I recently took two transcontinental flights (between Washington-Dulles and LAX) on Virgin America. I had never flown them before, but thanks to my MVP Gold 75K status on Alaska, I thought it was time to lose my Virgin America virginity.
I was curious both to try Virgin, and to see what perks were available for Alaska MVP flyers at this point in the merger of the two airlines.
Ben reviewed his recent flight in Virgin America’s first class and discussed his experience requesting a complimentary Main Cabin Select seat and paying to upgrade to first class. I had a somewhat similar experience, but I booked the flights before Virgin was offering Alaska elites complimentary Main Cabin Select upgrades, so I had to call to make the request once they announced the benefit.
I actually called Virgin America, but was transferred automatically to Alaska Airlines. The Alaska agent was very nice (they almost universally are), but didn’t seem familiar with the process to request Main Cabin Select upgrades, so she put me on hold. She came back after speaking with her supervisor and one other person, neither of whom knew what to do. So she transferred me back to Virgin America.
The Virgin America agent made the requests for me quickly. Sure enough, when I went to check in for each flight, I saw that I had been upgraded (I never received a “you’ve been upgraded!” email).
On Virgin America, Main Cabin Select is a lot like Alaska’s Premium Class. It includes:
- Seats with more legroom (exit row/bulkhead);
- Free food and alcohol; and
- Priority boarding
The priority boarding is a bit of a moot point, as MVP Gold 75k members get to board first anyway.
On my first flight, I chose a bulkhead aisle seat, and on the other I reserved an exit row aisle seat. (I’m actually a window seat guy, but none were available on either flight.)
On many airlines, bulkhead and exit row seats have armrests that completely partition seats, but on Virgin America they’re just regular armrests.
In both the exit row and bulkhead seats, legroom was plentiful (though I’m only 5’6”, so I can practically lay down comfortably in a medium-sized dog kennel… not that I would).
The black leather seats themselves have adjustable headrests and were really comfortable, especially in an age when airlines are refitting their fleets with slimline seats.
The tables in the exit row are built into the bulkhead, and slide out like a drawer. I like it – they feel more sturdy than your typical tray tables. The purple transparent plastic bulkhead itself is way cooler than the partition you’d find on other carriers.
The entertainment selection was not great, to be honest: a few dozen movies and TV shows, none of which particularly interested me. Virgin America uses Gogo Wi-Fi (which was decent), and text messaging is free for everyone, just like on Alaska.
You order food and drinks through the entertainment system, which is pretty unique. Most food and alcohol are free to Main Cabin Select passengers, and the people sitting in my row definitely took advantage of that fact, ordering multiple selections from the food menu and several rounds of libations.
Keep in mind that none of the food is hot – there are pre-packaged variety packs (such as a cheese plate, a protein box, and a kids’ pack), some sandwiches (PB&J, roast beef), a salad, and several snacks (chocolate chip cookies, coconut chocolate brownies, chips, jerky, etc.).
Between my two flights, I tried the cheese plate (it was good, but the description said it had muenster cheese in it, and it didn’t!), brownies (yummy but coconutty), and cookies (a little too crunchy for my taste). I also had a glass of their La Brune et Fils Chardonnay, which was good.
It seems that they expect people to order through the entertainment system shortly after takeoff, and then they come through the cabin with food and beverage carts a few minutes later to fulfill the orders. However, after the initial food and beverage service, people would order additional snacks and drinks, and the flight attendants had to make dozens of trips back and forth to fulfill the orders. Must be exhausting!
As far as the service goes, it was good – basically like the big three U.S. carriers when you happen to get a decent crew. They were friendly, but did seem to be going through the motions for the most part.
Main Cabin Select Middle Seat vs. Main Cabin Aisle/Window
Keep in mind that if you upgrade to MCS through your status, you may be put in a middle seat. So which is better: an MCS middle seat or a regular Main Cabin seat in the aisle/next to the window?
That will come down to personal preference. If you’re tall, you’ll probably really value the legroom of MCS. Similarly, if you’re planning to eat and/or drink booze, it’d probably be worth it.
On the other hand, if you’re short and aren’t going to eat or drink alcohol, you might prefer a window/aisle seat in the Main Cabin. Seat pitch is still better than on most other domestic airlines, and everything else about the experience is the same.
Virgin America is a nice airline on which to fly economy. Too bad it’ll be going away in a couple years. Alaska’s Premium Class is nice, but the snack box they give you isn’t nearly as appealing as the variety of food options Virgin offers for free in MCS.
Have you flown Main Cabin Select? What was your experience?