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Tesla
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Posts: 181
Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:08 pm

Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Background: While it's true that the New York to California transcon market is unique in the lower 48 states, given the premium products offered in Business Class and First Class, New York to California is hardly the only transcon market. There are plenty of long-distance, cross-country routes which don't involve the Big Apple. So while there are plenty of airlines flying their best products out of New York, there are certainly a lot more transcon flights worth experiencing out of other major cities, too.

My home airport of Philadelphia may not offer all the special products like New York, but the routes to California are the longest domestic routes to be found out of Philly. Five years ago, the last time I flew transcon out of PHL, it was on US Airways. Those routes were since taken over by American, but that's not the only change to the Philadelphia transcon market to take place since my last flight. Virgin America, who had suspended their Philadelphia service in 2014, recently resumed their flights, and are currently offering both PHL-LAX and PHL-SFO. Seeing as how Alaska Airlines are taking over Virgin America, and have indicated that the Virgin product and brand will be retired, time is short to catch Virgin America before its demise. How better than from my convenient home airport of PHL.

I've flown Virgin America once before, in January of 2017. My flight was JFK-LAX, which had served to position me to LAX so that the following morning, I could catch my flights to Tokyo and then onto Sydney, the main destination of my trip. It had been a very mild winter; in fact we only really got one snowstorm...on the exact date of my Virgin America flight. It had snowed all day. As my departure time kept being pushed back, I grew nervous that the flight would be cancelled, like a lot of other flights out of JFK that day. That would have made me miss my flight to Tokyo and then Sydney, which would have been truly horrible. But strangely enough, Virgin didn't cancel the flight. The gate agents continued providing updates to the passengers, as the JFK runways were closed, my inbound plane was diverted to Allentown, and then needed refueling, then eventually took off again for JFK, only to land with no available gates, to park on a remote stand, only to have no available buses. In the end, the delay ended up being 7h. But the flight hadn't been cancelled! Virgin got me to my flights to Tokyo and Sydney!

I was so happy that Virgin hadn't cancelled their flight. But Virgin hadn't stopped there...they sent an email apologizing for the delay, and offered a $200 credit towards a future flight! I had not seen such a gesture before. Here I was, happy the flight had gone out, and then they sent a voucher to apologize for a weather delay! I was very happy to fly with Virgin again. My opportunity came when I was headed on a trip to Seattle. I could fly PHL-SFO-SEA, use my voucher, and experience Virgin America one more time before it's brought into the Alaska brand. And this time I could fully enjoy the flight, without the stress of a 7h snow delay.

PHL-SFO
Virgin America VX1141
Departure: 09:00 (actual 08:48)
Arrival: 12:25 (actual 12:29)
Actual Block Time: 6h41
Actual Flight Time: 5h35
Seat: 1F First Class
Airbus A320

I arrived to the Virgin America check-in area in Terminal D and found nobody there. I was checked through to Seattle and given cardstock boarding passes. I made it quickly through Precheck, and was airside by 08:05, quite a bit later than planned, but I had started the day by running late. Boarding was set for 08:20 and departure for 09:00.

At the gate in PHL:

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My aircraft today was N364VA, an Airbus A320 with sharklets built in 2016. Pre-boarding began right as I arrived to the gate, early at 08:15. I had started the day late, but still made it first into First Class...what a cool cabin, with such a great atmosphere. Stylish white leather seats with purple mood lighting, overhead lights perfectly illuminating the seats, with window shades down to heighten the effect.

Virgin America A320 First Class:

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Seats 1DF:

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The flight attendant in the forward galley saw me taking pictures, and asked, "Are you up front with me?" I replied, "Yes, and I'm very excited!" A pre-departure beverage was offered, and I requested champagne.

I settled into my seat. An amenity kit - containing eye shades and a Virgin America pen - was delivered with my champagne, along with a bottled water. Very nice.

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Looking over to 1AC:

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Coach passengers passing through during boarding were continually remarking on how stylish or swanky the First Class is. They'd never seen anything like it! Indeed, there was excellent bulkhead legroom, with a wide seat with just a little extra storage within each armrest. There was a small cocktail table in addition to the main tray table. Interestingly, the bulkhead was transparent purple, so I could see right into the galley. More and more people continued boarding, and the vast majority were commenting on how great the First Class looked. That's not something I hear on other airlines. Virgin really had a special product. Alaska, taking over Virgin, will not be keeping their First Class. That's too bad because it sure seems like everyone aspires to it! I was enjoying my champagne to celebrate my Virgin transcontinental flight connecting to Seattle. I just noticed boarding music playing; Virgin really did a great job with their onboard atmosphere. I particularly liked the mood lighting and of course the unique stylish seats. Not flat bed seats, but the best in any domestic First Class.

