Travel: To London for the Weekend? Yes, on Virgin Atlantic

Accomodations aboard Virgin Atlantic’s “Upper Class” cabin

After the annus horribilis Malibu recently went through, how fitting and fabulous would it be to forget about it—if only for one lovely, luxurious weekend in London? Very, actually; it’s just the prospect of LAX and flying that I find daunting. But when my colleague Anthony Grant (who has written for Departures, the New York Times as well as this newspaper) raved about Virgin Atlantic’s “Upper Class,” I thought it might be time to reconsider. I asked Grant to tell me what, in his opinion, makes Virgin so special, and what he reported follows: 

I’ve thought about flying to London for a long weekend and I suppose you could do it, but seems it would be easier from the East Coast.

That’s what I used to think. But in point of fact, LAX has vastly improved in recent years and Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse lounge there is an excellent place to roost before your flight. Sure, there’s no getting around traffic and the TSA, but you have to look at the totality of the experience. If you fly Virgin Atlantic and go with the upper class service, you’re going to take your travel experience to the next level and it is worth it. 

Not every airline has as charismatic and iconic a leader as Sir Richard Branson. Do you see his personality as something that reflects in the brand?

With Virgin Atlantic, definitely. Having now flown Virgin Atlantic in economy, premium economy and upper class, I can say that his passion for aviation and stellar service is ubiquitous: Branson is Virgin and Virgin is Branson. And frankly, this is a good thing. Other airlines just haven’t got the same panache. They can’t compare. 

Can you elaborate on that?

First, the planes are shiny new and clean. I recently walked onto a plane belonging to a European airline and it smelled so bad I felt like walking right off. Contrast this with Virgin, which I hear is even developing a signature fragrance. Then there’s the service: It’s excellent at every level, solicitous without being overbearing—even in economy. Of course, in upper class, you’re going to get a more refined, elaborate and personalized service—starting with the leather seat, which turns into a small but fully flat bed at the touch of a button. And you have direct aisle access, too, which is great: You can get up whenever you want without disturbing anybody. That level of design innovation is in a class by itself.

I hear the meal service in upper class is quite lavish.

Again it’s not about formality, but rather a relaxed sophistication that I think defines the Virgin vibe and that extends to the food on board, especially in upper class. We’re talking Cool Britannia on a plate, at 35,000 feet. On my recent flight to London Heathrow, for dinner there was a choice of three starters; I opted for the antipasto plate. All four main course options sounded tempting, but I chose the charred cod fillet flavored with a Thai seven-spice blend with coriander basmati rice, cucumber spaghetti, shredded romaine lettuce, sliced mango and Nam Jim dressing. I’ve had fish dishes at Le Bernardin in New York that didn’t taste this good. It was a complete revelation. The white chocolate lavender cheesecake was so feathery soft and delicious, it didn’t even need a coulis. 

Sounds fabulous!

It was. And there was more. After the dinner service had wrapped up I enjoyed a savory Pukka Three Mint cup of hot tea and set about watching a great documentary about Studio 54. Actually, I think Ian Schrager and Sir Richard Branson have a lot in common, in that they are both true pioneers in the travel industry. After that I sauntered up to the bar—yes, they have a full service bar on board the 787 Dreamliner—for a postprandial nibble and happened upon lemon melt cookies from Island Bakery in Scotland. They were tangy and delicious. Then, about an hour and a half before landing, it was time for breakfast and mine included farm fresh scrambled eggs and bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee in custom-designed mugs with fanciful aviation motifs. The super sweet flight attendant Jody even let me keep one of them as a souvenir.  

It all does sound pretty grand

Grand, but as I mentioned, the great thing about service on Virgin Atlantic is that cool as it is, it never feels forced. Honestly, I don’t how they do it. But whatever Branson’s cooked up, it’s a recipe that works. And as far as I am concerned, there is no better way to get to London today than with Virgin Atlantic.