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5 Things You Can Only Experience on Virgin America, While It Lasts

Sept. 16, 2017
5 min read
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Slowly but surely, America's long time favorite airline is disappearing into the folds of another. Throughout the summer and into next year, Alaska Airlines is incorporating more of Virgin America's award-winning operations into its own. Check-in counters and terminal gates are being merged, and the carrier's only lounge at LAX is no more. Virgin America passengers should be in good hands — Alaska Airlines has finished at or near the top in customer satisfaction rankings every year since 2010 — but certainly many will and should miss that unmistakable Richard Branson flair that makes flying on a Virgin airline so different. By 2019, Alaska plans to refurbish all of Virgin America's aircraft so its red IFE screens and opulent first-class chairs will soon be a thing of the past. Until then, passengers can still catch a flight and have one of the most unique experiences in the sky.

1. Purple Lights

Virgin Atlantic was among the first airlines in the world to introduce the concept of mood lighting to aircraft cabins. And Branson's team took the task quite seriously. Unlike many airlines, which give flight attendants leeway in choosing the lighting colors, Virgin prescribes a strict and calculated regimen of colors throughout the course of a flight. The airline expressly forbids the use of green and blue light onboard its aircraft — it's believed to suppress your appetite — favoring instead a signature purple palette that's remarkably effective at achieving a unique sense of calm aboard Virgin's planes.

Virgin does mood lighting right.

Traveling eastbound on an evening flight? Watch the color shift from bright fuschia to passive mauve to soothing royal purple, in concert with the fading light outside. At night, the airline uses an entirely different light setting designed to permit maximum visibility without interfering with sleep. Virgin has scientifically studied mood lighting and found that apricot coloring has more desirable effects on mood than the color yellow, for instance — purple was also deemed to be better than blue. Let's just say no other airline puts as much effort into making sure you're properly and optimally lit during your time onboard.

2. Black Leather Seats

The seats, oh those glorious seats. From coast to coast, there simply isn't a cooler looking and more comfortable-feeling economy seat on an airplane. Virgin's 32-inch seat pitch also bests most domestic products. Add about three inches of padding and you have a uniquely cushy ride from sea to shining sea. If excessively generous padding isn't enough, Virgin spent extra money to bury it's in-flight entertainment control boxes beneath the floor of it's A320 aircraft, eliminating the obnoxious metal boxes that devour leg space on most US airlines.

Pick Main Cabin Select seats for free with Virgin America Gold status. Image courtesy of Virgin America.

3. White Leather Seats

While Virgin is the only airline to offer economy passengers the chance to sink into cushy black leather seats, it's also the only airline to ensconce first-class passengers in plush all-white leather recliners. Beyond their superficial superiority, Virgin's first-class recliners are possibly the best ever used on a US aircraft. Every first-class seat on every Virgin America flight features an industry-leading 52-inches of pitch, individually adjustable reading lights, fully adjustable leg rests, lumbar support and massage functions. Then there's the food, which has been declared the best offered in domestic first class by multiple sources, in multiple respects.

Virgin America's First Class cabin would be much more appealing if not so expensive in points.

4. Red — Virgin's Touch Screen Ordering Service

For the life of me, I can't figure out why more airlines don't offer food ordering via touch screen. Considering the overpriced, high-margin nature of buy-on-board food, Virgin's at-seat touch screen interface, Red, certainly reduces the friction of passing out cash for snacks on a six-hour transcontinental flight. Virgin America flight attendants still do the customary beverage cart pass-through, but once the initial service has ended, passengers seated in economy can order both alcoholic and complimentary non-alcoholic drinks from the touch screen menu. The airline's entire inventory of snack and meal offerings are also available this way. Red gives passengers the opportunity to open up a tab, meaning a single credit card swipe allows continuous and uninterrupted foodand beverage service throughout the flight. Customers can even order a drink to a passenger sitting in another row. Service is generally speedy and your order will arrive in a matter of minutes, always delivered by a smiling FA.

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5. White Orchids

Details matter and few people believe this more than Richard Branson, who has inspired his airline to attend to minute aspects of the customer experience, even down to the size and shape of boarding passes — Virgin America's are perfectly designed to fit inside a wallet or pocket. Every time I fly with Virgin America, I look forward finding freshly cut floral bouquets at desks and kiosks. Sure, it's an expense. But it's just nice and it makes the whole experience feel special, particularly when you're looking across an otherwise ascetic landscape of bare airport counters.

What will you miss most about Virgin America? Sound off, below.