Brad Feld

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Virgin America Nails Connected Travel

Oct 13, 2011
Category Places

I travel a lot. I’m not a particularly high maintenance traveller as I can sleep from wheels up to wheels down on most flights. When I fly west to east I usually fly at night; east to west I usually fly early in the morning (much to the chagrin of my partners who don’t enjoy getting up at 4:15am to go to the airport quite as much as I do.)

I’m running a marathon on Sunday in Newport, Rhode Island and decided I didn’t want to take a redeye from San Francisco to Boston three days before the marathon. As a result, I’m flying “all day” – leaving SFO at 9am and getting in to Boston around 6pm.

I often fly Virgin America from SFO or LAX to BOS or NY. It’s unambiguously the most comfortable cross country flight and I always feel a little hipper when I’m chilling out in a plane in white seats with purple mood lights. But that’s just the feel good bonus. Here’s how this morning is playing out.

I show up at Virgin and notice that they have a Chromebook kiosk. Neat – there’s a bunch of computers that are connected that anyone can use while waiting for the flight. Then I realize they are giving away free Chromebooks to use on the flight. You only get to use them during the flight, but they are free and include a free WiFi connection. Double neat. Then I sit down, open up my MacBook, and immediately see my Skype WiFi app pop up and tell me I can connect to WiFi for $0.10 / minute. Since I don’t have a Boingo subscription, and there’s not any other obvious free WiFi right here, I just click yes. Oh – and there’s a nice desk area and power.

I have a five hour flight where I expect to get a solid four hours or so of online time. A decade ago, even though everyone was talking about “wireless networking on airplanes”, it didn’t really work. Today, I’m online without much effort for as much time as I want.

Virgin makes this experience seamless. When I think about my United trips, I just cringe. No WiFi on the plane, generally crummy gate setups with no power, and a very predictable “sorry – we have a maintenance problem that we are looking into.” It’s actually kind of enjoyable to be spending the day on Virgin America flying across the country.