Airline Review: Virgin America (VX)

Long and extensive review so be forwarned and also, a display and flaunting of my Airline Elitist flair.

Here is an overall review of VX. I had the pleasure to fly on Virgin America (VX) on two occassions. My disclaimer is that this is only my personal experience and nobody elses so your experience on VX may vary however, I’ve yet to go wrong with them and I’m very satisfied as a VX customer. If you’d like to know about where they fly, click here. Service from SEA will commence March 18!

This was my original review on FlyerTalk:

I decided upon a very spontaneous trip down to SFO and then to LAX to visit my family. I flew to SFO on Air Canada, stayed over night, then booked myself a first class seat from SFO to LAX. The fare difference at the time between Economy and first class was a mere $50 so I thought to myself, why the heck not? From check-in to getting off the plane, it was awesome. The seats were comfortable, I found the lighting system to be neat, food/snacks offered were excellent and the Asian FA was super-mega-made-me-melt hot! :D

Beside me was a young couple with an infant maybe a year old at most. The infant was crying and making noise now and then but the FA did her best to calm the child down even after he threw up. I was trying to get some last minute work done and the FA was very respectful of my privacy and ensured I had enough water, coffee and snacks to keep me going throughout the flight.

The cutlery was very nice and solid (afterall, they are new) and the overall presentation was excellent. I had to opt out of the IFE unfortunately as I had to finish off a report using my laptop. All I know is that the IFE system is called, “RED.” There, you have options on satellite TV and movies etc. For economy there is a charge for premium content (PPV etc.) but that is all included in first class. They also have video games I think and a chat program where you can chat amongst other passengers. Kinda neat if you happen to find a good looking guy or gal you want to get to know. Also, they are working on WiFi during your flight. I believe Lufthansa offered this service but if VX can offer it, even more enticing for me to fly with them on a regular basis!

As for a special check-in for first class, at SFO at least, yes, there is as I did see a sign for it but it wasn’t busy so I was just pointed to the next available check-in agent. I’ve read somewhere on this forum that there isn’t special check-in for first class but not to my experience anyway. Also, there is no priority baggage check but North American priority baggage check-in service is iffy and almost meaningless anyway.

If you’re more of a traditional traveller, you may be irked by the upbeat FAs and pilots as they have more of a personal approach to doing things along with jokes here and there to make you smile. I didn’t have a problem with this as I tend to like this style of operation. Regardless, I can’t wait for them to start service in SEA. Maybe I’ll even bump in to you! Otherwise, if you check out their website thoroughly, it gives you a Flash presentation as to what you can expect and for me, it was pretty bang-on.

The verdict – I like VX – a lot. The service and overall experience blew me away compared to my years of loyalty with Air Canada. Although I understand that VX is new and they have a different approach to doing business a la Sir Richard Branson, I have a feeling that this may change but I hope they keep this up. Their airfares are justifiable and not too expensive and their schedules are great. Not only that, they’re expanding to SEA which is no more than 2 hours away from me anyway giving me more flexibility to fly with them. On the other hand, as mentioned in a previous thread, there is no FFP and at the same time, apparently, I am a “Founding Member” of eleVAte, whatever that means.

All in all, I like VX and hope they keep up their standards the same way I first experienced them, however, I’d fly with them more often if they offered service from YVR and if they worked on a better frequent flyer program.

Here are pictures as follows:

San Francisco International Airport

First Class Check-In

Main Check-In

Web Bag Drop-Off

Gate

First Class Seating


This is the layout for First Class. Nice plush leather seats which I find are very posh in my opinion. Nice and comfy as it has a built-in massage system and also, the bottom folds out like a reclining chair with a foot rest.

As you can see, on the side are the controls for the seats along with the remote control for the RED IFE system. Also on the arm of the seat is the pull-out table which can be converted into a book stand. Those two tubes you see are adjustable lights rather than overhead lights.


Notice the amount of leg room? :)

Main Cabin

I only managed to snap a shot of this photo of the Main Cabin as the cleaning crews were busy and in a hurry. This is a shot of the seats just behind First Class. The seats are pretty comfortable overall and there’s enough leg room to be a happy flyer. Generally, the RED IFE is on the seat itself. You can pay an extra $25 for seats in the bulkhead and emergency rows which are actually very coveted seats and well worth it on transcon flights w/o the price of first class.

