Virgin America is Offering the Very Best Domestic First Class Product

I recently needed to fly home from San Francisco and decided to book non-stop to Austin on Virgin America. For an extra $154 over the cheapest economy ticket I booked Virgin America’s first class – largely because I hadn’t flown it, had heard good things, and wanted to see it for myself.

Virgin America shares the same terminal as American in San Francisco. I was on a morning departure so didn’t have the opportunity to buy Virgin Atlantic lounge access. Instead after clearing PreCheck security I used the American club.

The gate area is standard for the terminal, with a few Virgin America flourishes like stylish red chairs augmenting standard black.

And of course even the gate area is playful, with the flight monitor declaring “Good Morning Beautiful :)”

The jetway gets a bit of mood lighting.

Inside there’s see through colored glass separating the cabins.

The first thing you notice about first class is that there’s standard width leather first class seats but:

  1. Tons of additional legroom
  2. Legrests

The seats also have personal television sets. And there was a shrink wrapped pillow and blanket set as well as colored headphones at the seat.

The flight attendant charged with tending to first class handed out bottled water and eye masks and took predeparture drink orders.

Once we were in the air menus were distributed (click to enlarge):

Orders were taken and I was told it would take 20 – 25 minutes for my risotto. We were also offered snacks from economy if we preferred to augment the first class menu.

The meal was served as 3 separate courses.

The food was good, definitely better than what I’m used to in domestic first. And I appreciated the tray being cleared and then dessert served separately, I could take my laptop back out and work faster that way. Gogo internet on the flight worked great, fast and with no delays, an upgraded system makes all the difference.

Midway through the flight the flight attendant did a pass with a snack basket. I took the Dean & Deluca caramel popcorn.

The only thing disappointing is that there were no real Virgin flourishes with the lavatory. Although even that’s not exactly true since they were piping in music.

Ultimately Virgin America’s frequent flyer program isn’t great (though you can credit flights to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer), the elite program isn’t great (no complimentary first class upgrades), and the route network is limited.

But the inflight product was very good I thought — a single data point to be sure, but the flight attendant working first class was friendly and accommodating, the seats were better than standard domestic first, and the meal service was a cut above also.

Virgin America’s product isn’t competitive on all routes (it lags competitors on in the premium transcon market). But if I lived in San Francisco there’d be a good enough chance that their network matched my needs. In which case I’d give a long hard look at making them my primary domestic carrier.

In the meantime living in Austin I won’t fly them much. They’ve even killed their Dallas flight. I’ll just wish other domestic carriers put as much into their premium product.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] in years, but back before I had status I found them an improvement on the basic economy experience. View from the Wing had a glowing considers them to be the best domestic first class and has information on how to get a Virgin America status match. This discount might be the […]


  1. Virgin America is my ‘go to’ choice for FLL-LAX. Always a pleasant flight and the extra cost for flying ‘up front; is worth it to me.

  2. Good review and very surprised you have not flown them before.

    Their F (J really) is quite nice. The hard product was best-in-class when it launched, but has become quite dated when compared to AA A321T F and the B6 Mint “suite” seats. Amazing how their IFE went from groundbreaking to lagging pretty far behind, in the course of fewer than 10 years — such is the pace of technology!

    Being able to use the JFK VS club (for a fee) doesn’t suck, either. Back when they used the Int’l terminal at SFO, using the VS Clubhouse there was pretty stellar, but now that they are in a different terminal, that’s less compelling of an option.

    Soft product has always been good-to-excellent with food options on a par with (or perhaps very slightly lesser than) Mint and service being very consistent. I’ve always had excellent experiences with their phone support too (as a non-elite.)

    All in all, a very good option.

  3. Assuming that by “domestic” you mean two-class? A321T F is only domestic. I do really like the VX F product, but dunno if I’d personally jump to call it “the best”, not yet having flown in B6 Mint.

  4. Comparing Mint and AA’s 321T F class to VS first class is apples to oranges. VS offers their service on ALL routes, the routes for Mint and AA F can be counted on one hand.

  5. I flew SFO-JFK a month after VX launched. There were like only 12 people on that flight. I didn’t absolutely need it but I wanted to try 1st. It was my first encounter with TVs in seats and an IFE system you could make choices from (this flight marked the beginning of the end of my “flying aversion”…I had only flown twice the previous 12 years and not at all for 10). The food was good but it looks like the meal choices have been improved upon since then.

