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Update On A Plane

Jan 6, 2008

Just checking in with a small update. You've probably already guessed that we're not going to have a show this week, which is largely my fault as I didn't anticipate that my traveling would wipe me out so much. We should be back as usual next week, but I'll be at CES in Las Vegas this week so we may have a push there too. My trip back to NY was a great time, got some relaxation in and also managed to hit the most fantastic Chinese Food place on the planet, which I always make time for when I'm back east. I actually made sure to post a very favorable review of the place on my Yelp! page. Yelp! is an awesome little site that has some brutally honest reviews of restaurants, stores and other stuff. I've found that while I have no tolerance for generic social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, more specific social sites have a lot to offer.

On to the trip, my wife and I flew the new Virgin America airline and it was a very interesting experience all around, both good and bad. Let’s start with the bad points, since I prefer ending on better notes when possible. I originally booked our flight on July 7, a full 5 months and 16 days before we were to fly out. I always book long flights way ahead to ensure I can get an emergency seat, since I have a rather severe terror of flying, I get claustrophobic in small spaces after extended periods and I’m about 6’2” with a need for legroom.. Virgin America offers an option to pay $25 extra for “premium seating,” which the emergency row is considered and I gladly paid the extra money for the comfort. I received an email confirmation, and all seemed well. In early November there was a message left on our answering machine informing us that the flight time was moved up much earlier in the morning, which again was no problem. All this time I had been doing nothing but pimping the hell out of the airline, telling everyone how much I was looking forward to it, I think even on the show once or twice.

The day before our flight, I logged in to do online check-in, and noticed our “premium seating” had been revoked. No refund of the premium rate, no phone call, they had simply booted us into a standard row and I find out the day before we’re leaving. Clearly, I’m pissed off. I call the Customer Service line and in all fairness, I think I did a poor job of explaining the issue to the woman I spoke to. I think she read my anger as being just at the lack of refund, not the seating change and the lack of notification about the change. If they had properly notified me about the seating change, I might have been able to call earlier and possibly have gotten my seats back or at least been moved to another flight that day with seating available. I called back a second time, and this time explained my issue more clearly to a different person but he offered no help at all beyond an apology. After this I called my mother to let her know the time our flight was coming in, and of course mentioned the seating nonsense. She advised me to check to see if any of the front ‘bulkhead’ seating was open, as it was typically still more spacious than standard seating. I did that, and sure enough there were two seats open and I immediately called VA back and got a really helpful guy in Florida who got everything taken care of for me, which kept my head from exploding. He got my seats changed for the same cost as the refund, although after the failure to notify I felt I should have received the refund anyway, especially since we lost the emergency seats on the flight back which had not been changed at all. Regardless, at least we had potentially better seating. That was the end of the negative part of the experience, but it makes me wonder whether VA will be our first choice for an airline on our future trips. Incidentally, I have not seen that refund come through as of this writing and I will be contacting them on Monday if it hasn’t shown up by the end of the week.

Now the flight itself was great. Happily the bulkhead seating was actually better than emergency row seating, and the overall atmosphere of the plane was a very refreshing change. I have posted a Flickr photoset with pictures of the Linux based computer that each seat has, including the available features and some that aren’t quite in place yet. Overall the whole approach to flying that Virgin is trying to promote is fantastic. Three prong power outlets and USB ports in each seat, a flipside remote control that retracts into the seat arm and has a full QWERTY keyboard, on demand drink service and of course the 9” widescreen touch screen computer with a reasonably hefty free selection of movies, TV and reportedly 3,000 or so MP3s. There is also premium content, and it featured reasonably recent movies such as The Bourne Ultimatum and Resident Evil: Extinction. I tested out the chat feature, which would be really useful if you’re traveling with friends and aren’t seated together but otherwise is simply a cute thing to play with for 5 minutes. The drink ordering is a genius move when you think about it. Less of that wobbling cart gridlocking the aisle when you badly need to piss, the ability to get a drink when you’re actually thirsty instead of when they bring it to you. All around, the on demand model is a fantastic way to go for airlines. All in all, a very good actual flight. It’s really a shame that the customer service end was largely negative, because like most people I remember more of the bad than the good about the flight. In the end, will I fly Virgin again? Well, I’m going to send a letter to their customer service department and that answer will depend largely on the response.

And not that note, I bring a close to this rambling missive. We are planning to record something while I’m in Vegas, and depending on time I may have something for the 9th. Until then, take it easy.