Virgin America vs. United Economy Plus

virgin america vs united

I am headed out to San Francisco the first week of November for my new job. Since I am a Premier Executive on United, I automatically get an Economy Plus upgrade and 9,500 frequent flyer miles.

But with the new Virgin America flights from IAD to SFO, I am willing to experiment. But only to a point. My boss wants me to be productive for the five hour flight over and the Betrothed Butterbean wants me to be productive when I get back Saturday morning so I have two deal-breakers to a switch:

  • I need to work the whole flight to SF, and this means using a laptop. On UA’s Economy Plus seat, I can get my T60 open and have room to type in a semi-comfortable fashion. I also often can get exit rows or first rows due to status.
  • I take red eyes back to IAD and I know I can usually sleep a few hours in a UA EP seat at the window. The recline pitch is just enough and the flexible headrests keep me from neck aches.

Now I don’t care for the inflight entertainment, work and sleep are higher priorities, and my laptop batteries will last a whole flight, so the Virgin America inflight games, electrical plugs, and even snacks on call are not decision points.

So that makes me ask those who have flown Virgin America:

  1. Can you use a laptop in a VA main cabin seat?
  2. Does the VA seat experience allow for decent shut-eye?
  3. And is the $25 extra for an exit row or first isle seat worth it?

Bonus if you can compare your Virgin America experience with United’s Economy Plus.

9 Comments so far

  1. Don (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 10:59 am

    "But what Virgin America did promise this week was a first-class cabin with 55 inches of seat pitch and coach chairs with 32 inches of legroom."

    You might also check

  2. Chris L (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 11:19 am

    I’ve yet to fly Virgin America, but I’ve had my share of transatlantic Virgin Atlantic flights to London and back. Flying Virgin is so refreshing because of their emphasis on customer service. Flying other airlines after flying Virgin is pretty depressing because you realize how barebones and shitty the other airlines have become over the years.

    I know I sound like a Virgin ad or something but seriously…just fly them once and you’ll see what I mean. I only fly other airlines if I absolutly have to. Richard Branson is the only CEO that truly understands customer service!!!

  3. Wayan (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 11:23 am


    That same link to Virgin America’s coach chairs says in the next paragraph:

    Those might have been snappy specs back in 1999, when Branson began touting Virgin America, but they come up short in 2007. The big dogs on the New York-San Francisco route — American and United — already have more spacious first classes.

    American offers chairs with 62 inches of legroom and United offers lie-flat beds. And United and JetBlue, which launches on the New York-San Francisco run on May 3, both offer roomier coach seats. United’s coach seats have 34 inches of legroom and JetBlue’s planes will have 34 or 36 inches.

  4. Wayan (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 11:25 am


    I flew Virgin Atlantic often back in the day, but United has come a long way from its bad days. Especially when you have decent status.

    Still, for work flights, seat space matters the most for those who need to laptop across country and can’t beg the boss for business class.

  5. Don (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 11:27 am

    Indeed, I gave you credit for ability to read the story yourself rather than copy & paste the entire thing.

  6. Aaron (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 11:38 am


    I fly DCA-SFO nearly once a month, am Premier Exec, and nearly always sit 2nd exit row window. I wish they had power plugs, but can live without them most of the time (or upgrade when I need to.)

    I second the recommendation for, and remind you that you should be going to the united website and selecting your seats as soon as the tickets are purchased, and again a week before you travel; travel agents & 3rd party sites’ seat requests get lost, and when United switches plane classes they might move you without telling you.

    Last recommendation: if at all possible, fly through denver instead of Chicago. The runways are booked solid and if there’s any weather at all it backs up considerably. Of my past 10 trips through Chicago, I think I’ve been on time less than 30% of them — and if you get stranded in Chicago overnight due to weather & cancellations, you’re not even able to find a hotel within 30 minutes of the airport.

    On the other hand, if you want lots of free flights due to overbooking, fly through Chicago every time.

  7. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 11:59 am


    The VA website suggests that they have electrical plugs at the seat level, as well as what looks like an ethernet jack (!!). We’re flying them home to California at Christmas, I’m kinda excited.

  8. Wayan (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 1:06 pm


    My laptop can make a whole flight on its long-last battery, so no need for the plugs. Ethernet would be nice, but so far in-flight wifi is just a promise (or a hefty charge).

  9. Sarah (unregistered) on October 22nd, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

    I just flew Virgin America to SFO. The seats are not very comfortable…unless you’re in first class. Part of the problem is they are brand new leather seats. So they need to be broken in a little. Second, a lot of their in-flight entertainment doesn’t work well quite yet. There are plugs for computers next to your seat, which is great, but it’s pretty cozy with the person next to you. I’d stick with United.

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