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July 5, 2007 Posted by admin in Reviews

Upper class act - Flight Review

Gatwick airport on a Sunday morning isn’t for the faint-hearted as Sat Bal finds. Parents and recalcitrant kids, iPod shufflers and baggage-heavy tourists jostle to make today’s airports indistinguishable from shopping malls at sale time. (5 Jul 07)

No wonder the sign proclaiming Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse lounge has a moth-to-light effect.

We make our way down the nondescript walkway that leads to Virgin’s Upper Class lounge where we're attended to at a hotel-style reception desk. Moments later, our Barbados-bound flight status confirmed, we are led into the LGW Clubhouse proper.

The naturally lit lounge is spaciously airy and has a wood-to-leather ratio that induces immediate calm. Soon enough the Virgin hostess designated to our area makes menu suggestions and efficiently despatches our orders. Stark black and red uniforms lend staff the appearance of Russian Constructivist art projects. Quite apt. It does feels like we’ve left the shopping mall for the art gallery, right down to the flutes of champagne twinkling on tables.

The £11m lounge 

Virgin bills its lounge as a “Private Members’ Club” and that’s precisely how it feels. Indeed, private members’ club Soho House was consulted on service design for the Heathrow Clubhouse which reportedly cost £11m to complete. The Gatwick Clubhouse offers time-killers including a mini games arcade and a futuristic cinema room. Manicures, haircuts, massages and other grooming aids offer time-poor professionals the opportunity to look sharp at their destination. Flight delays have never been so useful. 

On board Virgin’s 747-400 Upper Class suite the nose of the Boeing houses fourteen seats. The term “seats” is a misnomer; these are actually seating areas or mini-lounges. Aisle access is unobstructed so there’s no need to step over adjacent passengers and this feature makes seat egress a doddle.

The specially contoured leather seat cossets the form in a way that manufacturers of six-figure luxury cars can only dream of and comes complete with electronically adjustable lumbar support. But the most useful button here is the one that flips the leather armchair seat over into a fully flat bed with mattress. This is no place for a Mr Bean moment so I allow a hovering staff member to demonstrate. No problem - Bean could have managed it.

Virgin lauds its seat as the longest bed of any airline's business class product and 2"wider than British Airways' first class seat. There's a distinct sense of enclosed privacy but if insulation turns to isolation then the ottoman feature doubles as a seat for a companion. The ottoman is also a handy point from which massages and treatments can be administered at the passenger’s side.

Undoubtedly comfortable though the bed is, sleep and Virgin’s Freedom Menu become quickly deferred options in the face of stiff competition from the onboard bar. Positioned away from the cabin it offers the requisite degree of privacy from snoozing passengers. Virgin enlisted the expertise of London-based Softroom Architects to design this bar and the overall design fabrics and finishes throughout the Upper Class suite.

Upper Class bar

The few leather bar stools dotted around the bar perimeter make for an intimate social atmosphere with lilac lighting hues enhancing this mood. Before long we clink complimentary Laurent Perrier with our fellow flying insomniacs, mainly UK-based property developers who make this trip monthly as Barbados’s burgeoning development continues to spiral. Asked about the virtues of the flatbed, one of our newfound social group claims to “sleep like a baby.” No mean feat - he’s 6 foot 1.

It’s no wonder that the peripatetic Wallpaper magazine embraced the Upper Class suite as “Most Life Enhancing Item” for point-to-point travel. For the frequent long-haul business flyer such enhancements simply make necessity and luxury interchangeable.

 

What they said...

"I recently flew to an event in New York with Virgin Atlantic. We travelled Upper Class and I have to say the whole experience was stress  free and extremely comfortable from lift-off to touch-down. Every aspect of that flight was about customer comfort - from the stunning 'Clubhouse' to the new comfortable flat seats. It was about taking the misery out of the flight experience - this is what business travel should be about other airlines need to learn."

Richard Foulkes, Director of Special Events & Productions - Imagination Ltd 

 

"I flew Upper Class to New York for a press event and the whole experience was as an absolute joy. The Clubhouse was stunning - a cross between a luxury spa and a top London members' bar and I indulged in a lovely hand massage and manicure before I even stepped foot on the plane. The fact that you can choose when you want to eat is a major plus and the in-flight head and neck massage ment that if you weren't already in deep relaxation mode you soon would be! I'd recommend it to anyone who needs to arrive at their destination feeling relaxed and refreshed."

Chloe Couchman Head of Business & Major Events - Visit London 

 

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