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

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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!

Comments (7)

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  1. SavingsIQ

    3 years ago

    I think VA would be fun to fly with older kids since you don’t need to check car seats of strollers. Too bad the customer service was lame, hopefully it was bad day. They have usually been pretty polite and upbeat when I flew VA. Agree with you about the snacks, way too expensive and not that tasty.

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  2. CouponMama

    3 years ago

    This is great info since I”m in the process of booking tickets for my entire family to go to Minneapolis for my cousin’s wedding in early September. I have a family member that swears by Sun Country, but I personally have never flown them or know how they stack up with traveling with children…I’ll let you know if they have reasonable rates and how they handle my ‘active’ 4 year old!

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  3. ScrippsGirl

    3 years ago

    @SavingsMommie, Disappointed because you didn’t get ongoing special treatment for your youngster, like an entire row of seats? Angry because, as you very well know, airline food costs a lot? Didn’t like what the touchscreen advertised, this particular crew wasn’t to your liking, try this:

    Make lunch for your child, bring books and toys to entertain your own tot, don’t expect the airline crew to bend over backwards simply because you have a small child. When we can, we do help out, especially if it seems the parent needs help.

    How did you come aboard the aircraft? Were you in a huff because checking the car seats took so long and you brought that attitude on board?

    Airline crews are not consistently skilled, rested, or stressed. They are humans, too. I guarantee you will find “variety” in the SWA crews as well as all the other airlines as I have.

    Generally, car seats are not a problem unless they’re the kind that should have a driver’s license from the operator.

    And Coupon Mama, handle your own child. Obedience and good manners absolutely can be expected during flight from a four year old child, especially when they are taught and consistently enforced by the parent.

    As a flight attendant, I am quite weary of whiny moms who expect other people to “handle” their children, or tolerate their demands and bad behavior.

    Plan your travel based upon your own resources as a parent and you’ll find that most airlines are “kid-friendly”.

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  4. frequentflier30

    3 years ago

    I do believe that children should be offered a discounted fare when traveling with family, not because they take up ‘half’ a seat, because that shouldn’t matter, as they still take up ‘a’ seat., but because it would make traveling with the entire family more affordable to the average class.

    What I don’t understand is people complaining about getting a discounted fare, then complaining about the cost of food or movies. What stopped you as a parent from slapping some PB&J on some bread for your child and bringing your own ‘.50 cent’ sandwich? Why couldn’t you put some trail mix, chex mix, etc in some sandwich bags and bring them? I understand that everyone can’t afford a $400+ipad to bring their own entertainment for their child, but travel dvd players can be had for $60 nowadays. Does SWA giving you free .25 peanuts really the difference between a positive or negative travel experience? As a parent it is ‘your’ responsibility to plan accordingly for your child’s needs. Flying is STILL cheaper than taking Greyhound and Amtrak for your cross-country trip.

    Also, most parents bring their frustrations they encounter outside the plane (at ticket counter/TSA) onboard and I’m sure the inflight team can sense that, and prefer to stay away from those already upset and irritated.

    And about getting a whole row to yourself? If you need that much space, you should consider purchasing those extra seats or upgrading to first class.

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  5. Susan.Yoo-Lee

    3 years ago

    Thanks for your comments. As a parent, I definitely think we are responsible for how our children behave and that we should prepare ahead of time for our own child’s needs. My 5 year old and 1 year old were so well behaved that the crew and other customers commented to me that my kids’ were such great fliers. They sat in their seats and never whined or cried. I actually brought food for my children and they did eat the food that I brought. The sunbutter and jelly sandwich was an extra item that I purchased.

    As for getting the whole row of seats, I do not expect airlines to do this, but I wanted to mention this as I wanted to show how excellent their customer service was. I do understand that people who work for the airlines are people as well and they have their good and bad days. However, just as I teach my own children, you leave your problems at the door.

    As for the rude attendant, she actually skipped giving drinks to us and the row next to us pointed that out to her and she gave them an irritated look. The passengers in the row next to us couldn’t believe that reaction and said “somebody must have fell off the wrong side of the bed.”

    As I said, I would fly Virgin again, for what they offer. The reason I like Southwest with my children is not because of its peanuts, it’s because out of the 10 or more times I’ve flown with them, whenever I had to take my children to the potty, they asked if I was okay or they would occasionally come by and ask if I needed water or anything else. Little gestures like that makes the flying experience a pleasurable one.

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  6. ebbeszoo

    3 years ago

    i have never flown virgin and have flown many, many companies, with the most recent being southwest. as a mother planning to fly with her kids for the first time this was of intrest to me. i liked how they gave you a whole row but customer service is important too. i think that would be ulitimate the most importan thing, that and cost.

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  7. ChuckG

    3 years ago

    Sorry you didn’t have a good experience with Virgin. We only fly American Airlines. But as far as Chicago is concerned I had to go there once for hubby’s business, some year-end party. It snowed, sleeted, and hailed. It was horrible. Glad the company paid for the trip.

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