I'm as loyal a Virgin America customer as I can be. But the prospects of the company going public concern me. Not necessarily from an investment perspective, but as a somewhat frequent flier.
As I began to imply in my review of Air Canada's relatively overpriced and underwhelming business class service, I'd rather be flying Virgin America. In fact, ever since I started flying Virgin -- it's been several years now -- that's exactly how I feel throughout the entire process on any other airline.
Somehow Virgin has managed, through small, but smart moves, to make flying enjoyable. It works for you rather than against you. There's less of a sense that you're wasting your time flying Virgin than there is on other North American carriers. Less annoyance. Fewer thoughts of Why do they do things this way?Because, without doubt and relatively speaking, Virgin America does everything right. That's not to say it's perfect. Part of Virgin's early appeal was that nobody knew about it. But, as Virgin won awards and generated word of mouth, it has grown. Sadly, too many families with children as well as individuals challenged by the complexities associated with boarding an aircraft and stowing carry-on baggage have found Virgin America. And they're flying it. A lot. While that sucks, it doesn't suck bad enough that it considerably dents the Virgin experience. Just as I'm sure Virgin staff and crew do, you learn to tolerate and ultimately ignore the antics of an increasingly weather beaten and situationally ignorant and socially awkward flying public.
(For the record, I don't hate kids. In fact, I have one. And she does her share of traveling. But, just as she understands how to conduct herself in a restaurant she knows how to act in an airport and on an airplane. That line of thought seems lost on quite a few parents who treat terminals and aircrafts as their personal playpens. If you want to experience stinky feet, snoring, belching, farting, coughing, hacking, sneezing and the noises chewing with your mouth can produce, book a flight today. Travel decorum has gone out the window. Toss tired parents with difficult kids into the equation and things really go off the rails). I can't blame Virgin for any of this. It's not their fault. It's the nature of the beast. You do something. You do it well. You make it affordable. You make every part of the process -- from online booking to boarding and deplaning -- efficient and cool and that's what you get ... the double-edged sword, the feast and famine of more business from more people who have no freaking idea what they're doing couple with zero consideration for those around them.
(And this comes from a guy who likes flying!). Anyway, with an IPO on the horizon, I worry if the nature of the beast that is the stock market prompts Virgin America to unwittingly chip away at its experience to an extent that makes it more or less part of the mediocre to way below average pack. Virgin could find itself slumming with once novel and refreshing carriers such as Jet Blue (JBLU) and Southwest Airlines (LUV).
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