Monday, November 05, 2007

My Virgin Trip

Let me just start out by prefacing everything that I'm about to write with this - I'm a pushover for technology. I love playing with it, I love using it, and I am one of those that thinks the world is a better place because of it. (Luckily, I work at Google, so there's a good fit there.)

Wow, what a difference a week makes... oh yeah, and a change of airlines. You might have read my post last week bemoaning a flight on United from JFK back to SFO. In lieu of that experience, I decided to forgo the popular frequent flier miles on United, and give the new guy a try.

Now, I don't know if you can really call Virgin America the "new guy". Nor do I know if it is appropriate to consider it the young upstart, hungry for business. But everything about my experience would suggest that, like in so many other industries, the start-up trying to make it seems to be more motivated (and therefore much more customer friendly) than the entrenched mega-power (that's United for those of you following along at home.)

The flight attendants were very friendly, and genuinely seemed interested in making our flight an enjoyable experience. The in-seat entertainment system was very cool. I did get a kick out of the boot up it did in the beginning of the flight before we taxied out:

Not only is this cool little entertainment system (called 'Red') used for playing TV and movies, but you can also order your food and drinks right from the seat. I swiped my Amex, cued up a sandwich, chips, and my soda preference, and a few minutes later a flight attendant handed me what I had ordered. I also really liked the fact that they figured out how to transition passengers from the old system of systematically going down the aisle to the new in seat ordering. They did this by sending the crew down the line, but the drink cart was mounted with a wireless display and credit card system where they could in real-time get the orders and deliver them:

Being from Google, I liked their use of the concept of beta with their 'Red' system, as it did crash a few times, and every now and then was unresponsive. I also was disappointed in the direct tv feed, as it was spotty at best, to the point that on the return trip home, we only had 3 channels that were actually working.

In all fairness to the folks at United, it is easier to have this great customer experience with the technology enablement that Virgin has. The benefit of new planes and lack of legacy. Also, I initially didn't have anyone sitting next to me and was enjoying a window seat, however the gentleman in the aisle decided to have his girlfriend come join us in the middle seat about 30 minutes in, so although I wasn't in the middle, it was a little cramped.

But that all being said, I count this as one strike for United, one plus for Virgin. On my next transcontinental flight, I'll definitely be checking out Virgin America. By the way, did I mention the equivalent United flight was 3x the cost of the Virgin flight?

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