  6. The F product certainly looks nicer than UA, AA, DL domestic F products, but in the end it’s not a great seat like UA PS or B6 Mint. $154 is a good UFC price for a midcon. Unfortunately the buy-up is usually higher for transcons, which means you are stuck probably stuck in the back since there’s no elite CPU upgrades, AA e500s or reasonably priced AS TOD offers.

    Would be interesting to get your views on the economy section as that’s where most of us end up. Personally while I enjoy the VX product (food and video on demand) I will normally choose UA E+ assuming the pricing is the same. I’d rather have the 4-6″ of legroom, and the VX snack menu isn’t that special.

    Unfortunately I find VX does not tend to discount until 1-2 months before departure, which works fine for business travelers but is simply not feasible for family travel planned months in advance.
    On a related point, one gamechanger that deserves mention in every VX post is the credit card that permits one free change per ticket (actually more akin to WN TTF). This is a huge benefit compared to the usurious $200 fee that legacy carriers charge.

  7. Let me share MY American “First Class” experience which is mostly defintitnly nothing to write well of!

    Last week… I took a same day round trip flight Fort Myers Florida to Philadelphia to conduct a series of meetings. I booked “First Class” on the return leg thinking that after a long day of meetings I would receive a meal of some description. Imagine my shock at being served SOLELY nuts and cookies. I was told no meals on AA flights after 8pm unless they are over 3 hours. I am totally DISGUSTED by this mean, poor miserable customer service for the price = $540 !!!
    I travelled without luggage and was offered low nutritional value crappy food – the very food that makes America FAT ! The product doesn’t even MERIT the term “First Class” – it doesn’t begin to compare to BA’s (or many other airlines’) European Business Class.
    I hold a BA BAEC Gold Card member along with several other Elite status cards with other airlines and have NEVER been so exploited by an airline in 35 years of international travel.
    Even the AA crew were embarrassed by the fact that they have to serve booze, nuts and cookies! How humiliating for them! It was interesting to hear the reactions of people being upgraded at the podium, the majority voicing, “oh great we get to get free booze”. So is that it? The American market is all about being seen to get fat asses into wide seats and plying them with alcohol which comes with attendant risk of air-rage and staff being assaulted, just so the airline can save money and not ACTUALLY offer a First Class service.
    Let me tell you what DID I get for my extortionate fare!
    1.Priority access at boarding (which I would have gotten with my BA Gold status – equivalent to AA Platinum).
    2. A wider seat.
    3. The offer of some free booze – just what you need to do to business travellers who are about to drive another hour post flight… get them drunk !
    Let me tell you what I DID NOT GET for my extortionate fare….
    1. A newspaper.
    2. A hot towel.
    3. A hot meal or snack
    4. Anything that REMOTELY resembled a FIRST CLASS experience on any airline of repute!
    The larceny of american airlines knows no bounds. I am reminded of an American friend who said service in UK was terrible because Brits allowed it, well I’d say the same thing about so called “First Class” in USA.

  8. I took VX nonstop IAD-SFO in economy for the first time last week; the roundtrip fare special was about $75 below UA. I had heard great things about the airline, but other than the mood lighting and catchy safety video, it was still a 6 hour flight in a coach seat without any included snacks. The system to order food and beverages from the seat was a nice plus, but we still had people lined up to use the bathroom after a turbulence-induced extended fasten seatbelt period while the front bathroom remained empty. Friends told me I would love the airline, but it really wasn’t anything special.

  9. @Orange: Concur, that matches my experience on transcons.

    @James: Your experience on UA would have been similar, there are no F meals after 8pm which as you note basically shafts the business traveler who is running to the airport after a day of meetings.

    However one thing we forgot to cover is wifi. If that’s important to you then you want to fly VX where it works very well. UA wifi is always miserable – you can sometimes spend an hour just trying to login.

  10. Actually with regards to meals on domestic USA flights, my experience has been that American does not normally offer or provide meals on *any* domestic flights; if they do, the food is limited and usually runs out at about 1/3 of the passengers. This applies to First Class as well. United does not provide much meal service to their First Class passengers either. Recent experience was flying on UAL First Class non-stop between Washington Dulles and SFO, in which this full-fare, non-refundable First Class passenger received 2 packets of 2 cookies, and a bottle of water; that’s all. Generally the best bet is to assume no meal service whatsoever, and just bring your own food. USA domestic travel is horrendous these days. They all suck (except maybe Virgin).

  11. In the Better Late than Never Department . . .

    “But if I lived in San Francisco there’d be a good enough chance that their network matched my needs. In which case I’d give a long hard look at making them my primary domestic carrier.”

    I do. And it does. ;^)

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