Flying can be a real pain. For most, the first-class flying experience is a storied and coveted fantasy far from the cramped seats of coach.
But for the envied few who get the chance to stretch out their legs and cradle a flute of champagne 35,000 feet in the air, the experience begins even before boarding.
Virgin Atlantic, the airline brand owned by British billionaire and bon vivant Richard Branson, is known for its flair and flash, and the first-class clubhouses it maintains in various airports across the globe are no different.
Need a haircut before your flight? A gourmet meal to tide you over? Or perhaps a quick cocktail to take the edge off?
Several of Virgin Atlantic’s lounges house full spas, as well as extensive breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus to fully pamper their guests. The experience is reserved exclusively for passengers who have bought “Upper Class” tickets on Virgin Atlantic flights.
Business Insider got a look inside Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Here’s what it’s like to relax in the lap of luxury.
The clubhouse at JFK Terminal 4 is a luxurious experience from the moment you're greeted by its friendly and attentive staff.
As soon as you walk in, you're swept away by the lush retro-inspired decor. In the center of the clubhouse is the bar, surrounded by a curving and gorgeous open wall.
The full -- service bar has drinks for any passengers taking an evening flight -- unfortunately, there are no Bloody Marys for breakfast. The clubhouse is like a swanky Uptown NYC lounge hidden inside JFK Airport, with a gracefully curving marble bar top and an undulating golden light installation above.
Next to it, another relaxing sitting area awaits you, complete with a staple of mid-century modern design: Arne Jacobsen swan chairs.
Beyond that is a semi-circular dining lounge, with the kitchen and restrooms down a curving hallway of coloured light.
The wallpaper is a tiny symbol of New York City, with the Empire State building and the Chrysler building repeated in silhouette.
While clubhouse members can order food anywhere in the lounge, the dining area is the best place to enjoy a gourmet dinner before jetting off.
Flyers can relax after their meals and enjoy magnificent views of the airport from this spot, which is situated directly across from Eero Saarinen's iconic TWA Terminal Building. You can even watch your plane be prepared and taxied to the gate on the tarmac below.
Luckily, the bar is centrally located, meaning a cocktail is only a few steps away no matter where you sit.
Across the clubhouse is the internet bar and work area. A wide selection of magazines are available for perusal, ranging from high-end decor tomes to The Economist.
The internet bar work area is straight out of the Space Age with its wild, patterned wall, retro reading nooks, and slick seating.
A bank of private and cosy booths are available for visitors who prefer a quieter pre-flight experience. The concierge team is on hand to help with arrangements or to print documents should you need them.
Many of the tables are topped with rich yellow marble, and each has a complete menu and cocktail list.
If you're feeling a tad shaggy or tense and want to spruce up for your flight, look no further than the in-house spa.
The Clubhouse Spa enjoys a special collaboration with Dr. Hauschka skincare specialists. Their line of luxury skincare products -- serums, lotions, and creams -- are perfect for staying relaxed and refreshed on a late-night flight across the Atlantic.
They don't take appointments, so it's walk-in only. Most hairdressing treatments run $30-$40, a stellar price for NYC, let alone a private airport lounge spa.
Of course, after a full treatment, you're bound to be peckish. A rich and creamy corn soup will warm you up on a rainy day. It comes complete with a crispy cheddar crostini.
The steamed sea bass is delicate and flaky, and it's served with beetroot cubes and a tart red onion relish. The portion size is perfect, too; enough to fill you up, but not a huge amount.
For lighter fare, you can try the elegant melon salad. The light dressing and peppercorns serve as a brilliant complement to the smooth, sweet melon and the mellow herbed ricotta.
Of course, you can always get a burger -- and what a burger it is. The clubhouse burger is a juicy patty topped with a slightly hot chilli jam, marinated tomato, and lettuce all in a toasted potato bun that holds up well. And as with any good burger, fries come served in a fancy metal basket.
If you're looking for a sandwich that's slightly smaller, the BBQ pulled pork slider is the one you want. The pork is wonderfully cooked -- tender and smoky, with a slight piquant spiciness from the apple relish and pickled red onion.
The flatbreads are perfect for sharing and come with vegetarian options. This is the basil pesto and marinated cherry tomato flatbread, dusted with parmesan cheese. The crust is crispy but not burnt -- a major plus, as many flatbreads are way too crisp.
And for the passenger with a sweet tooth, there are plenty of desserts. The bocca negra is a flourless chocolate cake topped with sweet cream and drizzled with a raspberry sauce. It's incredibly rich and dense -- a decadent pre -- flight treat.
A lighter but all the more delicious dessert is the buttermilk panna cotta, served with a glazed peach and almond biscotti. The buttermilk adds a tiny bitter twist to the usual silky sweet cream, which is balanced perfectly by the sweet fruit glaze and peach. It's true luxury in a bowl.
Their signature cocktail is the Virgin Redhead, a seductive scarlet blend of champagne, gin, berry liqueurs, and fresh raspberries served in a champagne flute. For being nearly all alcohol, it's incredibly palatable and well -- balanced.
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