How Virgin America is re-imagining flying through technology

It’s the start of 2007. You’re about to board a flight from San Francisco to Boston. Despite being one of the longest flights you can take in the US, you will spend the next six and half hours staring at the back of an upholstered seatback. If you’re lucky, there may be a small, overhead TV in the far distance. If you squint hard enough, you may just see the screen. You can forget about those emails that are piling up too, with no WiFi on this flight, they’ll be waiting for you when you land. 

Unfortunately, if you’re a member of the flying public, this should come as no surprise. After all, 2007 was a time when airlines scored lower than the IRS in terms of customer satisfaction. All US carriers offered essentially the same experience, so there was no reason to expect anything less (or should I say ‘more’?).

Enter Virgin America in August 2007 – a brand new airline designed from the ground up to make flying fun again and create innovation in the air, with a passion for technology. The airline was founded because we knew the timing was perfect for a fresh, new carrier to shake up the market and do what Virgin companies do best – turn an industry on its head to bring much-needed competition and a better customer experience.

We quickly started doing just that. We became the first airline to offer fleetwide WiFi in 2009, so that our guests could stay connected at any time, on every flight. The team was so excited by the milestone that we decided to call Oprah Winfrey herself – which in itself was another milestone – the first ever air-to-ground Skype video call. 

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We’ve also had a lot of fun over the years with our Red™ inflight entertainment system, which is available at every seatback, on every aircraft. Unlike other airlines where you need to wait for the cart to come down the aisle to get your hands on a snack or cocktail, Red is the only entertainment system in the sky that lets you order what you want, whenever you want throughout the flight and have it delivered straight to your seat. Order a cocktail for yourself, or send one to another guest onboard, the choice is yours. From experience, it’s a pretty quick way to ‘cheers’ to new friends. We have been proud to be recognized by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) many times over for having the best inflight entertainment in the sky. 

It’s hard to believe, but almost nine years after our launch, Virgin America is still the only US airline to offer WiFi on every mainland flight, along with power outlets and our Red inflight entertainment at every seat. But we’re not stopping there – you know that’s not our style.

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Virgin America recently launched a new partnership with ViaSat Inc, an innovator in broadband and communication technologies, to bring significantly faster WiFi connectivity to our 10 new A320 aircraft deliveries. ViaSat's technology delivers internet speeds that are typically 8 to 10 times faster than any other in-flight WiFi system – which means that our guests can experience internet speeds similar to what they have at home, with the freedom to stream video or music, read the news, and shop directly on any connected device when in-flight. Yes – that includes Netflix, so you can sit back, relax and stream the entire catalogue of Netflix films and award-winning shows straight to your own device. 

Thanks to the new satellite technology, this week we pushed the envelope yet again onboard our inaugural flight from San Francisco to Denver – a highly anticipated service connecting ‘Silicon Valley’ to ‘Silicon Mountain’. We partnered with LinkedIn to convene an onboard live-streamed discussion from 35,000 feet on the future of entrepreneurship with Richard Branson, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and LinkedIn VP of Product Ryan Roslansky. The event also included a number of entrepreneurs from the ‘Virgin Media Accelerator, powered by Techstars’ program, an accelerator launched by the UK provider of ultrafast broadband for consumers and business to identify and support the most innovative and disruptive digital start-ups from around the world. 

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With high-speed satellite WiFi and touch-screen inflight entertainment, the days of staring at an upholstered seatback should be long behind us, right? Not so fast – if you don’t fly Virgin America, you still have a 70 per cent chance of staring at a blank seatback on your next US domestic flight*, instead of live TV (let alone our Red touch-screen platform’s TV, latest release films, on-demand food ordering, seat-to-seat chat and more).

Thanks to our friends over at Google, you can check out our cabins for yourself. Virgin America recently became the first major US commercial airline to touch down on Google Street View. But it’s so much more than a street view (or should we say Seat View?!), it’s a 360 degree, interactive tour onboard our Airbus A320 aircraft. So if you have a Virgin America craving or if you haven’t flown with us yet (really?!), now you can experience the moodlighting from anywhere in the world.

If you want to grab a seat and see how we’re using technology to improve the in-flight experience, you can also head to the Virgin America website

*Analysis conducted by Virgin America using data from Routehappy. Virgin America vs. competitor flights on Virgin America routes only, August 2015

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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