Xeni kicks the tech tires on Virgin America.

(Update: By total coincidental timing, the VA executive featured in this episode, Charles Ogilvie, announced today he's moving on from VA to do something that sounds equally cool with tech and entertainment. Details at the bottom of the post.)

[Xeni Jardin]: Last week, the Boing Boing tv crew was in San Francisco shooting a few upcoming episodes, and our friends at Virgin America (BBtv is shown on the in-flight entertainment system) invited us to come wander around behind security, and peek at the nuts and bolts that are the tech underpinnings of this airline.

They're about to launch in-flight wireless internet soon, and they're holding a competition for open source games, the winners of which will be available for people to play in-flight (entries are still being accepted).

Virgin America's head of in-flight entertainment, Charles Ogilvie, brought us on board a plane that was empty and at rest between flights. We poked around with the computers and displays (all Linux!) and we tried to IM our friends using the pilot's controls in the cockpit. This did not work so well.

My favorite part of this shoot: driving a VA pickup truck around between the resting airplanes, and peeking into the giant abyss where your bags are shuffled around on giant conveyor belt systems, hopefully towards your plane and final destination.

(Disclaimers: BBtv is an in-flight entertainment partner with Virgin, but BBtv doesn't receive compensation for this. VA once asked Boing Boing to name a plane, and we did, but we weren't paid for this, either. VA has previously been a paid sponsor on Boing Boing the blog. This episode isn't an ad, and we weren't paid to produce it. All of us at BBtv sincerely thought this stuff was cool, and that Charles Ogilvie is a cool guy with interesting ideas, and we had a blast goofing around where the TSA folks generally do not permit one to goof. )

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Update, 07-03-08: BBtv learned today that Charles Ogilvie is moving on from Virgin America. We're bummed we won't be working with him there anymore! The timing of this episode and his move are totally coincidental, we weren't aware. Here's the note from VA CEO David Cush, after the jump, and congrats on your next adventures, Charles!

It is with mixed emotions that I announce that Charles Ogilvie is leaving his position as Director of In-flight Entertainment and Partnerships at Virgin America. Charles will be pursuing a unique opportunity-- to lead Panasonic’s in-flight entertainment and new airborne technology platforms in China. Charles will be based in Shanghai and will report directly to their CEO.

Charles started with Virgin America four years ago and was one of a small group of talented, innovative and passionate individuals who were driven to create a different kind of airline – one that people would actually like, and maybe even love. Charles was the creative and operational force behind the development of the Red in-flight entertainment system, working tirelessly to oversee its design and build out the system’s impressive content partnerships with dozens of movie studios, television networks, record labels, web sites, and other entertainment partners. The result is a system that is the most advanced in-fight entertainment system in the U.S. skies, with a diversity and breadth of programming, films, games and other offerings that dwarf that of any other domestic airline. That Charles was chosen by Panasonic for this important position is not only a reflection of his talent but also a nod to the leadership position that Virgin America has taken in in-flight entertainment.

Please join me in thanking Charles for his contributions to this company and congratulating him on his next chapter as Executive Director of China at Panasonic.

About Xeni Jardin

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.
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24 Responses to Xeni kicks the tech tires on Virgin America.

  1. Hubertus says:

    Hang on Xeni, is that the same Virgin who’s done a first in th UK by sending 800 letters on behalf of the BPI to its customers warning them about downloading and file sharing and threatening them with disconnection? Maybe you should kick more than their tires?

  2. alsenior says:


    No those 2 virgins are different. Virgin media is the Former Ntl:telewest cable company and virgin mobile . Virgin media is Virgin in name only.

  3. Gainclone says:

    Oooh! Those look like fun!

    Also, BBTV could use a glidecam. Or maybe a second cameraman.

  4. Lewis Haidt says:

    Like the opening shot. Cool composition & shots on the place.

    There’s something about airports that has fascinated me since I was a little baby boy.

    Enough u know what — let’s get back to the good stuff.


  5. zikzak says:

    Somehow, Xeni’s usual wide-eyed enthusiasm, when applied to a large commercial service of questionable notability, does come off sounding like an ad.

    Being fascinated about the minutia of someones garage steampunk project is charming, but being overly upbeat about something like this just feels different to me.

    Even if it’s a not paid or “favored” segment, I guess it goes to show how we’ve evolved almost subconcious filters to protect us from the progressively subtle attempts to inject advertising into our information environments.

  6. Joel Johnson says:

    Zikzak: That criticism falls apart unless you accept that corporations can never create or do cool things.

    “Feel different” seems reasonable, though. I have a lot more leeway for individuals creating than I do for products or services from companies.

  7. Joel Johnson says:

    Also: Porter!