Legroom Shot:

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Safety Card:

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Overhead View:

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The flight attendant commented that the load today is very light, and indeed within 15 minutes of boarding starting, it was already done. The flight attendant then came to me and said, "It's just you and me up here in First Class! Would you like all eight meals!?" Wow, my first time ever alone in First Class! Load 1/8! And on the longest nonstop domestic route out of Philly! The flight attendant and I had a nice chat about the history of Virgin in Philly, and then I was presented a menu and encouraged to order both entrees! I already knew this was going to be one of my best ever domestic flights. Flying Virgin with $200 off, before the brand is retired, the only one in First Class for my first time ever, not only on the longest route out of Philly transcon but then a second Virgin flight into Seattle, I was very excited and happy to have chosen Virgin!

All alone in First Class!

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The captain came to the front of the cabin for his welcome announcement; he was expecting an on-time departure, with a short flight time today of 5h38. It was to be mostly smooth the whole way to San Francisco. "We hope you enjoy the flight, and welcome onboard!" The door was closed at 08:45.

"Please watch the screens in front of you for the safety demonstration; if you're seated in First Class, please watch the live demonstration." I had a personal safety demonstration, but to the narration of the video. The narration was essentially a pop song; I would have liked to have seen the video since it seemed unique and in the Virgin vein, but First Class screens were stowed. Pushback was at 08:48. I realized I was smiling uncontrollably like my first time in F almost eight years ago. Like anything, you get somewhat used to flying in F, but every once in a while something comes along to match your first time, no matter how long ago that might have been. This was going to be an awesome flight.

After a short taxi, I saw out the window that we were joining an extremely long queue to takeoff, probably more than 15 aircraft. This was not unexpected, having flown mid-morning Philly departures before. Starting around 08:00, it's rush hour for departing flights. Philly really isn't that good, with worse and worse fares, especially now that US merged into American, and then the long lines for rush hour takeoff. I honestly don't even use Philly that much anymore, taking the twice-as-long trek to Newark more often than not. Today, though, I enjoyed the convenience, and most of all the chance to be the only one in Virgin America First Class! Plus in this case, the fare was actually better out of Philly than any New York airports. Perfect.

After 20 minutes waiting, the captain apologized for the long taxi, explaining that it was rush hour in Philly and we were 13th in line. It should be about another 15 minutess, but we will still have an on-time arrival.

Finally after 40 minutes (!) of waiting, it was time to takeoff. At 09:35 on Runway 9L we had a takeoff from a stop. It was a pretty decent takeoff for an A320, with acceptable pushback into the seat, but I still don't prefer the droning sound of the engines. Takeoff was to the north, and we quickly made a pretty sharp turn to the left to be pointed in the direction of San Francisco.

I took out my screen and saw that upgrades from the Main Cabin to First Class were available for $399, or from Main Cabin Select to First Class for $190. There were no takers.

The curtain was closed in the galley, so I could no longer see through the purple bulkhead. My personal flight attendant stopped by to offer a hot towel, from a platter of eight hot towels all for me. She asked if I'd chosen which entree I'd like first. Poached Eggs and Brisket - poached cage free eggs, seared corned beef brisket, roasted celery root, beets, potatoes, sautéed rainbow chard with bacon, horseradish creme fraiche, toasted panko breadcrumbs and parsley - with English Breakfast tea. Also served with a bowl of fresh peaches, blueberries, raspberries, and plums; topped with a peach-basil syrup. And more champagne to start! We had another nice chat about Virgin and my positive experience in January despite the 7h snow delay. The champagne was quickly served.

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I reclined and extended the footrest. This was a very comfortable seat. It was so spoiling being the only one up here! I was enjoying the champagne very much, really the most appropriate thing to be drinking considering the circumstances! I was happy to be able to plug in my phone. I had been planning to charge it in the airport, but then I ended up running quite late. At least Virgin is ahead of the game with power outlets in all the seats, unlike a lot of other domestic airlines' planes. Suddenly a delicious smell washed over me; it must be my personal dining experience about to begin! Before I know it, we were already at 34,000ft and almost to Pittsburgh, with the inflight map projecting only 5h to go, and an estimated 12:12 arrival. Very strangely the map had Sicklerville, NJ on it, the small standard suburban town which nobody has heard of, but where I spent all of my childhood.

