So yeah, there’s the Virgin multi-concept business venture that pretty much everyone is familiar with in some way by now, but I never knew who this Richard Branson guy was behind the wheel. That is, until I saw him on the Colbert Show (yeah, I was way out of touch, ok?). Aside from the water fight and the X prize, I didn’t really know much about him or his business. Because I’ve never bought a single thing from a Virgin music store or flew on a Virgin flight, I thought he was just a typical cocky billionaire wanker.
That changed a few days ago. In searching for the cheapest flight from Seattle to San Francisco, I found Virgin America was having a steal of a deal for $49 one way. When I checked in at the airport, the woman asked me if I’d flown Virgin America before. When I told her I hadn’t, her eyes lit up and she assured me I’d love it. She exclaimed “It’s like a disco party in the sky!” as I gave her a doubtful stare.
When I got on the plane however, my attitude started to change a bit. I was impressed with the quality seating, even way back in economy class. Everything appeared to be modeled with “a night club in space” kind of theme.
The purple running lights and tinted transparent red plastic bulkheads set the tone, while the arm rest entertainment controller and slick white molded plastic seat backs and leather-like seat material gave the whole concept some serious credibility. I was being compelled at every turn to think of air travel with Virgin America as “hip” or “cool” or whatever similar term you want to describe it with. Primarily, there is a sense of youth in everything about it.
This slant toward youth is perfectly illustrated (yes its a pun) in the safety placards. While I do like the “leave it to beaver” 1950s style faceless illustration people in most safety placards that sit neglected in the seatback pouch in front of you, the hot young babe illustrations featured in Virgin America’s safety placards scream out “this airline is for people under 30″.
Even the famous safety lecture before take-off had a new slant to it, which I must admit made me watch the safety lecture with more intensity and attention than I’d ever given it before. The idea of using a video to run through the safety lecture is nothing new, but Virgin America took to funny animation and an apathetic and sometimes condescending sounding narrator. Too bad the video only plays while the plane is taxiing to the runway, at which time electronic devices are supposed to be off in prep for takeoff. I had to sneak the vid with my trusty BlackBerry from under a pillow! Don’t worry, I turned it off before we actually powered down the runway.
That’s all find and dandy, but once in the air I started to realize something. First off, there was not a single crew member on the ground or in the air (besides the pilots) who appeared to be over 30. That in itself was not a problem, I like dealing with sexy young air hostesses as much as the next guy. The problem was, they were under 30 and acted like it. On my flight down to San Francisco, a couple female crew members and one male crew member spend the last 20 minutes of the flight loudly discussing their individual “dealing with people” horror stories. This was totally unprofessional for two reasons;
1) I was a customer, one of “those people” they were describing in, well, impolite terms.
2) The conversation seemed to know no bounds and eventually veered into the male crew member recanting a story about an old woman who kept screaming about how he had allegedly rubbed his penis on her granddaughter.
Another reason I think it was a bad move to not go with seasoned professionals, or at least some strict training guidelines; I hate typical stuck up know nothing 20 somethings. In short, that’s what I had to deal with on both flights. As such, the service sucked ass. Sure there was enough eye candy for the boys and the girls, but when it came to getting another glass of water or a pillow, I got what I asked for along with a healthy serving of aloof patronization.
When it comes to a great flight, Quantas Airlines might have regular old planes but the people make all the difference. Their crew are attentive, helpful, and go the extra mile for you every time, without the attitude. If I had to choose between the two airlines, it would come down to price and distance. The longer the flight, the more you will rely on the crew, and I couldn’t stand to be trapped with a Virgin America flight crew for more than a couple hours.
Bottom line; Richard Branson needs to whip those snotty little brats into shape.