Thursday, April 10, 2008

My new favorite airline

is Virgin America.

Traveled VA down and back to San Diego, and was impressed by many things.

Overall, it seems they stepped back and said, "If we were starting an airline from scratch today, how would we do things?" And the answer was:
  • Civilized self service touch screens like flat panel monitors at a table perpendicular to the counter instead of in the counter slots where other airlines place theirs. This saves them space, and keeps people queuing for counter assistance separate from those wanting to do self check in.
  • No extra papers to manage for your luggage. Your boarding pass has a bar code that's also on your luggage tag. No more little paper folder with a little sticky ticket for each piece of luggage. Just keep your boarding pass.
  • Less paper: Boarding pass the size of a post card. No need to print every piece of crytptic code known to man on it. Name, flight, gate, boarding time, seat, bar code. Don't need much else, and don't need that much paper.
  • Sexified plane decor. Lighting scheme on interior was like being in a hip lounge. Pink and purple (bordering on black) lights gave the plane a cool feel. The seat backs are not covered in fabric, but some kind of cool plastic that gives them the feel like something out of 2001. The tray table has a clever innovation: Option to fold down just a cup holder ring instead of the whole thing. For when you want to have a place to set your drink, but don't want to give p all your lap space.
  • The best in flight entertainment system ever. I flew VA back in 2000 and was impressed with all the fun toys, and things have come a long way. A controller in the arm rest on a retractable cord lets you text chat with other passengers in other seats, play Doom, watch TV, etc. I was most impressed by the music selection, however:
My music tastes aren't exactly mainstream, though far from totally obscure. The Flight attendant noticed I was wearing my Chemical Brothers shirt, and suggested I check out the music because they had The Chemical Brothers in there. I was amazed at her perception, and proactive suggestion. When I looked at what they had, I was surprised. Not only did they have the Chemical Brothers, they had plenty of other pretty cool electronica artists. The business smarts of the whole thing is that it's like Amazon, or iTunes, but you can listen to an entire track, not just a crappy sample. I found myself building a playlist of things I'd never heard before, so I could give them a listen. A few new artists, a few new tracks from artists I knew. Well worth it, as I found myself thinking "I must download this when I get home".

We landed before I could get through my play list. I'd not mind being stuck on a VA plane for a while, as long as I wasn't starving. Great in flight experience, great proactive service, great re-thinking of the airline process. And as an extra bonus, my flight was a little over $100 round trip from SF to SD. Yes, that's round trip. So it's better, and cheaper. I'm impressed.