Again, my apologies for lack of review on RED. As my flight was only 1 hour long on both trips, I never got the opportunity to take full advantage of it. Besides, this time around, the lady beside me was fidgeting non-stop and made me feel uncomfortable. Everytime she wanted to talk to me, she would slap me on the arm or elbow me. I found that very annoying and had to ask her to stop. Not only that, she was talking very loudly and obtrusively. I did see the fellow on my right use RED and he seemed to be quite entertained with the content.

Food – First Class


This was the snack box provided to me on my first flight on VX. First class on VX from SFO to LAX – a short 1 hour flight which in my opinion, does not justify a full-blown meal. :p

As you can see, from left to right, small bite sized snack portions – yoghurt with field berries, assorted fruits, and a ham & cheese roll complimented with a pickle (and the small grape tomato you see on the bottom.)

The picture below is my most recent flight (yesterday.) Sorry for the poor picture quality – snapped with my Nokia 6300.

Again, from left to right – bocconcini covered in a light olive oil and pesto dressing, custard type of dessert with strawberry, and a roll of prosciutto with olive and artichoke. Pretty tasty for a small afternoon snack.

For you folks in the main cabin, if you want something to drink or to eat, you have to use the RED system and then press the “EAT” button (I think it’s a picture of a cake or something.) There, you pick and choose what you want. The offerings are typical with sandwiches, the snack box above, pop, cookies, chips, veggies and dip etc. All paid by credit card only. They don’t accept cash onboard.

Los Angeles International Airport
Not much here. I’m personally not a big fan of LAX. I find that it’s an old run-down airport that is seriously due for a major upgrade. But this is the check-in counter in general and what to expect.


Again, I apologise for the lack of photos (quality too.) I hate snapping pictures of the general public because I know there are some people who don’t like being in pictures without prior consent (I’m one of them.) I hope this helps by giving you a small idea of what to expect on VX and hope you enjoy your flights with them. It’s only been my second flight with Vx but I still intend to fly with them in the very near future on a regular basis once service starts at SEA.

Oh, and on both occassions, both my flights departed and arrived early by 15 – 20 minutes. This is not a big problem for me. The overall check-in process is great. This time around when I checked in from LAX, I did the self-check in as I did not have any baggage. While doing so, the system asked if I wanted to ugprade for an extra $50 to first class, I said sure! So really, my $44 economy class ticket easily turned into a $100 first class flight. I won’t complain. :D

For you first class lovers, I would suggest you try their first class service on transcon flights in order to take full advantage of their service such as meals, RED and other benefits as a first class flyer. Their prices are great so I would recommend that you give it a shot. I’m a little spoiled because I started on VX on first class and I think I’ll continue to do so.

I am by no means, a travel expert. I simply like to share my experiences with others so your experience may vary. If you have any questions, feel free to ask! :)

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Star Alliance Airport Lounge Review

Hey again,

Thought I’d do a review on airport lounges offered at airports. I have a membership to the Maple Leaf Lounge on all Air Canada flights and wherever they fly to including the United Airlines Red Carpet Club and the Lufthansa Senators Business Lounge in Germany.

I’ve only been to three so far and that would be Vancouver – YVR, Los Angeles – LAX, and San Francisco – SFO.

At the Maple Leaf Lounges, there are snacks like salads, breads, cookies, chips, soups, antipesto, cereals, soft drinks, self-serve alcohol (Air Canada lounges only) showers, business facilities etc.

I managed to take only two photos of the Vancouver lounge only because it was busy in the morning and I didn’t want to piss anybody off.

Vancouver YVR Maple Leaf Lounge


Nice chairs to relax before your flight!

The Vancouver lounge is a lot bigger and very nice but again, I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted to because I didn’t want to cross anybody.

San Francisco SFO UA Red Carpet Club

This was a very nice lounge offererd by United Airlines. Very posh and classic American style type of lounge catered to the business and executive traveller. Their food offerings aren’t too bad however, alcohol is not free as opposed to the AC MLLs.





