Some airlines throw press conferences, some bake cupcakes. Azul, as we recently saw, preferred an all-singing, all-dancing, drum and smoke-filled laser show. But some airlines go even further than that.
When we were invited to a ‘party at 35,000 feet’ by Virgin Atlantic, we didn’t really know what to expect. But we knew it would be special. Here’s how Virgin Atlantic threw a mile high party for hundreds of guests on board its latest A350-1000.
Coming from Cornwall, I had a mega early start. Taking Flybe from Exeter to London City was only half the journey; I then had to get across London with luggage to Heathrow. Noting the section on my flight booking that said, ‘Book your Chauffeur now’, I cheekily asked Virgin if I could. Their response was overwhelmingly positive; clearly they wanted us to get the full Upper Class experience.
Arriving at London City, there was to be a suited driver with a name board waiting for me. As someone who has never traveled in anything better than premium economy, I was thoroughly excited about this. Somehow I managed to walk straight past him and went and found the car myself; ah well, you can take the girl out of economy…
Nevertheless, we were soon on our way to Heathrow Airport. It was at this point I realized my first mistake. Traveling by car at 8 am across London was to take us the best part of two hours. Public transport would have been less than an hour. Still, I was sitting in the back of a Mercedes, with WiFi, cruising past all the best London landmarks… it was a hell of a way to travel.
Arriving at Heathrow, we proceeded past departures and to a secret gate just for premium passengers on Delta One and Virgin Upper Class. What? I didn’t even know this existed! After confirming my name and flight number, the driver took me to a grand glass entrance, complete with red carpet and people to take my luggage.
It was at check in that it became clear we were involved in something really exciting. My boarding pass was handed to me with a special ‘party at 35,000 feet’ sticker. I was also handed a gorgeous Virgin A350 brooch, and the check in staff were visibly excited on my behalf.
Getting through security was a breeze, and then it was time to head on down to Lounge H for Hotel, as the check in staff called it, also known as the Virgin Clubhouse.
My, my. What a stunning place! Having only experienced a handful of lounges in my lifetime, most of which have been pay on entry, this was in a league of its own. The grand entrance led into a simply enormous space with seating of all shapes and sizes.
There was a selection of fresh food, a luggage storage area, and places to relax, eat or work, whatever your needs were. That’s before you get to the hair salon, roof garden, massage rooms and gin bar! More about the Clubhouse another time.
For the A350 partygoers, Virgin had cordoned off an area of the Clubhouse just for us. In here, staff were circulating with nibbles and drinks, including these cute cupcakes (red velvet of course) and the signature Virgin redhead cocktail.
Boarding the A350
A few minutes after 11, we were all set to board. Proceeding to the gate, we were greeted with more nibbles, a stand from REN handing out skincare products, more cocktails and a goody bag to take on the plane.
Boarding was done through The Loft. It was hard not to just stop and stare open-mouthed at what Virgin has created here. The loft replaces the inflight bar, which was seen on other Virgin widebodies, and is a gorgeous space. There are seats for six on a sofa bench, plus another couple of seats with small tables for drinks and snacks. The TV in this area is larger than the TV in my lounge, and with the full HD screen, it’s really something special.
Heading to my seat, the atmosphere was electric. All the media had been placed up front in the Upper Class cabin, but it wasn’t just us on board. Also traveling with us were travel agents, service providers and heaps of Virgin’s own staff – including one flight attendant who had worked on Virgin’s very first flight 35 years ago.
I’m not going to give too much away about the seat or cabins at this stage; we’ll save that for another time. However, the goings-on during our six and three-quarter hours crossing the Atlantic were really something special.
Virgin had prepared a unique inflight menu for our trip. This included a three course main meal, to be served an hour after take-off, as well as a ‘mile high tea’ created by Cake Boy legend, Eric Lanlard. There was also a classic gourmet beef burger available to order at any time.
For the meal, I went with citrus seared chili prawns to start, Hertfordshire short rib for main and a chocolate hazelnut tart to finish. Every aspect of the meal was delicious, although the prawns could have done with a little more heat and the dessert was super rich. The beef, though, was as good as any meal I’ve eaten on the ground.
The high tea was simply wonderful. Designed by Eric Lanlard, guests could choose from meat or vegetarian filled rolls, followed by warm scones with jam and cream. Specially created for this celebration flight was a chocolate and salted caramel éclair and a red velvet macaron, hand-delivered by Eric himself in a specially designed box.
During the flight, there were opportunities to meet people involved in the A350 development, including Daniel Kerzner, VP of Customer, and Phil Maher, VP of Ops. We also were able to peruse the various cabins, checking out all the facilities on board and really getting to know the A350 from the inside out.
Arriving in New York
Alas, the fun was over all too soon. We touched down in New York 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and despite a brief delay at the gate, we were soon making our way off the plane and into the world’s worst immigration queue.
All round, this was an amazing experience, and very, very Virgin. From the day it launched, this has been an airline more concerned with giving back than taking away. That comes across in everything they do, from treating their employees to a trip to New York to the way they’ve put together the A350 from nose to tail. Thank you Virgin!