A Test Flight of The Virgin America App

Virgin America recently announced a closed beta of its forthcoming smartphone app and I was lucky enough to be one of the people invited to participate. Being a die-hard VX fan, I of course jumped at the opportunity and have spent the last week trying out its features. Since it’s still unfinished software, I went into it expecting a few hiccups here and there. I’m happy to report that, though present, those hiccups are few.

For anyone who’s spent time using the mobile version of Virgin’s site, the interface of the app will feel familiar but noticeably faster and more detailed. While the mobile site is skewed towards utter simplicity, the app feels a little more properly balanced in terms of what you see on the screen. When you sign in the first time, the app personalizes a few things by asking you about your travel preferences. You can put in your favorite destination, seating preference, and primary payment info to save time while booking:

After that, you’re presented with the main screen, which shows you basic info on your account and the opportunity to start booking a flight to your preferred destination:

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Unlike the website, the app menu lives at the bottom of the screen, which makes navigation easier since your fingers are usually closer to the bottom of your phone most of the time. The actual booking process is pretty similar to how it works on the website, with a few UI improvements here and there. The fare calendar appears to load faster than the website, which is a nice bonus feature.

Once you’re booked, the app stows your itineraries under the Manage section. It’s worth noting that as right now, any itineraries booked through a third party travel agency can’t be retrieved by the app. You’ll still need to use the website to view details or change seats. Try to pull it up in the app and you’ll get a friendly-looking error message.

This was, thankfully, really the only situation where an error message appeared. Everything else works more or less the way it’s supposed to, though this being beta software I’ve had a small assortment of minor stability and login issues. Don’t expect to see much of that when the final version is released to the general public, though. The software already appears to be quite well-polished.

If you have Spotify on your phone, the app lets you jump straight to Virgin’s collection of destination-themed playlists. I highly recommend Keep Portland Weird, Sunsets & Margaritas and Stay Classy, San Diego.

Things get interesting when it’s time to check in. If you’re one of those folks who likes to do the deed as soon as the 24-hour window opens up, the app provides a handy countdown timer to let you know when the window will open. From a visual standpoint, the app’s check-in process is more appealing than the Virgin web site. What you’re presented with definitely feels like a logical iteration of the web interface launched nearly two years ago.

My first impression is that in some places, like the main check-in section, the visibility of itineraries is a little too low-contrast for my liking. Older people may have a tough time seeing that check-in countdown. I noticed a similar effect on the seat selection page for paid upgrades. An easy way to fix that could be to increase the line thickness on those circles. Brightening up the text a little wouldn’t hurt either.

Boarding passes in the app look much like the print-at-home boarding passes served off the web site, with the added bonus that the top graphic is animated. It’s a nice touch that gives each pass a unique look (assuming you’re jetting off to more than one destination all the time). It may also be one of my favorite design features.

Once you’ve checked in, the app’s mood shifts again. The app starts automatically tracking your flight for schedule updates and everything on the home screen goes pink. I’m not complaining.

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Your boarding pass is accessible from the home screen, but during a recent flight I noticed that the departure time doesn’t update on the screen when the flight is delayed. I still got push notifications about the departure date, but these weren’t accessible in the app anywhere once they’d been cleared from the iOS notification screen. While the latter isn’t a huge deal, it would make a lot of sense to fix the former so that the boarding info in the app updates when it changes. Also, it’s worth noting that you’ll want to have the pass up on your screen prior to being called for boarding, since it takes a little time to load, especially if the app has timed-out and relaunches when you open it. I’m not speaking from experience, I swear…

Overall, the app is great and serves to reinforce Virgin America’s position as that cool art school chick who knows where the really fun parties are. From the cleverly changing color schemes to the emphasis on keeping things light and simple, the app really does stand to become a superior VX experience for mobile users. In terms of speed and usability, it totally outperforms the apps from JetBlue and others, even if it does send you back to their web site for most things outside of booking flights and boarding them.

The Virgin America app will be released to the public on iOS & Android platforms pretty soon. Do yourself a solid and download some moodlight when it does.

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