Virgin America recently launched with limited routes and it’s the first airline to “get” the digital lifestyle. I flew on Virgin America for the first time last week and was blown away by Red, its in-flight entertainment system. It makes every other airline’s entertainment offerings look downright archaic.
Computers are embedded in the back of each seat and networked to servers in the cargo hold of the plane. Each passenger gets a 9-inch touchscreen LCD and miniature keyboard/remote combo, both of which can be used to watch TV and movies, listen to music, chat with other passengers, play video games and even order a snack from the flight attendants. Each seat is equipped with a USB port to charge mobile devices and a 110V adapter to charge laptops. An Ethernet port is also available, but it’s not of much use until Virgin flips the switch on its in-air Internet service.
There are more features in Red than any single passenger will probably use on a single flight, but there’s something for everyone. I enjoyed browsing through Virgin’s music, creating a custom playlist and dozing off to some relaxing tunes. When I woke up I used Red to order a snack and some hot tea. I drained my laptop’s battery before boarding my return flight from Washington D.C. to San Francisco, but was able to plug in and finish up a document before I landed.
The system isn’t perfect by any means. Several of the television channels weren’t working and it’s disappointing that in-air Internet access was down. There are 3,000 songs in the library, but this is actually quite limited compared to what many of us are used to on iTunes and other music services.
Other airlines are going to have to play some serious catch up. It’s going to be really tough to fly cross country on another airline that offers up ‘Wild Hogs’ as its only entertainment option.
Now, about adding that in-flight manicure?