Saturday, 3 November 2007

Virgin Upper Class, Nairobi to London

At Nairobi airport, your Upper Class ticket entitles you to use the 'premium' lounge, which Virgin shares with other airlines. It is pretty basic. There is one slow Internet terminal, lots of sofas, some meagre snacks, a narrow selection of drinks, the odd newspaper, a couple of TVs showing CNN and some very ugly chandeliers. The cafe near gate 14 has better food, better decor and you get a view of the military helicopters parked on the runway. At the gate, you have to go through security a further two times, but Upper Class passengers can jump the queue and the Kenyan airport staff are very helpful and friendly.

On board the flight, the Virgin cabin crew are equally attentive, immaculately turned out in their scarlet uniforms and often glamorous. On this route, Virgin hasn't yet got flat beds in upper class on all the planes - instead you get spacious seats that recline quite a long way - good enough for the nine-hour daytime flight.

But the four-course meal can be lackluster - the marinated Mombassa seafood starter includes a tough piece of fish and some bland blinis, while the roast duck breast main course is unduly tough. Still, the accompanying couscous, red pepper, pumpkin and cranberry and cinnamon sauce is sweet and stimulating. And the wine is good - the Chilean Cucao Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignan 2005, for example, is rich and velvety, while the Kenyan cheeses aren't too bad. If you need to refuel later in the flight ask for one of the flavourful bacon butties.

The entertainment is also mixed - there is no in-flight magazine or on-demand entertainment. Instead you can choose to watch one of a dozen or so films on a loop. Still, there are newspapers, a small bar to hang out at and you are offered various treatments, including a vigorous and enjoyable back, shoulder and scalp massage, which may or may not happen, depending on demand. Back at Heathrow you will get some exercise, taking the long walk out of the airport. 6/10