Friday 30 March 2007

Virgin Atlantic, Upper Class, London Gatwick to Orlando

After being chauffeured to the airport in the leather seats of a Volvo saloon and fast-tracking it through Gatwick's 300-yard long security queues, the Virgin Club lounge is a stylish and airy sanctuary in which to while away a few hours waiting for a delayed flight. A limited, but opulent range of sandwiches and snacks, such as a small mountain of rich ice-cream and forest fruits resting on a warm, sweet waffle, are offered to passengers sitting on curvaceous, space-age chairs. Food, including a wide selection of sweets and lollipops, and drinks are complementary, but Wi-Fi access costs 6 pounds an hour from T-Mobile.

The science-fiction theme and the appetizing, but quirky, catering are continued on-board the plane. A very wide central aisle is lined by two rows of spacious booths curving at a diagonal into the plane, meaning the passengers unfortunately have their backs to the windows. When upright, each seat is opposite a handy foot stool, that can then be combined with the chair to become a narrow, but fairly comfortable bed. The in-flight films are on a loop, rather than on-demand, so there is little flexibility about when you watch a movie. For the return leg, the passenger is picked up in a spacious sedan, but there is no fast track through Orlando security and Virgin Upper Class passengers have to share a crowded and chintzy lounge with customers of other airlines. All in all, it is a tough stretch to justify either the carbon emissions or the price tag of flying Upper Class. 7/10