I'm in Los Angeles with the family this week, visiting the in-laws. I booked the flight kind of late and decided to try Virgin America, which had been getting a lot of hype for its geeky amenities and Jetblue-style business model. The only way I could get three seats together on Virgin was to pay extra for the roomier bulkhead seats, the so-called Main Cabin Select, which came with "unlimited" food and media, a sort of discount business class. The flight was pleasant and as enjoyable as JetBlue, but the geek reality has not yet caught up with the hype. For example, the much-discussed on-board Internet was not available on our flight. (I've yet to see Jetblue's version of these services, either). So while the airline's Red touch-screen media console showed options for e-mail and Web surfing, those features were disabled. It was possible to chat with other seats, but my traveling companions showed no interest and as far as I could tell nobody else was using the system. And while there was a cool remote with each seat, in the bulkhead you had to lean forward quite a bit to use the touchscreen, which was set in the wall.
The satellite TV channel selection was about the same as JetBlue's, with some premium choices (HBO's "Entourage," a Bill Maher comedy special, etc.) and films for adults (I watched "Hancock") and kids (my daughter watched "Wall-E" again). I did not bother figuring out the parental controls, preferring to issue commands in person.
I made a brief effort to play one of the video games with the seat-remote, but gave up after finding lame graphics and needless complexity. I'm sure a kid could have figured it out, but my kid stuck to the games on her Nano. (Update: She has informed me that she did in fact try one of the games. Her review: "You were supposed to get to the top of this tower, with this little green guy who could shoot fire, but it was really hard because there were little things flying at you. You couldn't really go anywhere, because you kept getting knocked over by this little thingie. You had to jump a giant gap. I tried it for 12 lives and I couldn't figure it out at all.")
The seats were big and comfortable, and nobody had a problem with my frequent standing, stretching and walking around (I have a genetic predisposition to blood clots, which can be brought on by air travel and prolonged sitting in cramped spaces). The aisle seemed narrower than on other planes, but perhaps that was my imagination. In any event, passersby kept bumping me, and I am sorry to report that I did the same to others.
Instead of offering the usual snacks or meal service, Virgin lets you order drinks, snacks and small meals using the Red touchscreen.
A few minutes later, a flight attendant shows up with the order (the selections were slightly better than the JetBlue snack packs).
Also unlike JetBlue, Virgin America has first-class seats [video]. Other than the bulkhead partition, there is no aisle curtain separating those passengers from the rabble, however. In the bulkhead, we had a good view of first class (see picture at right), which had its own bathroom, bigger seats, better food and Red screens that were adjustable in some way. I was amused by the similarity to "Wall-E" -- the robotic console-equipped floating easy chairs that kept the humans supplied with a steady diet of Big Gulp-type drinks and media. Virgin America first class did not look as comfortable as the Wall-E spaceship.
This train of thought made me focus on my own consumption, so I powered up Zenbe Lists, one of my favorite iPhone apps, and kept track of my intake for the flight:
- Watched entertaining cartoon safety video. Finally understood how to inflate the vest that is unlikely to save anyone in the unlikely event of a water landing.
- Chewed two pieces of gum for takeoff, so my ears would pop.
- Drank cup of nondescript coffee, ordered directly from attendant. Saw first-class passenger select from a tremendous basket of muffins, more than enough to serve half the coach passengers. Plus a small bottle of water.
- Used Red toucshcreen to order Virgin's cheese and fruit plate (actually, a box), then ate it, plus some of the cheese from my daughter's box. Surprisingly good, especially the soft cheese and walnuts, although some of the crackers were stale and tasteless.
- Watched the end of "Witness" with Harrison Ford, on satellite TV, the scene where he kills a Philly gangster by dumping Amish grain on him.
- Watched a premium movie, "Hancock" with Will Smith. It was O.K., although I thought it was implausible that the villain was allowed into prison with a hook for a hand. Yes, more implausible than star-crossed immortals with superpowers. Oh, sorry, that was a double spoiler.
- Watched two "premium" short films, both available online, "Beard Science" and "Poke," both part of Campus Moviefest. The first, a sort of "Trading Places" with beards, was hard to follow. The second, about a slapstick-Rube Goldbergian effort to take back a Facebook poke, was funnier.
- Read through early-morning Twitter traffic on Twitterific for the iPhone. These Tweets had been downloaded to my phone before I put it in non-broadcasting airplane mode. Everyone was Twittering about being at the airport. This blog post represents what I might have been Twittering, if I had access.
- Played a futile game of Bejeweled on the iPhone.
- Read Friday's NYT Kindle edition on my Kindle, after solving last-minute battery problem.
- Drank contents of a can of seltzer. (By the way, whenever I order seltzer in L.A. restaurants, I get blank stares. Does this happen to anyone else? They show no recognition until my wife says "club soda." Virgin's Red calls it seltzer.)
- Ate a rather large can of Pringles chips,and refelcted on the burial choice of Fredric J. Bauer.
- Drank another small bottle of water ordered through Red, to stave off deyhydration, a contributor to blood clots.
- Had another cup of coffee. They serve real Half-and-Half, which is impressive, though I prefer plain milk or, better yet, soy milk.
- Shared a bag of chocolate chip cookies with my daughter. Her mother continued to doze between us, her preferred mode on planes.
- Listened to parts of "MacBreak Weekly" and "Uhh, Yeah Dude" podcasts for about an hour, for a future zeitgeist blog post.
- Walked around a lot to stretch legs, used bathroom.
- Read the dustcover and several pages of John Hodgman's "More Information Than You Require." I was stopped short by his prediction that one of the presidential candidates would reveal that he had a hook for a hand, which called to mind the villain in "Hancock." This kind of coincidence happens all the time. Good thing I'm not superstitious.
- Took comical photos of flight attendant using a tiny flashlight to search for a first-class passenger's lost eyeglasses. Too blurry to use.
- Listened to music on my iPhone, including Fleet Foxes, some Jonathan Coulton and Stephen Colbert's Christmas song. I briefly tried the Red music system, but I wasn't happy with the sound quality.
- Chewed two more pieces of gum for the landing.
I can only hope this was all helpful to the economy, if not the environment. I'm just doing my part. The flight was pleasant and relatively quiet, which made it bearable to endure the mysterious, hourlong wait at the Avis rental car center that followed at LAX, pictured at right.
Things I didn't do:
- Open my laptop. But I had to carry it on so it wouldn't get stolen by the Transportation Security Administration.
- Order a second cheese and fruit plate. No reason to be a pig.
- Attempt to read more of "Anathem," which I had hopefully lugged aboard, adding two pounds to my carry-on. But I will finish it on this vacation and blog about it, I swear.
- Stick gum under the leather seat. That would be wrong.