On Friday, February 1st my wife and I had the experience on traveling via Virgin America from KSFO to KJFK. They just recently started providing domestic service and tout such amenities on the plane as mood lighting, power at every seat and an interactive seat-back entertainment system. AFAIK, this is the highest level of technology implemented in coach class at-seat amenities to date. I have also flown JetBlue (albeit from KSMF to KJFK) which provides a TV at every seat as well, although it acts as a standard television rather than an interactive system.

Red, the name of Virgin America’s seat back system, is novel at first, but my excitement faded as the interface was laggy and the TV quality was quite low. Both my wife and I had issues receiving some live television stations, and other stations were pixelated and annoying to watch. Perhaps the difference in signal quality is that Virgin uses Dish Network and JetBlue is on DirecTV. Red also offers an array of on-demand videos (tv shows, music videos) to be streamed to your seat, as well as a wide array of music stations to listen to. You can order snacks, meals and drinks right from your screen, and, by using the included controller, you can chat with other people on the plane, or play some of the included games.

If we consider that the price to fly these two airlines is generally the same (give or take a bit), the seats in coach are just as cramped, and the flight times are exactly the same, I’d still take Virgin America over JetBlue only for the fact that it has power at every seat. This means that no matter what kind of entertainment they provide on board, as long as I can plug in my laptop I can watch any entertainment that I bring along. This past trip we watched a few episodes of Futurama and Good Night, and Good Luck. Once they were completed, I was still able to use my laptop to do some programming I wanted to get done.

The Virgin America crew was friendly, the plane was clean, and it was about as enjoyable as a coach class flight across the country could be. With any luck the airline will be around for a long time and will expand its array of electronics and connectivity enabling it to be on the bleeding edge of technology at 35000 feet.