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I took a quick restroom break, as I had also been running too late for that in the terminal. I hoped there wouldn't be a line!

The Red entertainment system was easy to use, and very responsive to touch on the screen, but if I'm honest, I had been expecting a better selection of material to watch. Nevertheless with IFE on individual screens hardly available in the US, I was happy to have it! My first choice, a favorite from years past, was Slumdog Millionaire.

My first entree was served. It was my first time ever trying poached eggs. They ended up being very good! The croissant was also excellent, but perhaps most of all, the fresh fruit bowl with the syrup. Delicious! I was quite happy with the meal, but also quite happy that I get to sample the other offering, too!

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Love the Virgin salt-and-pepper shaker.

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I finished my first movie, definitely one of my favorites ever, with 2h50 down, 2h45 or 1,200mi to go, right at the halfway point, just crossing from Central Time into Mountain Time, and still predicting a 12:12 arrival. It was time for a restroom break, and my flight attendant offered a snack for when I'm done. After I came out, she had prepared the entire snack basket for me. "Another drink?" I suppose one more glass of champagne.

Amenity Kit and Snacks:

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To go with the popcorn, I asked for the first of Virgin's craft beers: Anchor Steam from San Francisco. The other beers on offer were 21st Amendment "Brew Free or Die IPA", 21st Amendment "Hell or High Watermelon", and Heineken. I liked the unique craft beer offerings not found on other airlines...good thing I had two Virgin flights today so I could try all of them. The Anchor Stream was quite a nice amber session ale, and very surprisingly, it came in a plastic bottle which looked identical to a glass bottle! I decided to start a second movie, Going in Style with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin.

Red Entertainment System and Anchor Steam:

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Relax Mode, very comfortable!

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Halfway through the movie, I thought it was as good a time as any to ask for the other meal. "Is it still possible to get the second entree?" - "Sure!"

The second meal was French Toast with Scrambled Eggs - orange infused brioche French toast, creamy scrambled cage free eggs, roasted tomatoes, rhubarb-thyme compote, and real maple syrup. No more than ten minutes later, and I began to smell that delicious Virgin America breakfast smell again! With about 45 minutes left inflight, my second meal was served..."Think of it as brunch!"

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It was another excellent meal, with the eggs very well cooked, the French toast also well cooked, and the orange infused maple syrup excellent. The croissant was very good, as was the fruit once again. These had been two of my top the airline breakfasts ever! And how nice to get both, 4h apart. Now that's how a long transcon First Class flight should be!

A hot towel concluded service, and the captain was already announcing that we'd begun decent and expect to arrive in 30 minutes, that would be right on time at 12:12. The weather was cloudy and 59 degrees.

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Descent began and it was time for the cabin prep announcement. The longest domestic nonstop out of Philly, and it was already ending. I would have been happy with it much longer in my private First Class cabin! Honestly it didn't even seem like a long flight at all. It had been a really special and unique experience; I was very happy my first solo trip was on Virgin on this flight today.

Landing was on 28R at 15:10. We headed to the Virgin area of gates, and the captain announced that while we were 10 minutes early, our gate was not ready yet. I guess we must wait on both ends.

The Virgin America area of gates:

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Alaska Airlines B737-900, N302AS, also due to fly to Seattle:

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We made it into Gate 53 at 15:29 Eastern Time, 12:29 Pacific Time. Boarding for my next flight was set for 14:00, and departure for 14:40. That gate was not yet announced.

At the gate in SFO:

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After such an excellent flight, my sadness at Virgin's demise is only heightened. It had only been my second flight ever with them; I never really flew them that much, but I will certainly miss their onboard product, service and style. I was very happy to have a second segment coming up.
 
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Tesla
Topic Author
Posts: 181
Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Re: Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:09 pm

SFO-SEA
Virgin America VX1511
Departure: 14:40 (actual 14:33)
Arrival: 16:44 (actual 16:20)
Actual Block Time: 1h47
Actual Flight Time: 1h28
Seat: 2F First Class
Airbus A320

My flight to Seattle was due to depart out of Gate 55, and the gate agent announced they were expecting a full flight with only scattered middle seats remaining. My aircraft was N281VA, an A320 with sharklets built in 2015.

