Aviation News

March 14, 2012

Virgin America Main Cabin Select Reviewed: The Premium Economy Challenge, Round 1

Virgin America aircraft.
A Virgin America Airbus jet. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)
The Main Cabin Select Flights

Virgin America Flight 411
Route: New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)-Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Departure: 1:25 pm (scheduled) / 5:17 pm (actual) | (mechanical delay – door seal broken)
Arrival: 4:40 pm (scheduled) / 7:39 pm (actual)
Seat:Seat 10A | Main Cabin Select

When it comes to air travel few things are more unpleasant than arriving to the airport only to discover your flight is delayed: even worse when the delay (mechanical) is already scheduled for three hours. Arriving at the check-in desk staff were helpful in figuring out other options which unfortunately boiled down to roll the dice and fly with Virgin (and complete this article) or end up interlining on another carrier (thus defeating the point of our entire trip). Intel came in around 1300 that a part may have been sourced and we could be on the road by 1400, enabling me to make my connection. We put our chips behind the LA flight and checked in, additionally picking up a food voucher for $10 for the anticipated wait.

Main Cabin Select passengers are greeted by a special screen

Main Cabin Select passengers are greeted by a special screen. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-LIndgren)

A long line was already snaking through JFK’s Terminal 4 security checkpoint, but no worries as main cabin select (MCS) has priority security status. We breezed past the long line and were through the scanners in about three minutes, estimating that the priority status shaved at least twenty or thirty minutes off the screening time.

Now airside, 1400 came and went still on the ground as did 1500, 1600—and by the time we were airborne—1700. But the delay sped by, due in large part to an invitation to chill at the Virgin Clubhouse. We can’t say much about it because at the time it had not officially reopened following a renovation, but it’s safe to assume it was awesome: who knew a delay could be so fun? Both fortunately and unfortunately that meant we did not get an appreciation for what was happening just below us at gate A2, other than lots of waiting.

Around 1615 we began the boarding process. Due to limited gate availability we were bussed out to the waiting airplane and walked up the airstairs. While others might have been complaining, I was thrilled (important to note that this is not a normal experience for Virgin at JFK).

Virgin America's Main Cabin Select adds legroom and space

Virgin America's Main Cabin Select adds legroom and space. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Settling into 10A a few things quickly caught our eye: The first was the noticeably larger amount of legroom and space: We squeezed past our seatmates without them having to get up. The second was a bottle of water and complimentary headset (normally $2) waiting in the seatback pocket. While boarding finished quickly we got stuck in one of the legendary JFK departure lines, adding about twenty-five minutes to the onboard time.

A bit hungry, we attempted to order a meal and drink just after departure but the feature was disabled, according to Red, until after the drink service began. A mild chop in the skies kept the drink service from starting on time, but once up and running our selection—same as the flight to JFK—was delivered within minutes of the order function being enabled. Eats and drinks are free in Main Cabin Select, and it was great to see $0 next to everything.

We fired up the internet—which is a pay feature in MCS ($14.95)—plugged into the outlets, and got some work done. In contrast, our shoulders were not hunched up into the overhead bins as they felt like they were in Main Cabin making it a much better experience.

Virgin America Main Cabin Select meal

Virgin America Main Cabin Select meal. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Halfway into the flight we ordered a second meal; the chickpea salad wrap and a small side of fresh fruit. The meal was very good, and it was satisfying to have something that felt substantive and wholesome. We also sampled a cocktail from Virgin’s Mile-High cocktail menu; the TeaTonic Shift. The drink was enjoyable but presentation in the same plastic cups as other drinks left a bit to be desired aesthetically.

Much of the rest of the flight involved watching Comedy Central via the satellite TV.

With about 45min left in the flight we decided another cocktail would hit the spot, but unfortunately eats service had been shut down for the rest of the flight. We were still able to pick up a box of cookies.

Following a developing pattern, we spent the last thirty minutes or so listening to tunes. Landing was smooth into LAX and taxi to the gate equally fast. Due to the mechanical delay causing us to miss the connection to Seattle, Virgin covered a room at the Custom Hotel for the evening, which was quite enjoyable.

Virgin America Flight 781
Route: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)-Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Departure: 9:20 am | Arrival: 11:50 am
Seat: 3A | Main Cabin Select

The next morning it was time to fly back. Main Cabin Select and first class share a dedicated check-in counter, and we had our tickets in three or four minutes; shaving what we’d estimate was ten or fifteen minutes when compared to the normal check in line. Security is also priority, and we made it through in fifteen minutes. While this saved us loads of time in JFK, in LAX the priority line was popular with employees heading into work and only had two scanning lines. Regular security had twice that, and consequently there was not any noticeable time savings.

Boarding started on time at 0850, and we were one of the first to board thanks to priority boarding. We settled into 3A—a bulkhead row—and promptly began watching the recent release 50/50 on the free Virgin headphones in the seatback trip. Cabin announcements early on pretty routinely interrupted the movie, and while annoying none of the announcements were for anything unnecessary. Since the flight is short, most of the flight was consumed by the movie, with the last 30 minutes or so spent listening to—you guessed it—tunes all the way to the gate. The extra space and legroom helped get a good catnap in too.

Another meal on Virgin America

Another meal on Virgin America. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Taking advantage of the complimentary meals, we ordered a turkey croissant with swiss cheese, egg and Dijon, along with fresh fruit and yogurt with a ginger ale, all of which came within five minutes. The croissant was not quite as big as we had hoped, but per usual eyes were bigger than stomachs and we were full by the end of the meal. Later we picked up a bottle of water along with a box of cookies.

The flight landed early and promptly parked at gate A6.

Continued: The Bottom Line >>