Definately a nicer and bigger lounge. The seats were very comfy and nice and overall, very quiet. Very spacious as compared to the YVR lounge. I won’t bother with the lounge in Los Angeles because it’s a freakin’ dump. They only offer cheese and crackers and the lounge is very small and ugly. I hate it there. LAX is on my top hated airport list. :X

I’m going to be in Toronto Pearson Airport, Montreal, Frankfurt, Dresden and Prague in a week or two so stay tuned for more photos! :)

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Hello To My New Home…

…Los Angeles, California.

I spent my winter vacation with my family in Los Angeles for a week in December. I started my trip down to San Francisco on Air Canada’s Embraer E90 aircraft in First Class. The overall flight was pretty nice. The seats are wonderful and very comfortable. Service is a notch higher and of course, you get a lot more leg room which goes a long way. I was served a cold salmon plate which wasn’t too bad. The Embraers’ don’t have an oven for hot food but I can live without that as long as I get my seat to myself in bulkhead.

I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system) to Powell Street BART Station. This is where all the action is. It’s about $10.35 round-trip but fares just increased and I think it’s something like $10.70 or something. I spent a day in San Francisco at the Westin off Market Street and 3rd. Nice hotel. They upgraded me to a preferred corner suite. For dinner that night, I hopped on to the trolley and went to the Pier and grabbed a burger at In’n’Out Burger with fries and a vanilla milkshake. It was good as usual and I missed In’n’Out. I think the last time I had it was back in March of 2007.

Trolley


In’n’Out Burger


Mmm…tasty!

Downtown San Francisco
This is just an overview of my 4 hour day in San Fran during the daytime. Nothing special. Just walked around Stockton, Market, Ellis where I got crackhead pho and the Ben Sherman store.






C-Town!
Chinatown here was a definite experience. It was huge and well, has a lot of culture and reminded me of the Vancouver Chinatown which I miss a lot. It’s very lively there and very neat in my opinion. I really liked how the old folks come out to play Chinese checkers and to socialize. Seems like some people who immigrate here just won’t let go of their past.











This man here was interesting. I was just walking down the street in Chinatown and then encountered this guy sitting here on the street playing whatever that thing is called. Quite the rarity I found it to be and he was pretty good. Not sure if this is what he does for a living but thought it’d be neat to take a photo of this man. I left him $1 and he played “Auld Lang Syn” for me.

The day ended with a photo of Jane and I in Chinatown. Our encounter was…different? I was walking down the street and then all of a sudden I heard somebody scream my name. Right away, I knew it was Jane. Who else could it be? I jumped into her friend’s car and met the two of them, Mikey and I think Jessica? I don’t remember – I have a bad memory. We had lunch and then I realized I had to get to SFO on the BART (their subway system) which takes about 45 mins from Powell Street BART to SFO.

Los Angeles

I was glad to be in Los Angeles. It felt like a family reunion. And that was basically what it was. Of all the times I’ve been to L.A. it’s only a quick trip and never got the time to spend with my cousins. I stayed at my grandfather’s house in West Covina but fuck, it was so damn cold, my balls shrank so I left and stayed at my aunt’s house just a few blocks away in La Puente. There, I was able to catch up with my cousins who are my age and got along very well with them. They took me out to Costa Mesa, West Hollywood, and all over the place basically.

I had a good time and it was a good experience. I finally learned the importance and meaning of what family is. I felt really happy to be with them – my aunts, uncles, and cousins whom are my age. And also, I got the opportunity to meet my cousin’s fiancee, Kevin who will soon be an addition to our family. Oh, and also, I met my cousin’s boyfriend, Jonathan, whom I’ve yet to get to know on a personal basis. Anyways, I’ve established myself a bit of presencse in Los Angeles. I’ve moved some of my belongings to my aunt and grandfather’s place and with the amount of time I’ll be spending down there, I think it’s pretty fair for me to say that Los Angeles is my second home.

Night shot of Cabana Ave

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A Pho Crusade…

…This is a follow-up thread to the most recent thread on pho. There was a debate whether the pho in San Fran or in SoCal was better than pho here in Vancouver.