  8. nex says:

    A “paid sponsor”? You paid them? So they’d say they’re your sponsor and let you show their ads? You’re doing it wrong!

  9. afo says:

    ads: I know em when I see em.

  10. zikzak says:

    @ Joel: Yeah, it’s true, corporations (even movie-villain type ones) can do cool stuff sometimes. The thing is, when they do anything neat, they put a lot of money and effort into making sure everyone knows just how freaking awesome they are. In modern PR, it’s sort of expected that you overblow the story to ridiculous proportions, simply because you have the media leverage to do so. So hearing about IBM or whatever doing something cool resonates very differently from hearing about some random unknown person doing something cool. Because, as any scholar of “cool” will tell you, something’s no longer cool if you overplay it.

    So what I was pointing out was the fact that people (or I at least) seem to have developed an instinctive sense of that super-hype which so often comes along with any information about a big commercial entity. Because that hype is so ubiquitous, it’s kind of a necessary filter in the modern information environment, otherwise you’d be getting constantly suckered by breathless PR campaigns.

  11. Xeni Jardin says:

    Guys, believe me, we’ve been asked to run ads as episodes, and accept payment or other compensation for stuff that runs on BBtv.

    If you knew how hard we’ve fought back on that issue, and will continue to, I think this would make more sense.

    So, no, honestly it’s not an ad, but it’s about a company that does (IMO) some pretty cool stuff for an airline, and we do have a relationship with that company, so I disclosed that in the post. It’s probably not a “NPOV” piece, because I think the stuff is interesting, if that makes sense? But you’re implying that we’re doing this as a sneaky ad campaign or as a publicity favor that we’re being paid for or something unethical, and I’m saying: nope. Internet in the sky, open source game invitationals, themed dub music in the toilet to relax people, social networking, e-commerce food, that stuff seemed interesting enough to us, as did just literally wandering around the airport to look at how stuff works.

  12. themindfantastic says:

    I didn’t really see it as an Ad, though admittedly this type of publicity does help Virgin Air, we won’t deny that. Much like showing off stuff by Coop, and steampunk artists, does swing more interest/potential revenue their way, it can’t be helped. I see this segment is actually an important followup to the naming of the plane (I know its not always easy but having Xeni on the Unicorn Chaser would be extra special) and finding out more about the tech that will soon power wifi on planes which people on BB will admit is definately is very cool. There are smart people at Virgin who do ‘get’ what BB is about, not everything named Virgin is doing good things as we know but these Virgins seem to be a little more with it.

    BTW Its good to know the machines play doom, which is the perennial question of any new gadget!

  13. zikzak says:

    Dunno about anyone else, but I’m not implying that it’s an ad or anything unethical. I’m just observing how enthusiasm for a large corporate service has pretty much become synonymous with advertising and PR.

    Since probably 99% of the enthusiastic information we receive about corporations on a day to day basis has been paid for or arranged by them (and is also generally at least an exaggeration, if not a distortion of the truth), we train ourselves to disregard such enthusiasm, or treat it as suspect.

    And almost all the time we’re right to do so. Maybe in this case the spam filter gave a false positive, but it’s hardly a surprise that it would.

  14. Xeni Jardin says:

    Dude these guys made it so you can play DOOM in the sky, on the back of the airplane seat in front of you, for free, while being bathed in magenta mood lighting and listening to ambient techno muzak and IMming people on the plane. That’s awesome. Cmon.

  15. Bledsoefilms says:

    To All:
    Really enjoying reading all the posts. We knew that a piece like this had the potential to come off the wrong way, and that was a concern for us.

    It seems to me that adverse reaction to an episode like this is evidence of the obtrusive amount of advertising we are subjected to every day. It’s only natural to be suspect of a piece of media that is littered with corporate logos- in fact if no one had raised an objection, I’d be a little worried.

    When we were invited to go backstage at an airport, though, there was no way we could pass that up. We couldn’t shoot this piece without having Virigin’s name in it- short of blurring out the plane itself. I think it’s important to note that we’re merely drawing your attention to items we think are cool/interesting/important. While that traffic almost always benefits the subject, that’s not always a bad thing. We’re happy to give credit where credit is due.

    Thanks for watchin! And happy early 4th!

    Derek Bledsoe
    Segment Producer, BBtv

  16. byronba says:

    Oh WOW!

    DOOM at angels 30!

    I’m hyped on one hand and kinda bummed on the other.
    Hyped because this looks so neat and would definitely be an airline I’d want to fly.

    Bummed because I don’t normally fly to anywhere Virgin Air goes. Guess I’ll just have to plan a trip to London or something.

