As I get older I start to realise how important experiences are. When it comes down to it, in my old age will I feel thankful for all those cheaply made Primark t shirts I thought were so important back when I was in my early twenties? No! I’ll feel thankful for that time I swam in a pool on a Bangkok rooftop or had oysters and champagne at the highest point in London. I’ll remember the glee on the kids faces when they’re at their favourite place (Center Parcs), the love at my best friend’s wedding, the time I was interviewed on Women’s Hour. It’s all in the experience!
Virgin Atlantic 747-400 cabin
Which is why I went off to New York for my 30th birthday this year: for the experience. And why, when I went to book my flights in Virgin’s sale and found Upper Class flights for the same price as Premium Economy it was a no-brainer. I was going to have this experience in style.
Virgin Atlantic use a slightly different system for their levels of cabin on their planes: Economy, Premium Economy and Upper Class. I’d travelled Upper once before thanks to the generosity of my friend Kirsty giving me her points to upgrade and LOVED it – for me it elevates the flying experience to something that I look forward to as much as the holiday. It makes the precious ‘me time’ I have without the kids so very special. And at the prices I paid I knew I could make the most of the perks that came with flying Upper Class – the complimentary food, drinks and treats – to make the small extra charge no issue ;)
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse breakfast – fruit salad, yoghurt, Bloody Mary ;)
Let’s start with the check-in process, shall we?
As an Upper Class passenger you are granted access to the Upper Class Wing at Heathrow’s Terminal 4: give the ground staff your car’s registration and expected time of arrival and you can shun the usual drop-off area in favour of the dedicated Virgin wing. My mum dropped me off – automatic numberplate recognition opened the gate – and I was greeted by name by a member of staff who opened the car door and helped me with my luggage (I was allowed 3 bags of 32kg each but restrained myself to just the one).
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, T4 Heathrow
By the time I was inside my boarding card had been printed off and handed to me and I was whisked to the private security channel which was a very quick and painless process.
I was walking through to the departure lounge in less time than it took my mum to drive out of Heathrow. It was magic! The flagship Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow is known as ‘Disneyland for grownups’ for good reason. It it absolutely massive with a huge number of different seating areas to choose from. There’s a huge bar, a sit down restaurant (though you can eat in any space of the lounge – all food and drink is complimentary) a cinema area, deli bar, kids area, pool tables, library, beauty treatment rooms, hairdressers, showers and spa. It’s a space to relax, unwind and treat yourself. It’s one of my favourite places in the whole world.
I’d arrived at the lounge six hours before my flight so I’d have time to relax and enjoy a treatment and some food before my flight. I immediately ordered a fruit salad and a Bloody Mary (I was on holiday!) and settled in to enjoy the next few hours.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse loo – Cowshed products so you know it’s good
There’s a full compliment of laptops you can use to surf the web while you’re in the lounge and power points are dotted everywhere to plug in your own appliances. When breakfast was finished I took the opportunity to settle into a comfy seat, order a pot of tea and read one of the many magazines available. I then ordered my first glass of Champagne (either Gardet or Lanson Black Label) of the day before enjoying a quick shop out in Duty Free.
When I got back it was time for lunch so I headed over to the restaurant area. I chose my lunch from the starters section of the menu, not wanting to fill up too much before the flight. I started with Chicken Gyoza and Soy followed by the most epic sandwich ever: a toasted sandwich filled with ham and mac and cheese. It was as incredible as it sounds.
All washed down with another glass of champagne, natch.
For me, one of the most enjoyable things about Virgin Atlantic flights are how sociable they are. After lunch I sat at the bar and whiled away the hour before my manicure chatting to some family business owners from Essex: they were in the field of building and fitting theatre seats (niche!) and were off to NYC to see a new client.
It was quickly manicure time – you’re allowed one ‘mini’ treatment for free so I paid a small charge to have polish applied – and then had a relaxing hour in the cinema area afterwards. This place is full of reclining chairs and you have a number of audio channels to choose from and watch what’s on screen, from sports to news to documentaries. I ordered some mint tea and pulled out my laptop to watch a couple of episodes of Girls.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Cabin and Seating
THEN IT WAS PLANE TIME! I was one of the first to board (I am highly uncool) and settled into enjoy the seating.
I might have been a bit excited.
The hosts come round to introduce themselves and offer newspapers and drinks. I took a Guardian and a glass of Champagne (I was starting to look like a glass of Champagne at this point) and got comfy.
The seats in Upper Class are very comfortable – leather recliners with an ottomon that acts as either a footstool or a seat if you’d like someone else to join you. I mostly had my feet on mine, obviously. The seats convert into lay-flat beds for when it’s time to sleep.
For me at 5’6″there is ample room to move around within the seat space. On the 747 Upper Class is located in three cabins: the nose of the plane, the immediate front after the first galley and upstairs. Seats are arranged in a herringbone pattern and I have chosen the same seat three out of the four times I’ve flown Upper Class: 23A. it’s located in the front but not quite the nose and is close enough to the bar to see what’s going on bur not too close that you’re constantly disturbed (in my opinion, anyway).
Dinner service quickly started and I chose a glass of Sauvignon Blanc while I waited for my food to be prepared. As a foodie the meals on board are one of the huge advantages for me flying upper – a starter, main and dessert served on china with a lovely table setting.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Manicure ;)
I ordered the Chicken Satay followed by the Fillet of Beef and duh, the Salted Caramel Pudding. With the Satay I continued to enjoy the NZ Sauvignon Blanc (very nice) and with the beef I ordered the Rioja which was also lovely.
I’m so fancy ;)
The satay was just brilliant – I loved it. The chicken wasn’t dry at all and the peanut sauce was so delicious. The grilled beef was well-done but tasty and the veg was fresh and delicious. The salted caramel pudding was very sweet but delicious. I was stuffed but was talked into a plate of cheese and glass of port to wash everything down – delicious!
By this point I was stuffed to the point of no return and thought a nap was in order. Virgin offer pyjamas on request on day flights and as standard on night flights but I just made do with my eye mask, ear plugs and socks from the amenity kit. The lights in the cabin were dimmed and I was out like a light in no time at all.
I woke up two hours later feeling like I needed my champagne reservoirs topping up. Like I said, I love the social aspects of Virgin Atlantic flights and you meet all sorts at the bar! Drinks and cocktails are mixed at your request and there’s a range of snacks and coffees, too. I ordered a strong Americano (for obvious reasons) and a glass of champagne and settled in to be sociable with the other passengers. The lovely air steward quickly learnt it was my birthday and when it was time to disembark made sure I was sent off with a lovely bottle of white wine.
Soon afternoon tea was served but I completely missed it because I was chinwagging and swigging champagne. Oops.
The rest of the flight went really quickly and it was time to land. You get the most amazing views of Long Island coming into JFK and it was a beautiful sight as the sun was setting.
For me, on such a special treat as my 30th, the discounted cost of the Upper Class flights were well worth it. It almost added a whole day’s fun on to the trip at the beginning! As I collect air miles it also had the benefit of meaning I could upgrade the next flight I took to NYC to Upper Class with only paying taxes – and I have enough air miles to do this again on my next trip. I love the indulgence of it all, the pampering, the luxury, the people you meet.
It really is an exciting way to travel.