Virgin America Takes Off for Traveling Geeks

I just got back from a business trip. I flew from Philadelphia, PA to Columbia, SC and back on a tiny little Canadair CRJ with cramped seats, no leg room and a few peanuts. My laptop started running low on juice halfway through the flight, which was just as well since my 15.4″ MacBook Pro could barely fit in the space anyway. True, it was a short hop along the east coast but I’ve been on cross-country flights on larger planes that were just as enjoyable. Not.

Between the hassle of check-in and security, waiting areas with uncomfortable seats and no power outlets, overpriced vendors and a blah flight, flying just isn’t a fun experience for those of us who don’t have enough miles for a red carpet club.

Virgin America Airlines launched yesterday with low cost flights that promise to be a web worker’s dream, taking up where JetBlue left off when it comes to catering to the budget-conscious and tech-addicted.

Currently, Virgin America is only servicing 5 US cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC and Las Vegas.

New York (JFK) to San Francisco in late October is just $149 each way, the same as the cheapest direct flights available on other airlines for the same day. What’s the difference? A sampling, as Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin reported from the inaugural flight:

  • Two 110 volt outlets for every 3 seats in the main cabin
  • Two wifi access points (no Internet on the flight yet, since regulatory approval is pending)
  • Ethernet LAN throughout the plane, which accommodates things like multi-player games and seat-to-seat chat
  • USB ports for charging devices
  • Personal video panel with touch-screen and QWERTY keyboard
  • Comfy leather seats, leg room and nice lighting
  • Inflight entertainment system with pay-per-view movies and MP3s

Virgin Atlantic’s popularity has proven that competitive prices aren’t the end of the story. Traveling wastes a great deal of time, and customers want a pleasant experience along the way. We’ll see if this new airline can compete. It may be a great flight, but if it’s consistently late, has a poor choice of flights in the long term, or has customer service issues all the tech toys and mood lighting won’t help.

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