We recently flew Virgin America out of LAX. Overall, the experience surpassed our expectations in accommodations, entertainment, comfort, and compassion for autism travel.
I booked our flights on the Virgin America website, though I ended up having to fly a week earlier than my husband and my son who has autism. All three one-way tickets purchased were for Economy, but I couldn’t get the bulk seating for my husband and son directly on the website.
So, I ended up calling the 1-800 customer service number and spoke with an agent who specializes in disability. The representative was well acquainted with autism and immediately proceeded to put my husband and son in their flight’s Economy Premium section in order to make them more comfortable.
At the Airport
Check-in was a breeze! I had already checked in online, so I only needed to zoom through security with my Global Entry pass and head straight to the gate. My husband and son relayed a similar experience.
In LAX, Virgin America uses Terminal 3, which tends to be a bit more crowded at security than other terminals. If you are also flying out of this terminal, you may want to arrive earlier and allocate enough time to pass through this process.
I had heard about their newly opened Virgin Atlantic travel lounge, and I was mildly curious to check it out for myself. On request, the staff allowed me a sneak peek. The facility sported an uber-modern look and had several seating areas, a bar, and a modest breakfast buffet table—the room decor compliments the company’s logo in hues of reds and pinks.
Passengers wishing to dine before their flight also have the option of choosing from a fast food joint or a sit-down venue at Gladstone’s, which is a sister restaurant to the one in Malibu.
At the Gate
On both Virgin America flights (a week apart); pre-boarding went relatively smoothly. My husband was happy the crew had given him ample time to board before the deluge of passengers came through. On my solo flight, I was approached by a team member and asked if I needed help putting my carry-on in the top compartment, which I appreciated.
Both flights on Airbus 330 were punctual, which is noteworthy in the middle of the day at a busy airport like LAX.
My aisle seat in Economy 12D was covered in leather and better padded than other airlines I have flown. I even had a few inches between my knees and the chair in front of me.
My husband and son found their wider, more padded, leather seats in 3E and 3F (main cabin) even more comfortable to relax in. We were all thrilled to use the outlets to plug in our phones; the outlets worked well and were placed in an accessible spot, unlike other carriers where we have had to look for them somewhere in the abyss under our seats.
As seasoned frequent flyers, we all immediately noticed the small—but significant differences—between this Virgin America and their competitors. Highlights ranged from the engaging emergency procedure video done with rap music and the relaxing blue-hued lighting to the positive attitude of the crew asking multiple times if we needed any additional help.
Let me start by saying that Virgin America offers superior food and entertainment choices that cater to please anyone. They provide an ample free and paid-for drink and snack menu that includes a gluten-free option as well as for purchase meal options.
The fact that you can place an order from the comfort of your seat is so helpful! No more waiting for the traditional cart to come around while everyone else dines, just to be told they are out of your food choice once they reach your seat.
On my flight, I was very happy with my reasonably-priced, healthy breakfast choice that didn’t leave me hungry like some do. The meal was served with coffee that tasted like it was freshly ground.
The following week my husband and son loved the food offerings too. When our son with autism discovered food is complimentary in the main cabin. He ended up ordering everything he could off that menu. Unlike what has happened to us on European carriers, he was not reprimanded.
Much to my husband’s surprise, the staff was courteous and smiled with each order!
In comparison with other airlines, entertainment is another area where Virgin America gets it right.
The personal touch-screen TV in front of you is so much fun to play with!
You can not only order meals but also watch movies, listen to music; you can even chat with a fellow passenger in a different seat, which is a great feature if family members are separated in-flight.
As you can see from our pictures, the choices are ample—whether one wants to watch movies, TV shows or play games, there is something there for everyone. The entertainment system even features an area for kids with a PG content control making it stress-free for parents.
Perhaps the most refreshing feature on that screen was the fact there was a section dedicated to charities, encouraging passengers to donate money to several organizations like “Make a Wish Foundation” and one that is close to our hearts, The Special Olympics.
But there’s more.
Forgot your headphones at home? Do you want to nap for a few hours and want a clean pillow and blanket? You can purchase these items right on board. I selected a pillow/blanket set and love the high-quality blanket so much I use it at my desk at home.
The restrooms, though unimpressive and similar to other airlines, were kept clean throughout the coast-to-coast flight and replenished with paper towels, tissues, and soap on a continuous basis.
Autism Travel Tips
Make sure you mention any special needs at booking and follow up with Virgin America before flying.
On our flights, we found nothing went wrong, and the staff was all very attentive and well rehearsed in helping families and individuals with autism.
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