Pre-boarding began without announcement at 13:58, then on-time at 14:00, boarding began for First Class, Elevate Gold and Alaska MVP. I was second in First Class this time, into 2F for comparison with 1F in my previous flight. As I sort-of expected, I found way more room here than on the bulkhead. I mean the bulkhead had ample space, but in the second row, there is just a ton of legroom. The only potential downside was possibly having the passenger ahead recline into all that extra space. We shall see if that happens. For now, I was very much enjoying this legroom, unrivaled in domestic First Class.

Seats 2DF:

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Looking over to 2AC:

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Legroom Shot:

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I'm not sure if there's enough legroom...

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The flight attendant offered pre-departure beverages, and I thought one more champagne was in order to celebrate Virgin America once again. I was again enjoying the initial onboard experience with mood lighting and the stylish seats and fun music. The seats were stocked this time with the amenity kit again, really unusual to have that on a 2h flight. And headphones. And the menu. That's right a menu on a short flight like this. The load in F was 7/8 and I was again lucky with no seatmate...until the very last person to board, a non-rev who first went to visit the flight deck and then reappeared to become my seatmate.

One more champagne, please

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Cabin overview:

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The captain came to the front of the cabin for his welcome message. The flight would be a very quick 1h26. The weather was cloudy and 56 degrees. Pushback was at 14:33. We again had the live safety demonstration instead of the video.

The plane which brought me to SFO:

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Takeoff was from 28R; it seems they switched the arriving runway to 28L since I arrived. Takeoff time was 14:42, a rolling takeoff with very good pushback this time, maintained all the way through the roll until we quickly lifted off. I was lucky enough to see the final United 747 sitting idly by, with the special final "United 747 Friend Ship" title on the fuselage.

As we reached 10,000ft, we already had only 1h30 left according to the map. Our estimated time of arrival: 16:18. Hot towels began service. Meal orders were taken, but only 2/8 ordered a meal! Don't these passengers realize that no other US airlines even offer meals on 1.5h flights! You can't ignore great service like this! I easily got my meal choice despite being last to order: Roasted Chicken Salad - Herb roasted chicken breast, arugula, shaved fennel, marinated gold and chiogga beets, Persian cucumbers, and fresh dill; served with toasted walnuts, feta cheese, and honey orange sumac vinaigrette. The other option was Protein Plate - camembert and gouda cheese, cage free hardboiled egg, stuffed grape leaves, dried fruit, sliced red bell peppers and radish, grapes, and roasted tomato; served with mixed nuts, butternut squash hummus, and mini wheat pitas. I ordered the next Virgin America craft beer, Brew Free or Die IPA. The galley curtain was closed as the flight attendant set about preparing only two inflight meals.

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The captain announced that we reached our cruising altitude of 38,000ft. Lunch was served with my beer. It was a very nice light lunch with good flavor, and I particularly liked the presentation. I enjoyed the IPA as well. A meal on a 1.5h flight really makes you feel appreciated as a customer.

21st Amendment "Brew Free or Die IPA"

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Lunch

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Meal service done, we had under 1h to go. We were just crossing from California into Oregon. A refill of IPA was offered, and since there was still some left in the can, I had to accept.

It was time to fully recline and enjoy every last one of the forty-five remaining minutes in flight. There was just enough time to try the third and final craft beer, Hell or High Watermelon.

21st Amendment "Hell or High Watermelon"

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There was a lengthy inflight announcement about the Alaska Airlines credit card offer; I can't say I missed that on my previous flight. I noticed the IFE remote had a cake button. I was amused and recalled the 2014 Delta safety video: "...require passenger compliance with the lighted passenger information signs, posted placards, ..." at which time a cake symbol overhead lights up, and the passenger is shown beginning to eat a piece of cake, in compliance with the lighted sign. I used to like seeing that segment of the video, but that 2014 edition of the Delta video is now long gone.

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The captain announced that we had 30 minutes left, and Seattle was under light rain and 52 degrees. Our gate was to be D5, and we'd be arriving at eleven past the hour. I would really rather not be 30 minutes early on arrival! I was quite enjoying my time onboard, with a craft beer, very reclined and very comfortable. You really can't beat this. All too soon the captain asked the inflight crew to prepare the cabin for arrival.

Unfortunately almost there:

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Nice attention to detail:

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We flew north, past the city of Seattle, unfortunately low clouds and generally terrible weather conditions made it so I could only just barely make out the skyline. But then we turned around, and proceeded to fly right over the city, getting me some good views after all. We landed to the south at 16:10 with hard braking. I was happy to be here in Seattle for my fifth visit since 2010, but only my first since 2012. I can't believe it's already been five years since I was last here. We parked at Gate D5 at 16:20.

At the gate in SEA:

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These had been two excellent flights. Obviously a flight in a private First Class cabin is going to be like no other, but even the second flight, a short 1.5h segment with every seat occupied, was very good. An inflight meal service on such a short flight is unheard of in the States. The seat, even more comfortable in Row 2 with incredible legroom, and the guy seated ahead never reclined. Three craft beers are the icing on the cake. These had been my longest flights ever for no miles (PHL-SFO at 2,521 miles), and also my longest routing ever for no miles (PHL-SFO-SEA at 3,200 total miles), but it was definitely worth it. I would be very happy to fly Virgin America again, if only they had more routes touching the east coast. But with Alaska taking over Virgin, these might very well have been my final Virgin America flights. I was very glad I got to experience them while I still could.

Previous Flying Transcon trip reports:
Flying Transcon: United P.S. 757-200 JFK-SFO J
 
User avatar
jeffh747
Posts: 730
Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2014 6:32 pm

Re: Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:19 pm

First of all, excellent trip report! You sound just like me when I flew Virgin America for the first time, and the first time in F. I’ve never had a single flight where I was disappointed in even the slightest, and I’m very happy to read you were impressed so many times during your three flights. I had a similar occasion as well, with the vouchers. I was only fifteen minutes late getting to the gate at JFK in December 2016, and literally 30 minutes after I disembarked, I had a $50 voucher in my email inbox! They do a great job with making you feel appreciated.

I read your TR on Alaska’s First Class before reading this, and the contrast is incredible. I already kinda believed it before, but after reading your trip reports going from one carrier to the other, it’s truly a shame AS is doing away with the vastly superior VX First product. The presence of bulkheads certainly makes a huge difference in my opinion as it looks from your photos that the AS F cabin lacks that private exclusivity of the VX F cabin.

Edit: I forgot to mention, I know what you mean by the excellent champagne! The first time I flew F was with VX and had a 09:00am departure. I did the same thing by having champagne to celebrate the occasion and their champagne is one of my favorites!

Great trip reports!
Jeff
A318 A319 A320 A320neo A321 A321neo A332 A333 B717 B727 B734 B73G B738 B739 B752 B762 B763 B772 B788 CRJ2 DHC6 DHC8-300 E145 E190 MD82 MD83 MD90
 
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mikegigs
Posts: 142
Joined: Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:03 pm

Re: Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:56 am

Loved this report! You're so lucky you had a chance to experience all that! Thanks so much for sharing
Airports: BOS, JAX, JFK, EWR, LGA, CVG, ATL, CLT, DCA, IAD, STT, PVD, ALB, MCO
Aircraft: 733, 735, 73G, 738, 752, 717, A319, A320, MD-88, E190, E175, E145, CRJ-200, CRJ-700, Q400
Airlines: B6, CO, DL, US, NW, WN, DH
...a good start but a looong way to go!
 
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IrishAyes
Posts: 2343
Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2008 6:04 pm

Re: Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:52 pm

ugh, what a fantastic trip report. this reminds me so much of when i first flew VX and was in First, from ORD-LAX-SFO. and I got to spend time in the LOFT@LAX and plane spot. Here is the link: viewtopic.php?t=977031

I am going to echo JeffH747's comment: I feel like i was right there with you, and you and I are so similar!!! it is such a novelty and joy to fly with Virgin.

We should start a fan club since as of today, Virgin no longer exists :(

thank you so much for taking the time to piece this together, i look forward to reading the next installment!

IrishAyes
personal page: rohananand.com
 
AA737-823
Posts: 5216
Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2000 11:10 am

Re: Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:47 am

Thanks for posting this.
I was going to comment on your other TR, the Alaska one, but I saw that it had immediately devolved into a Bash Alaska thread.
As an Alaska flyer, I've really come to enjoy my VX flights, and wish that they were sticking around!
But I'm sure the VX folks will enjoy complimentary upgrades, which will be completely new for them.
I'm glad you could give VX a proper send off, with this proper Trip Report!
 
Carfield
Posts: 2102
Joined: Fri Dec 19, 2003 5:49 pm

Re: Flying Transcon: Virgin America A320 PHL-SFO F

Sat Jan 13, 2018 8:15 pm

Thanks for a great report! I am glad that you got an excellent F/A, who was still proud of the Virgin America's service.
I will miss these white leather seats.

Thanks for sharing!

Carfield

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