Mega hands-on: Virgin America's Airbus A320 with Red in-flight entertainment

Not-yet-airborne Virgin America invited us to check out the way-decked Airbus A320 with Red prototype in-flight entertainment system that's parked at SFO right now. (Naw, we didn't get to take it up, the US Dept. of Transportation hasn't yet cleared VA for commercial flights yet, boo.) They definitely weren't kidding when they said it's got it all: movies on demand, pervasive music playlists, in-seat messaging with a QWERTY controller, touchscreen Linux consoles with games, the works. We've got a massive, massive gallery for you to check out (it's really not to be missed); we toured the aft cargo area where the each plane's servers live, the Red in-seat consoles (of course), the cockpit, even WiFi-enabled flight attendant handhelds. We've also got a full rundown of everything you need to know about Virgin America, Red, and the kitted-out Airbus, so check out the gallery below, and click on for more details about the only airline we officially sanction as being geeked enough to transport Engadget.


Seatback consoles

  • Linux-based with Tiny X

  • VA developed Red in-flight interface

  • 9-inch integrated touchscreen

  • 1024 x 600 resolution (oh, so close to HD! but not quite)

  • Dual internal flash drives for redundant storage of embedded OS

Niceties that melt our hearts

  • One USB port and one ethernet port per seat

  • USB can be used with a portable keyboard on seatback console (or to charge your device)

  • Ethernet hooks you into a LAN with the rest of the passengers

  • Two 110v outlets per 3-seat row (and one per seat in first class)

  • Dual 802.11b WiFi access points in cabin (fore and aft)

  • Sprint EV-DO uplink (for ground communications)

  • Yet-unannounced in-air broadband uplink

  • LED mood lighting throughout the craft


  • Send email and SMS messages from your seat console

  • In-cabin chats, either private (one on one), group (by invite), or common (whole plane)

  • Dedicated chat rooms for each channel to discuss what's on TV

  • Send food and beverage orders (and pay) directly from your console

  • Galley inventory lists are transmitted wirelessly when the plane is stocked; customers are prompted when their order cannot be fulfilled due to no remaining inventory


  • Streaming pay-per-view movies from on-board media server

  • Over 3,000 MP3 tunes stored in on-board media server; persistent play lists (i.e. the playlist you make online or in your seat will follow you to future flights)

  • Dish live TV with in-flight program guide

  • Games! Open source titles (including Doom); VA will host an open source game dev competition, the best games will be added to the playable titles list.

Gear and servers

  • One system controller

  • Three Dish receiver / tuner boxes

  • Three redundant storage arrays for streaming audio and video -- during flight data (including CC transactions) is written only to encrypted flash


  • Flight attendants can monitor traffic spikes from bandwidth-greedy users

  • Seats 149 passengers (eight in first class)

  • Lavatories have their own soundtrack, kind of like those chic hotels

  • Prices should be "competitive" with some budget airlines

  • Expected to take flight this summer (US Dept. of Transportation approval pending)

For a better look at the Red interface than what we've got in our gallery, check our Charles Ogilvie's demo on YouTube: