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Virgin America: Short-Haul Flights Made for Hipsters?

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Cisco Adler Virgin flightRecently, Virgin America expanded its new and growing route system to include flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco with flights to Seattle. Peter Greenberg Worldwide’s Michelle Castillo filed this report on the new route.

With promotional prices starting at $79 each way, Virgin America’s new Los Angeles/San Francisco to Seattle route hardly breaks the bank and is competitive with Alaska Air, which—until now—had essentially dominated the route.

On the inaugural flight, when I chatted with Virgin America CEO David Cush between an acoustic Cisco Adler set and drink service, I wondered “Why Seattle?”

“With our West coast focus, Seattle was a key city that we had to serve. From a technology standpoint, there are a lot of links between the Bay Area and Seattle, and certainly from a music and entertainment standpoint, Los Angeles and Seattle,” said David Cush, CEO of Virgin America.

So, how was the service?

For starters, the plane is brand new, part of a fleet of 15 A320 planes that is growing. Inside, the cabin is reflective—literally—of Virgin America’s attempt to provide soothing mood lighting, with ever changing blue and pink ceiling lights.

One mood that didn’t change for the worse: It wasn’t a cattle-call boarding process. It may be low-fare, but Virgin America has kept assigned seating.

Empty Virgin SeatsMaybe the mood lighting was working, because I felt the seats were indeed wider. (They’re actually not). But the mood was enhanced by a great in-flight entertainment system, with seatback TVs complete with music videos, video games, live television and movies. Free headphones help drown out the normal cabin din.

One definite departure from other airlines — part of Virgin America’s attempt to create a certain social vibe — was the onscreen option for seat-to-seat chat. This can help you communicate with other family members on the plane or, even more importantly, set up a dinner between you and the guy with the Prada shoes sitting two rows ahead of you.

As an added bonus, electrical outlets are located on every seat, so that when you hit the ground, you can take off running with your computer and cell phone fully charged.

While sodas are free, food costs extra and can be quite pricey on the flight. But, instead of getting your traditional mystery meat covered in some sort of liquid, nestled right next to radioactively green vegetables, you get fresh sandwiches and snacks.

Ordering is simple, and a bit innovative compared to most other American airlines. Press a few buttons on your touch screen and slide your credit card, and voila, your food is on the way. There’s even a separate, convenient cup holder that can be brought down without using the mobility-limiting tray table.

On the upside: the fare wars on the route are still continuing. Alaska is now matching Virgin’s lowest fares, while JetBlue, which flies from Long Beach to Seattle, is promoting fares of $89 each way.

On the downside: frequency. Alaska has increased its flights between Los Angeles and Seattle to 15 a day, while Virgin America only offers three round-trip flights a day, which may soon be bumped up to four. So, plan accordingly.

By Michelle Castillo for PeterGreenberg.com.

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