While visiting London recently, Luxury Travel Advisor had the opportunity to fly two different elevated classes on Virgin Atlantic and to explore two different Clubhouses at both JFK and Heathrow. We’ll talk about the flights themselves soon, but the Clubhouses are worth their own story.
Thanks to new security procedures, the lines to clear security snaked all around JFK’s Terminal 4 when we arrived, severely cutting into our available time for exploring the Clubhouse. Security agents promised that the situation would be better soon, but for now, get there an hour earlier than normal, just in case. (And a side note: There are precious few signs throughout Terminal 4 to help passengers find lounges or other important sites, which makes it very frustrating to know where to go or what line to be in. If there was a Fast Track option, we didn’t see anything about it, and there was even confusion about which line was for luggage drop-off and which was for security.)
But then we reached the Clubhouse, and all the tension just seemed to melt away. (A good lounge can do that.) The New York Clubhouse has a rather dark and romantic vibe, with lots of small tables surrounded by plush chairs. Food and drinks are all included, so we picked a table by a window (great view of the planes) and ordered some champagne and a saffron, tomato and olive arancini (risotto balls with tomato and olive inside--great finger food!). For dessert, we tried the very tasty dark chocolate mousse, but were intrigued by The Kitchen Table (which the menu says requires 10 minutes, but offered no clue as to what is included). Other snack and meal options included potted salmon, which we heard was very good, ramen, burgers, roast gnocchi and several types of fish.
For unwinding and relaxing, the Clubhouse has a pool table and a spa with several complimentary treatments. (We didn’t have time to try the spa before it was time to leave, but the range of options looked impressive.) There’s also a full brasserie (with more traditional tables) that we didn’t get to sample, so we definitely need to come back and explore the space properly for several hours.
Passengers flying Virgin’s Upper Class get their own driveway and private check-in room at Heathrow...but when we went through the room, nobody was behind the desk and the one gate agent we could find (after calling out for several minutes) said that we would have to go downstairs and check our luggage with everybody else, which rather negates the purpose of having a private room for Upper Class check-in. (To be fair, other people may very well have had better experiences using the suite, but from what we could see, it was pointless without agents behind the desks to check people in. Rather disappointing)
But regardless of the presence of a gate agent in the room, Upper Class passengers can exit straight through to a fast-track security line, where anyone wearing shoes will get a pat-down from a security agent. (It’s just like a TSA pat-down, except they call you “Madam” while they grope you.) Following this, and the confiscation of any prohibited items from one’s carry-on luggage (like a jar of Harrod’s jelly...no, seriously), passengers walk through a series of open shops to a hallway of lounges on an upper floor. Virgin’s Clubhouse is Lounge H, and it can be accessed by stairway or elevator.
When we arrived at the Clubhouse, we learned that a recent power outage meant that no hot food was available and that several other services had to be curtailed. We sat down by the bar and perused the menu of complimentary food and drinks.
And oh, my. While the New York menu had some nice items, the London Clubhouse has enough to keep people entertained for weeks. Those flying out in the morning can get a full English breakfast. In the afternoon, try “British Tapas,” a selection of snacks like cheese on toast, sausage and mash, and fried whitebait. And, of course, there’s a full Afternoon Tea, with finger sandwiches and scones and clotted cream and strawberry preserves and everything. (For the tea itself, guests have a choice of nine options, from classic Yorkshire Gold to green tea to blackberry & elderflower.)
Since no hot food was available, we opted for some olives and a charcuterie plate, both of which were quite nice. The signature cocktails, however, stole the show: Try the Gin-Ger Tonic. It has a huge chunk of ginger inside and it’s fizzy and not-too-sweet and not-too-spicy and perfectly refreshing, like a G&T with a serious kick.
We booked a complimentary treatment at the spa and enjoyed a wonderful back-and-neck massage that included aromatherapy. (Ask for Becky. She’s terrific.) There are also spaces for manicures and facials and haircuts and even a sauna.
There’s also a pool table, like in New York, and a “poolside” relaxation area. Those with a literary inclination can explore the library, and audiophiles can have fun in the Avid Suite, which has an eight-fader Avid Artist Mix controller and a 25-Key M-Audio keyboard. We didn’t get to go upstairs for the Grey Goose Loft Bar, but we hear the bartenders there create drinks to match any taste profile.
And sometimes the coolest touches are the littlest things: In a corner by the main entrance, a man sits with a small pile of shoes and slippers. Guests in need of a shoeshine can drop off their footwear and use the slippers to wander around the lounge until it’s ready. And this is all complimentary.
In short, next time we fly out of London, we will be sure to arrive at least five hours before our flight so that we can explore all of the other perks (and food!) at the Clubhouse. It’s a reason on its own to book Upper Class seats on the flights...which we’ll talk about next! (Keep an eye on LuxuryTravelAdvisor.com.)