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The Pros and Cons of Traveling with Kids on Virgin America Airlines

By (view all posts by Susan.Yoo-Lee)
at 10:55AM Monday July 25, 2011
under Loose Change

Just recently Virgin America, opened up services to Chicago and since the price was right and I needed to book tickets for my cousin's wedding, I chose to fly with them.

I'd flown with them before when my older child was almost two years-old and had a great experience.  At the time, my daughter was a little sick and instead of having her sit on my lap, they gave me the entire row.

I have to say that this time around, I was a little disappointed with the inconsistency of customer service.
The toll-free service remained good, but at the Los Angeles check-in counter everything took forever and it just left me wondering if the staff was competent enough to handle day-to-day business (we were checking in two car seats and it took 30 minutes).

The on-board crew from Los Angeles came off a little stuffy and conservative. Out of the three attendants, only one was super-polite (she actually moved the person next to us, so that my lap child and I could sit comfortably) and one was just rude.

The Good

Pricing: Virgin America has good tiered-pricing which makes it affordable for most Americans. I hate paying full-price for my child who takes up half a seat, so getting the best price for a plane ticket is a must. The average cost to Chicago was $149 each way, plus taxes and other fees. However, I was able to snag a round-trip for $199 on Hotwire (certain days of the week are cheaper than others).

When we were comparison shopping online, American Airlines came in the cheapest at $89 each way, plus taxes and fees. However, they did not allow for any strollers over 20lbs to be checked in at the gate, a definite minus for families with little ones. Southwest came in at $179 each way, plus taxes and fees, still on the reasonable side. For what it offered, Virgin America had the best price.

Toll-free customer service: Their toll free customer service has very nice reps who are patient and competent.  If you are unsure about luggage, car seats or have additional questions about flying with children, they have the answer.

If there is anything that I appreciate, it's customer service because they represent the brand and depending on how they treat me, my experience could vary from horrible to outstanding.

Design and Comfort:  Virgin America beats out all domestic airlines when it comes to the modern design, roomy seats, and the media capabilities that it offers with it's touch screen.  If you want to purchase a movie, buy something to eat, shop, chat, or watch satellite TV, it's all at the touch of a finger.  It makes the whole flying process much easier and comfortable (especially if you have a sleeping child in your arms).

The Bad

Airport & On-Board Customer Service:  This time around, the staff overall were non-inviting.  Although the staff was very attractive (nicest thing I could say about the whole experience), the check-in process was very long and tedious.  In hindsight, if I didn't have to check-in car seats, I probably would have never gone through it.

The boarding staff did not smile once and they were all about the production line--which happened to be us.  I'm sorry, but a simple smile goes along way.  I know this because I use to work the front of a high profile celebrity chef's restaurant and I probably had the most difficult people in the world to deal with.

The on-board crew was just as dull and as I mentioned before, only one on-board crew member was on top of her game.  When traveling with kids your go-to-person in flight is the on-board crew member.  If they're not nice, your traveling experience is forever tainted.

Miscellaneous Cost:  While the media capabilities are wonderful, unless you use the free radio, free games, or free satellite TV, everything costs something and it doesn't come cheap.  Plus, if you decide to watch a movie for $8, it may come with a lot of disruptions.  Every time we had turbulence, the service was unavailable.  So be prepared to have interruptions while you watch your paid movie.

For $4, I purchased a sun-butter and jelly sandwich for my daughter which comes with Tasty Brand fruit snacks.  The half a sandwich was actually pretty decent but as I say, it was only a half sandwich which probably would have cost me 50 cents to make.  They offer a free drink, but if you want a snack, be ready to pay up--most snacks cost $7.

My decision to fly Virgin America was based on my previous experience which was very positive.  The staff were all polite and accommodating, but this was when they were entering the market and trying to gain customers as well as be a player in the US domestic market.

After this experience, I am not sold on flying Virgin America with children.  I think if I went solo, it would have been a different story.  Like any other airlines, it has its pluses and minuses and you just have to see if one outweighs the other.

For me, I enjoyed the convenience of the touch screen, the roomy seats and modern design.  But I did not enjoy the face-to-face customer service and the temptations that the touch screen brought, such as my daughter wanting to see Rango for $8 and the $4 Chex looking very appetizing after drinking a half a cup of apple juice (which of course was on the house).

The price, along with the positives will probably make me want me to fly with Virgin America again.  But if it's with my kids, I think Southwest is the way to go!