At the time of booking, prices on Virgin America and Southwest Airlines to San Francisco were identical. These two airlines are usually our most reasonably-priced choices when flying direct to SFO (United Airlines flies direct, too). Southwest has direct flights to Oakland which we’ve taken many times as it’s a fairly easy BART ride to Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco (our preferred luxury hotel).
In all honesty, I’m not a fan of Southwest Airlines though I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad experience on board. It’s too casual for me, as a person used to flying the likes of Cathay Pacific. I like structure, status and airline lounges.
All of that aside, if you are ever in the same boat where pricing is identical for Virgin America and Southwest Airlines, choosing Virgin America is an absolute no-brainer. In fact, I’d pay more for the privilege. Here’s why.
1. There Is Assigned Seating On Virgin America
Hooray! On Virgin America there’s no need to stand by a pole and board by group. You can request a seat assignment online at the time of booking and check-in online.
2. There Is A First Class Cabin On Virgin America
At the time of our booking, I think the first class cabin was around $550 round-trip per person from San Diego to San Francisco, versus $200 per person. My family normally flies premium classes, but for a 1-hour flight I thought we could survive. Though first class would have been nice, we were more than fine in economy.
But, if I would have woken up early enough prior to departure to buy an available upgrade, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I didn’t knock myself out trying to upgrade on the return as we were sightseeing and I forgot. You can log in 6 hours in advance of departure to buy an upgrade regardless of your status on Virgin America, subject to availability. I believe cost varies depending on length of your flight.
3. The Plane Is MUCH Nicer
Sure, the white lacquered-looking seats and big TVs are a plus (I’ve never been on a Southwest plane with a TV) but the plane just feels new and clean. Maybe it’s both. The seat pockets have designated pockets for a water bottle and smartphone. Virgin America has a crazy-cool, hip safety video that even my 6-year-old enjoyed. The vibe on Southwest is always good, but Virgin America steps it up a notch.
4. Virgin America Is Significantly Better For Flying With Kids
The TVs are hooked up to Dish Network and while the reception was occasionally patchy, my daughter watched the Disney Channel live from gate to gate. They don’t turn TVs off during take-off or landing. It makes all the difference in the world. Conversely, my husband enjoyed Monday Night Football on our return flight. It’s win-win. The WiFi also worked well and you can now use approved small electronic devices (not laptops) in airplane mode from gate-to-gate.
5. Virgin America Departs From SAN Terminal 2
I actively dislike the area of Terminal 1 that Southwest Airlines departs from. It’s hectic, crowded and there’s only that one little concession area with barely any seating and a few craft beers. Part of the reason we chose Virgin America is that I am an American Airlines Admirals Club member and because Virgin America departs from Terminal 2, we could use the San Diego Airspace Lounge in peace. It’s part of our ritual.
Not to mention that our flight landed right next to the American Airlines Admirals Club at SFO! We stopped in for a quick snack as my daughter was starving. Talk about convenience, right?
If I wasn’t so reliant on the oneworld Alliance due to loyalty to American Airlines (who has delivered incredible customer service lately) and a need to fly Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines to Hong Kong, I would certainly book more flights on Virgin America. We were quite pleased. I’d love to hear your experience, too.