Gluttony at 40,000ft: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Experience

Virgin's In-Flight Walk-Up Bar 
A few months ago I had the incredible pleasure of taking a business trip to London. It was a trip of "firsts:" the first time I had been in a city during the Olympic Games, the first time I'd been working for a UK-based company, and the first time I had the privilege of flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. Sure, there are lie-flat seats, free pajamas and a full, backlit bar complete with bartender and barstools, but more importantly there was great food both in-flight and post-flight at Virgin's Upper Class Lounge. Check it out below.

Boarding the Upper Deck, the first thing you hit is the walk-up bar, where a bartender is pouring pre-flight glasses of champagne and Mimosas. I opted out and went to my seat to settle in. Sadly, I had intentions of heading back to the bar but never made it. Maybe next time. Regardless it was a total #InFlightFAIL.

Upper Class Menu
Once I got to my seat, the first thing I noticed was the menu. It was huge. After nearly a decade of business travel on American Airlines, on whose planes you're lucky if you get a seat that stays put (let alone an edible meal), I was just floored to see the passion and creativity that Virgin Atlantic had put into the menu. As a professional strategic planner by day and personal dinner party "thrower" (technical term?) by night, I was even more excited to see how integrated the whole experience was. Heading to London? Why not have an afternoon tea service complete with miniature cake stands for each guest? For the night owls, it makes perfect sense to offer a full dining experience but about passengers who sleep through dinner? That's where the "Graze" menu comes in, offering off-hour guests mini beef burgers, a "Coronation" chicken salad, and vegetarian sushi selection. Pure genius and truly consumer-centric, something that Virgin clearly prioritizes. But enough geeking out at the experiential marketing; let's get back to the food.

Amuse Bouche: Pesto Puree with Breadsticks

Sit down at your seat and you better hope you're hungry. Granted, service is spread out over about 8 hours, but there's a lot of pomp and circumstance before you even take your first bite. Flight attendants first need to set your table by pulling a hidden slot out of your cubby's wall, sliding it over your lap and adorning it with a cloth placemat, flatware, silver salt and pepper shakers, and cloth napkin. Need to get up during the amuse bouche, appetizer, dinner or dessert service? No problem. Just slide your table down towards your feet and you've got plenty of room to stand up. Very ergonomically correct, if I may say so.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup
Thai Chicken Curry

Once you're all set up, Virgin's service seemingly goes on forever. First, there's an amuse bouche -- ours was a pesto puree with breadsticks (above) -- followed by your choice of Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup (left) or Smoked Salmon for starters.

Need a cocktail with your food? Choose from a full bar of high-end liquors and spirits. then a main course selection of Grilled Filet of Beef, Thai Chicken Curry or English Pea and Mint Tortellini with assorted breads. Our flight had Rosemary Focaccia and Pumpernickel. One of each, please.

Don't forget wine pairings! Flight attendants come around with a four-pack wine carrier, offering up varietals like a Spanish Rioja, Italian Barbera, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Argentinian Malbec. How did I choose? Well, the last time I flew to London it was en route to Italy with Bryan, so I opted for the Italian varietal. Maybe it was the in-cabin pressure but it was delightful.

My Barbera was perfect with dessert, a warm chocolate and salted caramel pudding. It was eithe that or an apricot raspberry almond tart with creme anglaise.

About 30 minutes after dessert you start to think everything's calming down and you can turn in for a six-hour snooze, but the flight attendant's haven't had the last laugh. They literally roll through the cabin with a wine, cheese and Port cart. No joke. It's hard to stomach (pun intended) the thought of more food at that point, but I decided to take one for the team. I could only imagine Bryan's disappointment to hear I passed up cheese and Port at 40,000 feet. I couldn't let him down. Yup. That's my rationale and I'm sticking to it.

Finally, it's time for bed. Your flight attendant makes that for you, too. There's a full-on mattress pad, sheet, fluffy duvet and pillow. You can adjust your personal TV screen to sit right in front of your face, providing in-flight entertainment until you lull yourself into dreamland. Better yet, if you wake up to use the restroom, your return to find your "bed" has been remade. I was a little surprised they didn't  offer to tuck each passenger in.

When it's time to wake up, at least on the way back to LA, it's mid-day. That means no breakfast at 2pm. So what does Virgin Atlantic dream up instead? A full afternoon tea service. Flight attendants bring a cart to each passenger's pod and offer fresh tea as well as a overflowing selection of tea sandwiches and pastries. Better yet, the attendant arranges said goodies on individual tiered cake stands for each passenger. Our flight's sandwiches included ham and chutney, tuna and sweet corn, and cucumber with dill mayonnaise. A warm sultana scone came with refreshing clotted cream and strawberry jam while the "cake stand" included miniature chocolate eclairs, black currant and almond sponge cake as well as a selection of macarons. It was heavenly; in-flight gluttony at its best. Shortly after your afternoon tea service, your flight lands and you're wheeled off the plane about 20 pounds heavier. Not true, but I can say I was especially grateful for a long walk through Heathrow Airport to customs.

Traditional English Breakfast at Heathrow's VA Upper Class Lounge
That's all the in-flight experience but there's one more perk: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow. If you ever find yourself with a ticket to this lounge, get there early. Like five hours early. Not because there are lines but because you're never going to want to leave. Better yet, call ahead and book a massage, a facial or a body wrap. Men can relax and refresh in the barber shop; other guests either lingered over cocktails at one of two glowing bars or collapsed onto huge personal leather sectionals, each offering a pair of Bose headphones to listen to music or watch a 20' TV. I couldn't leave London without trying a traditional English breakfast, so I perused the menu found at everyone's seat and gave my order to a passing waiter. The same waiter who was offering every guest champagne and Bellinis. Once you're settled, you don't have to move. I nearly fell asleep and missed my flight to LA, but I knew better. Eleven more hours of gluttony was about to begin.

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