There’s nothing like a five-hour transcontinental flight to remind me that just because a flight’s domestic, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk. Boredom strikes small kids above their own homeland as readily as it does in international skies. So we pack our usual arsenal of toys, activities, and snacks and prepare to do battle with idleness.
And yet on this latest trip from DC to San Francisco, we didn’t use a single one. Seriously.
Their planes are new. Their decor is sleek and comfortable. Economy has decent legroom and cushy leather seats with nice little perks like in-seat electrical outlets and USB ports. They offer Internet access. And they are downright decent to families.
Remember that old perk of boarding first because you have little kids with you? While increasingly rare on other domestic carriers, it’s alive and well on Virgin. And I’m happy to report that in both directions, everybody from check-in to the gate to the flight attendants were cheerful and helpful to us.
OK, so these things are nice, if not forgettable. What really sets Virgin America apart is their flashy inflight entertainment system.
Sure, these in-seat monitors have been around for quite some time, but Virgin’s clear, 9-inch screens take staring at the seat in front of you to a whole new level. With intuitive touch screen controls, tilt-able monitors, and dedicated kid-friendly content they’re a breeze to customize for your kiddo. And surprisingly, this service is included in all classes on domestic routes. Who says you have to fly to Europe to get a decent choice of inflight movies?
Included for free are a handful of games (best for older kids), 24 Dish Network satellite TV channels (including Disney and Nickelodeon), and ten kids’ albums with artists ranging from Yo Gabba Gabba to the Jonas Brothers. Feature length movies are $8 (same goes for grownup ones), but the kids’ selection was limited.
No matter. Both girls happily watched Nick (and napped) for the entire flight. The miles and minutes flew by as episode after episode of “Dora the Explorer”, “Go, Diego, Go”, “Max and Ruby”, “Team Umizumi”, and “Bubble Guppies” held them in rapt attention.
Equally amazing, for the first time since becoming a mom, I watched an inflight movie. I would never had attempted this were it not for Red’s pause and rewind feature. While the parenting interruptions were few, they did arise, and I was grateful to be able to put my movie on hold while I opened a yogurt or cleaned said yogurt off a wee lap.
Another cool feature on Red is the ability to buy and pay for everything from headphones to Internet access to inflight meals right from your screen. An in-seat card reader allows you to swipe your credit card and alerts the flight attendant to your purchase, if necessary. So instead of waiting for the slow march down the aisle to buy headphones, meals, or premium drinks (the usual soft drinks are gratis, of course), you can buy them at your leisure and have them delivered to your seat in a tick.
Just one word to the wise: Virgin’s for-purchase headsets ($2) were particularly stiff and ill-fitting for small heads. We forgot to pack the girls’ headphones on this trip, so ended up purchasing them a set. While they did have a nice color selection (including pink!), both girls had to hold the ear pads in place to keep them from slipping down to their chins. So be sure to pack your own.
Virgin America currently flies to about a dozen major US airports, plus Los Cabos and Cancun, Mexico. They do charge a checked bag fee of $25 per, but they have a generous upper limit of 70 pounds until October 2011 (after then, it will be the standard 50 pounds). Carry ons and checked strollers and car seats are free. Meals (from snack assortments to sandwiches) cost $7-9. Internet access can be had for a flat $10. Contented inflight children are, of course, priceless.