time. Once through, I found a seat. There is very little going on in this area. Other than a food cart, there are just a couple of small bathrooms. It was tight in there.

Virgin America Gate B37

Our airplane was there already, and boarding began on time. I had group E so I was one of the last onboard.

May 4, 2015
Virgin America 365 Lv Boston 1115a Arr Los Angeles 230p
Boston (BOS): Gate B37, Runway 22R, Depart 5m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 36, Runway 25L, Arrive 4m Early
N640VA, Airbus A320-214, Standard red tail colors, ~95% Full
Seat 13A
Flight Time 5h43m

The flight seemed mostly full, and when I took my seat, someone was already in the middle. (I’m not quite sure how Virgin’s boarding groups work.) I sat down and flipped the TV on.

The captain came on and said that it would be a fairly smooth flight across the US today. (That wasn’t true.) Even better, when they closed the door, our aisle seat was empty. My seatmate moved over and we basked in the glory of an empty middle.

Once we finished with that oh-so-infectious safety video, I flipped through the channels looking for anything to watch. We taxied around Boston for a bit before heading into the beautiful day. We circled around and I had a great view of Boston on the way out. You’re welcome, Boston, for me bringing our weather to you this weekend.

Departing Boston Logan

The bounces began early and the seatbelt sign went on. I felt the beginnings of a cold coming on, and really didn’t feel great, but I knew I had to get some work done. Once the internet starting working, I logged on.

Gogo was charging an incredible $40 for this flight. Fortunately, I had a freebie I could use. If any flight was worth it, this would be it. And Virgin America’s legroom actually made it easy to work on the computer without needing T-Rex arms.

No T-Rex Arms

I ordered some water through the entertainment system, and that’s really all I wanted. The flight attendants came by with a cart working the aisle and brought a couple waters to me as they passed. That food-ordering system is great, but you can tell that the flight attendants don’t feel the need to come through the cabin as much because of that.

Internet and TV kept me entertained most of the time. I actually like JetBlue’s TV system better because it changes channels faster and has far more channels.

The seatbelt sign probably stayed on for about half the trip. There was a lot of weather in the middle of the country, it seems

As I got closer to the end of the flight, my computer ran out of juice and the power outlet didn’t work so I closed up shop and stared out the window. Here’s the power outlet and, as requested, my footwear.

Failed Power Outlet

We finally started descending into LAX and there were a few thunderheads scattered around. We obviously steered clear but it made for a nice view.

Storms Over Southern California

I was really happy to finally be on the ground but we again landed on the south side and had to taxi around.

We pulled up to the gate and I couldn’t wait to get off. But I couldn’t. The jet bridge broke so we had to sit there for a few minutes, waiting to see what would happen.

It didn’t take long before someone was able to fix the bridge (you suck, Terminal 3), and we were finally off.

So who wins? Honestly both did a good job. I still like JetBlue better in general, but I wouldn’t turn down a flight on either of these guys.

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29 comments on “JetBlue vs Virgin America: Long Haul Edition (Trip Report)

  1. I love your trip reports and your articles. I am 16 and while I may be new to blogs about aviation, i love travelling by airplane. I have read quite a few trip reports recently and the thing I like best about your trip reports is that you focus on the consumer experience part of it without being overtly judgemental and without that “Do you know who I am attitude”. The only one suggestion I have to make is that although I love your articles about american carriers, I personally feel that should you write similar articles (like the one about spirit’s seating) about more international carriers, it would make many people happier. I think now that your blog has received worldwide response and appreciation, it might be time to make your blog a more worldwide blog.

    I know that you have been doing what you do for more years than I have lived but please dont take this the wrong way. Cheers!!

    1. Devarsh,

      Just to let you know, as someone who has been alive more the 4 times your age, I too enjoy reading Cranky’s trip reports. And yes, I too enjoy the way he gives you a consumer’s perspective and does it so well

      Traveling today I find isn’t quite as enjoyable as I seem to remember it back when. But, memory isn’t always 20/20 and I remember so many terrible events that make you appreciate how much safer and more reliable flying is today.

      I can’t imagine what travel will be like long after I’m gone. I trust you’ll see some pretty amazing things over your lifetime. Enjoy!

    2. Devarsh – Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading the blog. I actually do have a pretty interesting international trip coming up soon.
      So keep an eye out for that one…

      1. I remember when America West flew from Logan’s terminal B – gates B37, 38 & 43. Ironicly, since there was a code share with both continental & US Air, if they wanted they could have used those gates depending on usage & the deals structure.

  2. I’d be interested to see how these two flights stack up against the big 3. Not a route I ever fly but my guess is that they’ve down gauged to narrow body planes on this route. Are the days of doing trans-con’s in widebodies completely gone? For my money a 5+ hour flight on a 320 or 737 is just too long.

    1. I flew this same route – LAX-BOS – yesterday on Delta. I have never been more thankful for an upgrade in my life! :)

    2. A, I moved from Boston to LA in 1982. Through the 80s, I was regularly on twin aisle wide-bodies (DC-10, L1011) whenever I went home, which was two to five times per year. I flew on many different airlines- TWA, Eastern, Northwest, to name a few.

