On Sunday, I flew with Virgin America for the first time on a Seattle – San Francisco PM flight. I was looking forward to the experience with this airline. They had cool things, such as the cabin lighting, the refined accent/pronunciation of some crewmembers, the cleanliness of the plane, etc. But in general I had some issues mostly due to Red, the inflight entertainment system, and a few non-related issues such as the boarding passes being unable to be saved/sent/printed, delayed departure and arrival, etc.
Back to Red. Red is very advanced. It allows you to chat with other seats, buy food and products and have them delivered to your seat, and consume content. It is not surprising since they seem to be running an X Server, thus Linux on the backend (although not as visible as Avianca-Taca’s Linux-based system)
Red is also a barrier that Virgin America puts between you and the flight attendants. This is a good thing, because flight attendants are not there for inflight service but for safety, including collaborating to a prompt departure from the gate. But the problem is that Virgin gives you little opportunity to workaround that barrier, should anything happens.
I ordered food and headphones. Seconds later, a flight attendant throwed me some pink headphones. I was startled by the headphones falling on my lap, then because they were bright pink headphones. When I turned my head up, she was gone. I couldn’t find a flight attendant button at my reach or a function on Red to call them. I wasn’t standing up my seat and/or reaching to the console above my seat for this. I decided to wait until they brought my food.
But they never did. They ran a cart across the cabin and delivered free drinks, but no food. I decided to shut up and see what happened. They ran by my seat and nothing happened. So I reordered water on Red (it was free) and when the attendant came I asked for my food and a blue set of headphones. She was really helpful and concerned that I didn’t get my stuff. At the end she made it right, though.
I love inflight entertainment systems, especially when they go above and beyond the trivial content consumption model and offer you more value such as communication, learning, shopping, etc. And I love that they are based on Linux and open source components that I know. In this case, Virgin is leveraging Red as a barrier but they need to work on mechanisms for people to workaround the barrier when they need it.
BTW, I would fly Virgin America again.