    Xeni/Derek, I didn’t see this as an ad at all. I saw this with the same sense of excitement and awe that you guys must have felt. Keep ’em coming!

  17. Bledsoefilms says:

    Awesome! Yeah there’s def. some really cool stuff goin on!


  18. gruben says:

    Hey! I recognize that guy (the Virgin spokesman) from when Paris Hilton was filming a reality show on my LA to NY Virgin flight a couple weeks ago!

  19. cavalier says:

    Man oh man hope they prosper and provide more routes soon! Those planes look sweet.

    One minor grumble: The “innovations” of piping in air, power from the terminal, er, well, that’s been SOP for some time now for many airlines. Towing/pushing the bird in and out of the gate, SOP too.

    What’s hot about this is the cabin.. wow.. don’t want to take away from that, but the rest, well, normal.

    It almost seems like their business model is to keep their fares competitive but then hope for extra $$ from in flight purchases, and they’ve done an awesome job of enabling that (ordering from your seat, essentially, with maybe CC billing?? Didn’t see but hope so). I hope it does well, because, again, I’d drop my standard carriers for a VA plane in a minute.

    Delta’s SONG kind of did this, with a hoopy in flight display and great seats and menu…. and they abandoned it :(. Good luck VA!

  20. Cowicide says:

    Hmmm…. Devs… here’s an idea… hook it up to the Google Earth API (is it available on Linux yet, dammut?) with GPS so you can track your position in-flight and “look around” while you are at it. Maybe even set up alerts so you know when to look out of the window (and which direction) to check out interesting stuff in your real life window.

    Right… I don’t fly that much, so I’m an obnoxious window-looker-outer when I do fly. And, I blame the Masons for this.

    On another note, I admire and respect Xeni’s intellect above all else, but… DAMN, look at those nice thighs in that screenshot above! I think a particular AC/DC song should have been played with the video instead of the udder stuff. Ok, I’ll stop before I make even more of an ass out of myself here.

  21. Burns! says:

    @#19, Cavalier: Yes. You can swipe a credit card beneath the video screen at every seat. Also 110v outlets, so you can plug in your laptop.

    As one who has flown Virgin America, I can totally understand Xeni’s enthusiasm. Best. Airline. EVAR!

    I took my first Virgin flight last fall. It was the last leg (SFO->LAX) of a 18-hour day that began in Shanghai, China. It was a long day and I was tired, but when I got off that plane in L.A., I told the flight attendant I wanted to immediately book another Virgin flight, and I didn’t care where it was going. It was that good. Now, whenever I fly the first thing I do is check if Virgin goes there. Only six airports now, but increasing to 30 within five years.

    The mood lighting, the in-flight entertainment, the e-commerce food…it all looks impressive on this video, but it’s even better in practice. Finally a domestic airline that “gets it.” Given a choice between Virgin and “other,” I will never fly another airline again.

    PS– I don’t work for Virgin and they didn’t pay me for this, but I’ll happily tell everyone I come in contact with. They’re awesome. (Of course, if they wanted to offer me free flights, I wouldn’t turn ’em down.)

  22. David Carroll says:

    It’s almost too bad that soon traveling on any airline will be as expensive and exclusive as Concorde (RIP) was.

    I trust we will still be able to play multi-player FPS games on the solar powered ocean liners of the future. Perhaps with 3D rendering. Not in steerage class of course.

    I think of myself as being fairly hard to impress technologically, but if I was sitting in that cockpit, I would look just as “wide eyed” as our Xeni. I probably would not have asked: “Can you IM with this?” however ;).

  23. djmongol says:

    i became a complete Virgin America fanboy on my first flight with them from LAX to SFO last month. So awesome. Within minutes of sitting in my extra comfy (extra $15) exit row seat, I dug through every menu on my touch screen console, then promptly enjoyed a slew of sweet music videos that I wouldn’t hold my breath to try and catch on no-music television (and in much higher-res than you can get on youtube)! When my gf tried VA about a month before I did, she was so excited about the mood lighting and the black leather comfy chairs she sent me half a dozen picture messages.

    @#20…great idea, but they already had it. Yes, there is a fully functional google maps integration that tracks your flight progress and allows you to zoom in and out and all around! Woot!

    go bbtv. if companies keep doing stuff as cool as VA is, by all means, keep up the hype! they deserve to make that money!

    Honestly, by the end of the flight I was wondering about job opportunities with the airline, something i had never before considered!!!

  24. Cowicide says:

    great idea, but they already had it. Yes, there is a fully functional google maps integration that tracks your flight progress and allows you to zoom in and out and all around! Woot!

    I wonder how they hooked it up to Linux? Could you set alerts for upcoming scenic views?

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