Here is my experience accordingly:

San Francisco
I spent my weekend on the 23rd and 24th in San Francisco to get my fix of In’n’Out burger and also to see how great the pho was in San Fran as mentioned by another user in the previous thread. I did a Google search and found a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in the local downtown S.F. area only to find a few within my vicinity. After doing a quick search, I found one that was praised by locallers and tourists which unfortunately, no longer exists! I went around the corner just off Ellis Street to a restaurant by the name of Pho (Thanh) Hoa. No, it has no relation to the Pho Hoa chain.

The restaurant was located in the Tenderloin district. Pretty dirty area with a lot of homeless people, run-down buildings, businesses and poverty of all sorts. It was kind of scary walking there myself not knowing what I’d get myself into, but it was okay. The restaurant itself was fine. I ordered their Pho Dac Biet or I guess that means house special. Here it is:



The soup and overall presentation of the pho here was no different from what we get in Vancouver. However, the soup was different as in it wasn’t full of MSG and didn’t contain too much of a bitter clove/spice taste to it. The cut of meats were okay at best and came with the usual bean sprouts, lime, jalepeno, and basil. Portion wise, it was huge. I couldn’t finish it.

Verdict – A great bowl of pho but not as great as I had exected it to be based on the hype from one of the previous posters in the other thread. Portions were beyond my consumption but overall, not too bad, however, it left me a little thirsty later on throughout the day.

Los Angeles

I went to visit my family in Los Angeles. The moment I arrived at LAX, I asked my cousins to take me out for pho in this quest for SoCal pho. They thought I was crazy but they did fulfill my request. They took me to a place near their house and a place they’ve been going to for years and year – Pho Hoa. And no, no relation to the chain – I gaurentee you.



Same deal with the pho I had in San Francisco, however, the broth was lighter in taste and in presentation. Oh, and little to no MSG. I didn’t have to guzzle a gallon of water after finishing. I tried their coffee and boy, did that ever suck. :(

Verdict – Okay at best. Not as good as I had anticipated but for a huge bowl for $5, I can’t really complain. It satisfied my pho craving so hey, what the heck!

Homemade Pho

I was graced with the opportunity to have some homemade pho at my aunt’s house in Los Angeles. Little did I know, she always made pho at home and the hype from my family is that the pho she made was way better than what you can get in restaurants. Unfortunately, I had to set my expectations low because in all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect.

I was lucky to be able to try two different types of pho – Pho Ga which I believe is a noodle soup with chicken and a chicken broth and is more influenced by nothern cooking/Chinese styles as you can see in the photo – there are no bean sprouts or other condiments included other than green onions and cilantro. Although this bowl of pho was rather plain and simple, it was awesome! The broth contained no MSG (my family doesn’t cook with it) and of course, you can see the pieces of chicken here and there. Mmm! :)

Here’s the moment of truth – home made pho. My aunt specially made this for me as I haven’t been to her place in a long time. She bought all the meats as you would get in a house special and made the broth – from scratch! I don’t recall what she used and I should’ve taken pictures, but she started preparing this at 9am and we weren’t able to eat until at least 7pm. If you look below, this was no different from a regular bowl of pho from the restaurants and boy, it was awesome! By far, the best bowl of pho I’ve ever had. The broth wasn’t too salty nor was it too plain tasting. The noodles were plentiful and the portions of meat were just right. And to top it off, all the usual fixings of the basil, sprouts and jalepenos.


Verdict – Best bowl of pho! Not only does my aunt deserve some credit, it was honestly, by far, the best bowl of pho I’ve had.

Conclusion

So, with my quest to find the best bowl of pho (does not) end here, from Vancouver, Paris, Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, it is still debatable where the best pho is hidden. I’m not sure where my next destination will be for pho, but after trying pho all over the place, I think it’s pretty safe to say that pho in Vancouver, is still, by far the best pho available out there. Although I only had a small sample of pho in each different city, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what tastes good and bad or whether this or that style of pho is better. Vancouver is still the best in my books – hands down (with the exception of home made pho.) :)