Flying from Delhi to New York on Richard Branson’s storied airline.
VIRGIN ATLANTIC is like its owner Richard Branson — smart and efficient, with a dash of the quirky. Take their safety video — it is an animation film that spoofs the Bond genre. As a male protagonist is taken through the usual safety drill, the visuals are anything but usual. The passenger-hero often finds himself not in an aircraft but in an automobile, train, yacht or even a saloon from the Wild West. The deployment of oxygen masks is depicted inside a car during a car chase sequence. The safety instructions throughout the video are in a woman’s voice, with the accent changing from an American drawl to ‘propah’ British to French. This mini movie is sure to keep you engaged.
Virgin calls its Business Class section Upper Class. There are three seats per row in this cabin (amalgamating what are first and business classes on other airlines) of the Virgin Boeing 787 Dreamliner. All of them face sideways. Partitions between seats mean that you do not really see your co-passengers to your left and right, and if you get a window on the side which faces the back of the middle row, you are ensconced in your own private world — draped in fuchsia mood lighting — with people coming into view only when they walk past. If you are travelling with a companion, you are somewhat cut off from them. But then again, there is an excellent entertainment system (the cutting-edge Panasonic Avionics, with 300 hours of movies, TV and games) with which to while away your time, so who needs human contact? Upon boarding at Delhi, I settled down on my comfortably padded seat, with its own built-in footstool. There was a menu and a toilet kit waiting. The latter was quite standard, but it came in a nice enough bag. We were offered welcome drinks, and I had a glass of the champagne — Gardet Brut Premier Cru. Pale golden yellow, fresh and fruity, it went down easy.
Let The Party Begin
After take off, I settled down movies, wine, food and more movies. I selected a South African white — the 2014 Vondeling Chardonnay. Be it whisky or wine, I like a touch of smokiness to the flavour, so this was a good choice for me. I ordered the orange-infused prawn and salmon tartare as a starter, served with cream cheese and fresh lemon. My main course was a parmesancrusted breast of chicken with asparagus. The Branson quirkiness extends to the food service as well, with salt and paper shakers shaped like plump little aeroplanes. They were so cute that I nicked a pair. Later I learned I was not exactly being original — so many have been stolen that the airline is phasing them out. Skipping dessert, I finished off with blue cheese, apricots and crackers, accompanied by a glass of port.
All this was served by a British stewardess who was the epitome of friendly efficiency, and she made it all look great, in her Vivienne Westwood designe red outfit, complete with the infamous matching signature red heels — in which the Virgin stewardess walks an average of seven miles per flight, according to one estimate! One of the things that makes the Virgin Upper Class stand out is the slick standup bar, where you spend time if you are bored of sitting or sleeping. It is complete with bar stools and a qualified mixologist. I stuck to water, though I did wolf down some crisps (the oh-so-British term for potato chips) and a couple of bars of the delicious green and black chocolates on offer, while having a nice chat with the bartender.
After landing in Heathrow, I had too little time to fully enjoy the expansive Virgin- Atlantic Clubhouse before taking my connecting flight to New York. I did manage a 15-minute head and shoulder massage at the spa, though I could not make time for a trim at the salon. The massage made me peckish, so I had some smoked salmon with freshly baked bread from the buffet, washed down with some Moroccan mint tea, while checking my email. In the little time I had left, I took a quick tour around the lounge, discovering that it had, amongst other things, a well-stocked bar (of course), a pool table, arcade games, a library, a second-floor room with a view (of the airport), and even a terrace (though it was too cold to be outside).
It was a short walk from the Clubhouse to my New York flight — on which I got much-needed sleep after the indulgence-filled Delhi- London sector. On the fullyflat bed, the stewardess laid out the bedding, complete with white sheets, and offered me pyjamas as well — though I was too sleepy to change. Hours of blissful slumber later, when I reached New York City, the complimentary limousine service (for Virgin Upper Class passengers) whisked me off to my hotel.