The last of the ten flights on our vacation in Scotland was the late night Virgin Atlantic service from London’s Heathrow to Newark. This wasn’t our original plan – we had intended to come home on the Continental non-stop from Glasgow – but a couple last minute changes happened and the reward inventory was there so a quick call to Continental had our tickets changed and the new itinerary booked. We’ve done the same Virgin Atlantic flight before (on the same aircraft, it turns out) and it is pleasant enough but I’m struggling to figure out why some folks are so completely in love with it.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a decent business class product, perhaps even a very strong one, but this is my second experience and, well, it is really not THAT special. Okay, I’m typing this sitting at the bar on the plane after standing at the same said bar for well over two hours and chatting up a few other passengers and drinking my fair share of Grey Goose. Plus I was able to spend a couple hours in the Clubhouse in London. Truly it isn’t a bad experience. But there are a lot of little things that add up in the overall experience that detract from it.
As a well traveled friend of mine said to me that afternoon, “LHR Clubhouse is IMPRESSIVE yet somehow not SPECIAL” I couldn’t agree more. It is certainly a great place to spend a few hours on the way back to the United States and it is a great lounge, but I’m still not convinced that I should schedule travel based on transiting LHR and the Clubhouse.
Why am I so sour on the experience? Perhaps it is because I tried to order both a steak and a hamburger in the Clubhouse an the waiter very apologetically said that the least the chef could cook them was medium well. Ouch. I know that the on-board food is oft criticized, but the lounge food is supposed to be what makes that irrelevant. Not in this case. I ended up having a slice of apple pie and a few pieces of mediocre sushi for dinner.
Perhaps it is because I scheduled myself for a hot towel shave and the Clubhouse screwed up the appointment time by 30 minutes. Not really that huge a deal until you’re trying to coordinate a pair of appointments and the lounge is getting more busy as time goes on. The shave was, as always, phenomenal, but the experience was not.
Or because the on-board meal I ordered (medallions of lamb) had a texture quite similar to shoe leather. Or because it isn’t really possible to sit with a companion on the plane and have a conversation unless you want to be talking across the whole aircraft (or have one person sitting at the foot of the other’s seat in a rather uncomfortable nook).
Overall the experience was fine. But it wasn’t special. With all the publicity and raves that the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class service normally receives I just think it is overrated.
- The adventure takes a more direct turn towards Barcelona
- Ten flights in eleven days…Not a bad trip at all
- The world’s shortest commercial flight and me
- Flying with the birds of Noss
- Light your torches; time to burn a boat!
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The Heathrow clubhouse is one of the most impressive airport physical facilities out there. I once heard it described as “an architect’s dream of Platner, Eames, Corbusier and Austin Powers.” But it’s not about the service.
And the onboard product is a good, solid business seat (that was once industry-leading but others have caught up) combined with bad food.
Virgin’s mileage program really isn’t competitive. I’ll take the onboard product for longhaul business, but I’ll recognize it as just that — a business class seat that gets me there, not an experience to look forward to. There aren’t very many BUSINESS products (nad even only a few FIRST products) that are more than just transportation.
Which isn’t to say that it isn’t perfectly fine for what it is. And I wouldn’t really go in search of more for a short hop across the pond.
Ultimately I think that Gary’s comments sum it up. There are glimmers of brillinace in various its of the hard product but the service is terribly lacking. Maybe I’m strange in this regard but when I’m in such a situation I think I’d prefer great service and a slightly diminished product than the other way around.
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