      By the 90s, I was primarily flying United. It was in the 90s that United started flying single-aisle B757s on this route. That was no fun, unless I was willing to spring for an upgrade. At least there were 24 First Class seats on them, so a good chance of an upgrade. United also deployed A320s, and B737-800s and -900s after the CO merger.

      I hope some day, they will fly wide-bodies again on this route. But I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Yup — BOS to the West Coast is entirely narrow-body now. The “best” you’ll do size-wise is a 757-300 on a couple of UA’s BOS-SFO runs a day. Otherwise, you’re looking at 737s or A320-family. UA was supposed to be operating a ps-configured 757 on one of the LAX flights this summer, but I’m not sure if that has come to fruition. I know the premium fares on this route aren’t as high as JFK-West coast, but I’m still surprised we haven’t seen Mint, ps or AA’s Transcon service on at least the peak AM/PM flights. When I worked at UA (99-2009) BOS-SFO was in the top 10% of the system for revenue per avail seat mile.

  4. When you say LAX has fancy light posts, do you mean ugly lopsided wishbone looking light posts…lol

    That BOS gate area photo must say a lot having to have a floor standing fan blowing towards security. Must not be to nice an area during the heat of summer.

    1. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to photograph the TSA area; Bad Cranky! For God’s sakes man – you could have captured someone slacking on the Government’s dime! Oh, wait, looks like the guy in the middle is doing exactly that…

  5. I would love to see either one of these airlines provide east coast service out of OKC. We’re stuck with the big 3, Southwest and Frontier which means we can get direct flights to LAX, PHX and DEN. Alaska threw us a bone with a direct flight to SeaTac. With the way our market is growing here, I really do think we could support a few flights a day out east on JetBlue. But for now, it’s herding through ATL or DTW with the rest of the cattle to get to the east coast.

    1. My rough rule of thumb for JetBlue is that they fly to very few places that are more than a 2 or 3 hour drive from a coast, Great Lakes included. The major exceptions are SLC, DFW, and Vegas, with a few others. Looking at their route map, there is a huge hole running from Denver to DFW to CLT to ORD

      Honestly, I am surprised that B6 hasn’t started a flight or two a day to JFK from places with high fares to NYC, especially former hubs in the middle of the country. CVG-NYC can run $600+ easily a week or two out, for example, and I have to imagine that with all the CPG companies in NYC and the high fares out of Rogers, a WM vendor shuttle [Rogers (AR) – NYC] could get high fares, too.

      1. B6 used to have service to CMH.. For whatever reason they’ve been unable to make cities not on the coast work.

        I wonder if there is room for them to try a mid-continent hub again, especially given that so many of them have been abandoned recently.

  6. Ouch, I flew this morning with a cold coming on, can’t say it was much fun.

    I hope you at least had some gum to chew or something.

  7. Having another airplane fly near or under you is probably one of the coolest experiences when at 30,000 feet, you especially get a sense of how fast they’re going when traveling in opposite directions. I remember a B-2 bomber flying underneath us during a trip in 2008. These things only happen for a few split seconds which makes having the window seat so great.

    1. In 2005 I took a trip to L.A. & saw something sort of cool – a Southwest 737 on final approach go directly over my head. I could see details of the jet in ways I couldn’t before. This was at one of the rental car facilities.

  8. I’ve been on that jet our last year TPA-JFK. They do work that jet A LOT. Our flight was delayed because late inbound, and 5 flights previously, simply the fact that it didn’t have a chance to reset because it flew a redeye and continued on.

    Also, it looks like the power plug for VX flight is on (as indicated by the green light). However, it probably tripped because your laptop is drawing too much power to run the laptop and charging the battery at the same time. One way to deal with this is 1) make sure your laptop is fully charged before powering it on; or 2) remove the battery while running the laptop.

  9. what is JetBlue going to be like when they stuff more seats onto their Airbuses….they are leaving the EMB’s alone, for now….they have a good product now but they are starting to morph into the major carriers by charging for bags and stuffing more seat on their planes….why ruin a good thing….their making money but i guess they want to be greedy and go for more….Southwest is next and they are on the lower end of service… long should i keep my JetBlue stock….

  10. The VA ordering system insures the flight attendants don’t have to keep coming around. Just make your order. That is the beauty of the system. Do you want them to come around more? They say at the beginning of the flight that they will stay out of your way…unless you need something.

  11. Your trip report on JetBlue and Virgin America for this long haul edition just added to the information I got from you short haul edition. It seems after reading both reports, that JetBlue and Virgin America are close in comparison. Having already traveled on JetBlue, but not Virgin America, I am anxious to try Virgin America as I have heard good things about them.

  12. Boy you have me concerned about Terminal 3 Brett! My friend and I are flying DEN-LAX next week on Frontier (I know the complaints are high but it was a good air fare even with the extras you have to purchase separately) This will be my first REAL trip to LA since I was a child in the 70s except when changing planes in LAX a couple times. Love your posts!!

    1. Mjnco64 – Eh, it’ll be just fine. Make sure to go downstairs in the rotunda (by Gladstone’s) to make your way out to baggage claim. That walk in the old tunnel will make it feel like you’re in the ’70s all over again!

      1. Thanks.i survived my trip through Terminal 3 although both the F9 (Frontier) flights were ontime or early took forever (almost 30 min) to get bags at LAX

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