Last month, I took two of my children on a short vacation for spring break. I automatically turned to the Southwest Airlines web site for tickets, then hesitated. Iâ''ve been driving past Virgin Americaâ''s new corporate offices south of the San Francisco Airport, Iâ''d read about their amazing entertainment system, maybe it was time to try Virgin; it was about the same price, and I thought Iâ''d get something to write about out of it.
My kids had seen a fair number of advertisements for Virgin Americaâ''s in-flight entertainment system, called Red, and they were jazzed. They love Jet Blueâ''s in-seat satellite television, and Virgin promised them so much more. They poured over the web site, and called me over to show me videos of the great features: videogames, with a special videogame controller that pulls out of the arm rest; between-seat text messaging; touch-screens for ordering meals and snacks. And lots and lots of TV channels. Their only complaint? Why had we not booked a longer flight! How could they possibly explore all their entertainment options in an hour and fifteen minutes?
So they were shattered when the gate agent announced that weâ''d be flying on a â''darkâ'' plane, that is, one in which the entertainment system had not yet been installed. (Funny how all the promotional material and the web site didnâ''t happen to mention that the system wasnâ''t available on all planes.) As compensation, weâ''d each get a coupon for a free drink, snack, or premium video offering, to be redeemed on our next flight. My kids were not impressed.
On board, each seat was equipped with a video screen and very cool controller, with game controls, a tiny keyboard, and various other buttons. However, the entertainment server, which would eventually be installed in the large vacant area between coach and first class, was definitely missing. My nine-year-old pulled out a controller and concentrated on the blank screen, playing an imaginary video game for ten minutes or so. Eventually his imagination gave out. The mood lighting, though working, wasn't helping anyone's mood. The flight attendants passed out crispy rice bars; I asked about meal and snack offerings, also touted on the web site. Turns out that the only way to order food is by touch screen, Virgin does not let flight attendants take food orders. No touch screen, no food. No comment.
The flight attendants did assure me that the odds of getting a dark plane for the return flight were slim to none, so we tucked away our coupons, figuring weâ''d use them on the return flight a few days later.
We got a dark plane. Again.
So I wonâ''t be reviewing the Virgin America entertainment system anytime soon. But Iâ''ve got six coupons for premium entertainment if I ever do.