Content originally appeared on TravelUpdate.com
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
London to Chicago| Virgin Atlantic | September 2016
I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it but, for a good ten years, I hadn’t left the United States—all of my travel was strictly domestic. It was only last August that my parents gave me the go-ahead to renew my passport. Eager to take advantage of my ability to venture abroad, for the last few months, I had been searching for the ideal first trip abroad. Finally, after weeks of searching, I found the perfect itinerary for my first trip abroad in years.
Content originally appeared on TravelUpdate.com
VIRGIN ATLANTIC CLUBHOUSE
London-Heathrow | Terminal 3 | September 2016
The Clubhouse at London-Heathrow’s terminal 3 is award-winning. It consistently ranks as one of the best business class lounges in the world. In Skytrax’s 2016 “Top 10 Business Class Airline Lounges” rankings, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London-Heathrow sits at number four, nestled between lounges operated by some of the world’s best airlines including Singapore and Cathay Pacific. Featuring an in-house restaurant, deli, open bar, outdoor observation deck and a spa, the Clubhouse at London-Heathrow is unlike any airport lounge I had ever visited.
Just last week, I used my non-reving abilities to meet up with family vacationing in Los Angeles. I planned on flying stand-by both to and from LAX, however, stuff happens. On the morning of my departure, I went to LAX to stand-by for the 10am to St. Louis, knowing there was a minuscule chance that I was going to end up on that flight. Of course, as the title hints at, I would not be flying American Airlines back home. For some reason, every single flight out of any west coast airport was overbooked. Not just on American, even revenue flights on Delta and United were hard to find. So, I called home, admitted defeat, and used RapidRewards Points to get myself home.
Just to give the reader a heads up, I really dislike Southwest and everything they say they're about. It's complete and utter bull, especially that "Transfarency" crap. I'm going to say something that many of you Southwesters will find shocking; Southwest is almost never the cheapest option. They claim to be a low-cost carrier, however, on the day I bought my rewards ticket, Delta, American, and Southwest were all selling the space they had left. Here are the fares all included one to two stops; American (LAX-DFW-STL) $459 o/w, Delta (LAX-SLC-MSP-STL) $499 o/w, United (LAX-SFO-DEN-STL) $450, Southwest (LAX-PHX-MDW-STL) $479. United was selling the cheapest ticket to St. Louis, followed by American, and then Southwest. That's just one reason I've never liked Southwest. A few other problems I have with Southwest; their crew is simply obnoxious, the planes are full of first-time flyers, it's bare-bones coach only. Though there were revenue tickets available, I still used RapidRewards points so I guess I can't complain because I still had options. That aside, let's begin.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit one of American's newly renovated Admiral's Clubs. This was not originally part of my plan for this past weekend's itinerary but, upon arrival, I realized that three and a half hours is a long time to spend in the gate area of Phoenix-Harbor. So, I made my way to the nearest Admiral's Club located between gates A7 and A9.
I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that this particular club was one of the first clubs to have been renovated as part of a multi-million dollar "passenger experience" program. Overall, the staff was fantastic, the food was great, and the new design takes home the gold.
I will always remember this flight. I typically remember flights where something goes wrong or the service was comedic however, I will remember this flight for the right reasons.
American has refined and retained the glamour of air travel. Albeit, not on every route in their network. They have refined and redefined what the "transcon" route should be and it's only going to improve in the coming years.
Once the Douglas DC-3 and eventually the DC-7 was put into service, transcontinental service became practical. American Airlines was at the forefront of this new "Transcontinental Network". Air travel had become something of luxury and glamour and the level of luxury only increased with the arrival of the jet age.
Now, decades later, these transcontinental routes have retained their glamour, awe, and luxury even when the domestic market has become saturated with ultra-low cost carrier vying to become the airline with the lowest fares and the least amount of service. Again, this ultra-low cost model has yet to infect the premium transcon routes and its clear, especially on my most recent journey across the country in American's "Flagship First Class", a name rightly assigned to the service.
Typically, I'm not one to hype up regional jets. Well, no one would hype up a regional jet. The "RJ" has a pretty crappy stigma at the moment. North American airlines continue to abuse the flexibility of the RJ, putting ERJs and CRJs on near transcontinental flights. Of course you wouldn't want to take an ERJ-145 on a three hour flight but, are they really all that bad anymore? I'd personally say, "no, they're getting better". I recently had the opportunity to fly in one of Delta's recently refurbished GoJet CRJ-900s, the largest CRJ in Delta's fleet. The first class and main cabin seat upholstery was actually pretty posh. The cabin lighting was refreshing, the service matched that of the service offered on mainline flights, wi-fi was offered, Delta Studio was on-board, and power outlets were featured at every seat in first class. This was actually my first positive experience on-board Delta Air Lines so I've decided to give you a peek at Delta's CRJ-900.
The first airline that likely comes to mind when an "avgeek" hears the words, "fantastic first class lounge" typically isn't American Airlines. Etihad, Emirates, Qatar, and Cathay Pacific are considered to have some of the most luxurious first class lounges in the world. American, well, not so much. Though, it's kind of like comparing apples and oranges at this point. Those four carriers I mentioned above, Cathay, Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad, specifically cater to a customer seeking a luxurious experience without cost being an issue. American on the other hand, doesn't have the name or the service at the moment to cater to that clientele. It's that reason that I don't like hating on the Flagship Lounges. They're practical, feature a wide array of amenities, and can be staffed by some of the most personable people in the industry. So, as I write this, I've just finished up breakfast; salmon lux, applewood smoked bacon, an egg frittata, a smoothie, and a yogurt parfait. Where did I enjoy this scrumptious breakfast? The Flagship Lounge in Chicago's Terminal 3.
I really don't like coach. Well, no one likes coach but it's the cheapest way to fly so, what are you going to do?
My father and I had been discussing when our first ski trip of the season would be. Finally, we settled for MLK Day weekend. We then decided that we would aim to do this as cheap as possible without sacrificing comfort. A few days before our planned departure date, I begin to look at cheap flights. That's when I found Frontier.
I'm actually in the Virgin America Loft as I'm writing this. I'm going on my third hour at the lounge. I've actually been pleasantly surprised at how quickly those first two hours went by. The crazy part is the Loft doesn't really have a major lineup of amenities. It's more of a toned downed Admiral's Club just way more stylish and quiet. Though the Loft doesn't have a hot buffet, shower suites, or a spa, it serves its purpose.
I had been looking forward to this lounge visit for awhile now. After a dreadful red-eye, my upcoming lounge visit was all the more exciting. The Clubhouse, without a doubt, ranks very high on my list of best lounges I've been too. The cuisine was exquisite (like First Class lounge food should be), access limitations keep the lounge fairly empty, service is great, and the atmosphere is calming. Thanks to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse I was able to recover and enjoy the rest of my flights.
Trip Reports pulled straight off the aircraft. Follow my flights, experiences, and other journeys right here.
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