For more than a decade, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses have been a benchmark for “business class” lounge experience.
Upper Class isn’t first class, and typically aligns somewhere in the higher end of business class experiences, particularly on the new A350, but the lounges have always felt very “first class”, as have features like “The Upper Class Wing” at Heathrow.
As a well traveled Virgin Atlantic flyer, I’ll admit that my heart somewhat sank when I saw the words Plaza Premium and Virgin Clubhouse in the same sentences, for all the Virgin lounges outside of Heathrow.
Heathrow remains strictly Virgin Atlantic, but the other lounges now have an affiliation with Plaza Premium Group — and the big thing is that people with credit cards can now pay to get in, at least during certain hours. In the past, this hasn’t always worked well.
Plaza does an overall good job with its paid access lounges, and Plaza Premium First at Hong Kong is in many ways innovative and first rate, but I just didn’t feel the “vibe” was an instant fit. To me, Plaza Premium was known for mass market, not boutique.
My initial worry was a diluted “premium” experience in outstations like New York.
Was I being a bit too judgemental? No one likes a “judge-y” person! After experiencing the Plaza Premium run Capital One Lounge at Dallas, I began to think maybe I was one of those judgey a-holes!
That new Capital One Lounge run by Plaza in Dallas is absolutely first rate in every way, so why would Plaza automatically be a negative for Virgin Atlantic? Plus, the Plaza T2 Heathrow Lounge is actually really good.
After finally getting a chance to see for myself, my takeaway is that most of my fears were totally unmerited, and virtually all of the good nuggets from experience’s past are still there. Some things are even better — so far, so good.
Virgin Clubhouses: Status Check
First, it’s just really nice to have Clubhouses open again.
I traveled back and forth between New York and London many times when Heathrow was condensed into just a couple terminals, which left the famous Clubhouse closed. In New York, I experienced much of the same.
The purpose of this article is a status check. Aren’t you curious?
People are getting back into travel and curious about what they’ll find in one of the most exciting parts of the travel experience, so I figured I’d break each lounge down a bit, with a little detail in regards to “what’s new”, and what’s different, now that these two main lounge are once again open.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse At Heathrow
This was a bit of an O-M-G for me. I forgot how much I missed this place and how simply outstanding the space is. The Upper Class Wing entrance doesn’t make a bad first impression, either.
As a regular, it was more overwhelming when I started to see returning faces. There is something magical about continuity in a great lounge team, particularly one as next level as this one.
To me, the people elevate this already outstanding airport space to first class levels. So anyway, about the space. It’s still huge, quirky and comforting.
I miss the haircuts, but those were gone before the pandemic anyway. In their place now sits a few Peloton bikes. Apparently, the uptake has been really good, largely by transit passengers with time to kill and booze to burn off! I’ve been there…
All the fabulous features of table service wherever you are, a dining room service and comfy chairs are still in tact. The cocktails are still potent and the Champagne is still in the building. The spa is not, but apparently there’s hope for a return.
Some inviting snooze-slash-privacy chairs now sit in their place. Showers are still fully available and if you partake in any Peloton biking, for the love of God, please take one before your flight.
Now, I have no explanation of why I love it so much, but I love the smoked salmon in the Virgin Clubhouse — so much. It’s still there at the “deli”, and after two years apart, I felt overjoyed to see that some of the best things don’t change.
Taking the spa and the hair salon out of the equation, I can’t think of a service or food and beverage element that hasn’t improved or at least remained neutral to the lofty standards of before.
Being in here again actually made me want to travel again on a flight leaving after 9AM, and ideally after 5PM, because the cocktails looked very inviting, but I just couldn’t face them with a very long day ahead.
Virgin Clubhouse JFK
From the jump, this one really had me worried. I had faith that the Virgin team wouldn’t let home base slip, but New York with a new Plaza Premium contract had me… worried.
Thankfully, this lounge is stewarded by two of the biggest bada$$es found in any airport globally, and that’s Clem and Luquesha. If you know, you know. To the best of my knowledge, the lounge contract with Plaza Premium is mostly only allowing guests in hours when Virgin isn’t flying, so in my experience this was a non issue.
When I arrived for my 930PM flight, which admittedly is one of the later flights of the day, it was a joy to find a quiet space.
Apparently it was a bit busier before for previous flights, thanks to both the US and UK being open and available for tourism now, but that was kind of always the way in the Clubhouse, thanks to Delta flyers who knew how to work it.
Before you ask, YES, the Lanson is still there.
So too are the veggie curry with the raita and all the good stuff, asian chicken wings, and many classics from the pre-crossover days. There are some new menu items too, but I can’t speak to them. The Virgin classics are still classics, probably because no one is allowed to touch those recipes or tinker with ingredients.
The space is pretty much identical too.
A great varied selection of tables and chairs awaits, with both service anywhere and a “dining room” concept. Once again, I found this really nice to see. The places and little nooks I knew and loved are still there, and ready to be enjoyed again as the world bit by bit, comes back together.
If there was anything that meant something to me though — to sound like a trashy British dating show — I loved the “banter”. The classic British phrase for talking BS with a stranger was still possible here. The nice person taking care of my table had some jokes and wanted to ensure I was having fun.
It wasn’t buttoned up and stuffy, the way corporate lounge hospitality can feel. Maybe that’s a touch from the A-list team still running this space. It was just really nice to feel personality in what can otherwise be a very sterile experience for frequent travelers.
By that, I mean travel through any airport with any airline.
When you do it often enough it feels very “same-y”. Any chance to create a memory or bit of amusement is a rare treat.
Here, Travel Feels Wonderful Again
Let me tell you, for better and worse, I’m now an authority on transatlantic travel from BC times, C times and now whatever these times are. I freaking missed this.
I’m so happy to go into a lounge, find my seat and be able to shed my mask while seated and for that brief period of time, feel like the world of air travel is how I always dreamed it would be.
There’s cocktails, there’s smiles (even through masks) and the joy of seeing people moving around is a special pleasure now.
I was legit worried when Virgin Atlantic changed things up with Plaza Premium, however necessary it was. Why change a winning strategy?
But, I’m happy to say that *so far*, even with a new partner, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges are still a wonderful experience, and remain a top benchmark of business class, if not first.
If you’re one of the lucky people that just received Clubhouse passes for being SIlver, or via a credit card, it’s a great time to cash in!