If you’re looking for travel advice, you’re in the wrong place. Head over to see my friends Travel Betty and The Travel Coach for real, honest to goodness helpful hints. Me, I’m just going to tell you shit you already know. Like this little whoda-thunkit gem: Never, ever, ever fly Economy Class to Europe if you don’t have to.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, people. Do what you have to do, just get yourself a ticket. They have amazing sales from time to time.
Was the cabin perfect? No. (Parts were actually kind of ratty.) Was the décor exquisite? No. (Think gay bar, circa 1987.) Was the food delicious? No. (It was decent, but not memorable beyond the context.) However, and this is a big however, the experience as a whole was phenomenal.
The joy begins at check in. You walk up. You go right to the counter. You check in. No line.
Then, you get an invitation to their Upper Class departures lounge, which is like a secret clubhouse full of people who make more money than you. And you sit and pretend that you make as much money as them. You order a glass of wine. You order the cheese plate, or maybe a salad. In fact, you order any damn thing you want off the menu because it’s all free with the price of your ticket. Instead of fighting for a plastic seat amongst the throngs of idiots down in the terminal, you sit in a James Bond egg chair, listening to hipster house music, getting refills on your San Pellegrino.
This, my friends, is the good life.
When you board the plane—through the Upper Class entrance, mind you—you’re ushered to your seat where a flight attendant sits down next to you and introduces you to the nuances of flying Virgin style. Here’s how the flat bed works, here’s how the table pulls out, what size Sleep Suit would you like? They invariably call you “Love” which is ten kinds of charming to a girl like me, sucker that I am for an accent. As you settle into your suite (no two seats are together, so it’s really quite private) you can familiarize yourself with the dinner and wine menus. Four starters, four entrees, a cheese course and dessert—and there’s always a vegetarian selection. I started with the Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Tartlet with Pico de Gallo Sauce and moved on to the Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables with Saffron Couscous. The meal was far from transcendent, but it was certainly the best thing I’ve had at 35,000 feet in a long, long time. (United Economy “Right Bite” Snack Box, I’m looking at you.)
I watched a few TV shows, comfortably reclined with my feet up on my personal ottoman, then trundled off to the loo to change into my Sleep Suit, which is basically a set of thin black sweats emblazoned with the Virgin logo. While I was gone, I had the flight attendant change my chair over to a bed. (It flips entirely, then lies completely flat.) The bed gets made with a pad, a fluffy white duvet, and a comfortable, sizable pillow. The bed is rock hard, which is a huge misstep on their part, but it sure as hell beats “sleeping” upright in the cattle car. Plus, I had my eye cover and ear plugs from the Upper Class “Snooze Pack” to help me relax.
I woke up about an hour before landing and ordered a latte. What? No breakfast, you ask? That was all part of the master plan.
We deplaned (which is SUCH a weird word—I mean, do you ever plane?) and zipped through the special, “invitation only” line to enter the country. Easy, breezy, Covergirl. Then we headed straight for the Revivals Lounge, high above the chaos of Heathrow baggage claim. There, we each had a private little spa room, with a sink, toilet, bench, closet, and a blessed hot shower stocked with Bumble and Bumble hair products. Allow me to preach on about the restorative power of a hot, soapy shower after a ten hour flight. It really is the only civilized way to go. I reemerged, Venus on a freakin’ half shell, freshly scrubbed (with clean underpants, to boot) and ready for action. Next we enjoyed a hot breakfast with tea and smoothies in the lounge. I felt positively human after that.
Fast forward two and a half weeks, and we were back at Heathrow, which is a jumbled mess of construction right now. Our flight home was at 11:00, so we planned on breakfast in the Clubhouse. Now, the Heathrow Upper Class Clubhouse is a whole different ball of wax than the one at SFO. The place is pimped out. Formal dining area, bar, sports lounge, chill room, roof garden, grab-n-go deli, help-yourself drinks and snacks, computer room, library, sound systems everywhere, pool table, table top video games. I mean, it’s insane. It really IS a clubhouse. Like, a club I really, really, really want to belong to. Well done, Mr. Branson. Well done.
We had eggs and coffee with fresh squeezed juice, then sat to watch TV for a while. Which is where we met Tiny Lister, former WWF pro-wrestler turned actor. To be honest, I didn’t recognize him. He just looked vaguely familiar. But as we started chatting, he mentioned that he “made movies.” (Movies, apparently, like the Fifth Element. I freakin’ love that movie. He played the president. Remember him?) He actually gave me his phone number after encouraging me to start writing screenplays. Even promised to give my work to Jada. (Pinkett-Smith, that is.) He was such a sweet bear of a man, we almost missed our flight chatting with him.
Flew back, had some lunch, caught a snooze, enjoyed a hand massage by the onboard therapist, watched a movie, nibbled on the tea service before landing. You know, the usual. Seriously. I’m ruined. If I ever have to fly more than five hours in Coach, I’m going to lose it. It’s simply no longer possible.
Which probably means I’m not going anywhere interesting again for a long, long time.
Stay tuned for more adventures in Europe. Next up, London. Where I discovered the sweet seduction of Bulmers on ice.