6:06 PM

Virgin America
Gets it Right!


Popular Mechanics really gets to the meat of the matter regarding aviation stories, and this article on how Virgin America is re-inventing coach air travel is encouraging. Since the Big Airlines are always on a "carrot-and-stick" course when it comes to competition, maybe once the flying public and media gets a taste of what coach air travel can be, the other Bigs will follow suit.

Here are some excerpts from yet another great piece of writing from Popular Mechanics:

(August 9, 2007) Transportation pioneer Richard Branson is taking on the high-tech heavy hitters of the U.S. skyways with Virgin America, which launched its inaugural flights yesterday. From lavatory lounge music to LED mood lighting that mimics the phases of a Space Age sunset, Virgin has decked out a fleet of Airbus A320’s to make them the sexiest commercial aircraft yet—and maybe the smartest.

Airborne Internet:
A subsidiary of Branson’s TV-laden Virgin Atlantic empire across the pond, Virgin America features an In-Flight Entertainment system (IFE) with a 9-in., 1024 x 600 seatback touchscreen—for every passenger, in a system, affectionately termed “Red.” There are dual 802.11b Wi-Fi access points, though they’re only broadcasting SSIDs for now—full connectivity is pending Federal Administration Administration approval and should be streaming by next year. Even the flight attendants will be connected with Wi-Fi-enabled handhelds that make the classic silhouette call button look just about as antiquated as a hotel’s front-desk bell. But who needs a bell when you have fresh food—yes, food—on demand at the touch of a screen?

Portable Voltage:
Sick of racing to finish your expense report at 35,000 feet before your laptop dies? Virgin finally brings to the skies what Amtrak has had on the rails for years: 110-volt AC outlets, with enough power for two jacks for every three seats (an energy hedge we can almost stomach). With each seat-side socket comes a USB port and an Ethernet port that connect you into a LAN with all other passengers. Which brings us to ...

Flying Chat Rooms:
Even at cruising altitude, there’s no escaping the MySpace-AIM phenomenon of connectivity. Virgin’s “Red” system not only plugs you into an outlet and the Internet, it connects you with an airborne social network that allows you to chat with fellow passengers on a private-, group- or plane-wide scale. Hit Talk on the touchscreen menu and you click into a map of flight-mates, each seat marked by a screen name and profile. Something to really talk about: Google Maps is built into the entertainment system—for mid-air itinerary planning, sure, but also for real-time tracking of your plane. Zoom down below eight times over—rather than crane your neck from the aisle seat.

Open-Source Gaming:
As a Linux platform, the aircraft’s IFE is open-source savvy. With a full gaming control pad, qwerty keyboard and streaming graphics, the system puts geek-infamous first-person shooter Doom aloft. Virgin promises a small handful of other open-source video games and kid’s programs, plus an open-source game development competition, inviting programmers to compete for a spot in the sky.
That, my friends, is a glimpse of your future when you travel by commercial airliner. If VA's Red service is wildly popular – as it is easy to predict it will be – the competition will have two choices, develop similar technology or watch as Virgin quickly expands its routes and pulls away passengers in droves.

Major league kudos to everyone at Virgin for this move...it is long overdue. Now if they will just start service out of Eugene, Oregon...

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