Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, threw a party in New York earlier this week to celebrate the opening of his new 10,000-square-foot Clubhouse at New York Kennedy's Terminal Four. He personally hosted travel agents and journalists, who were issued special boarding passes to get through security to see the lounge.
To emphasize the benefits of being post-security (the previous 7,500 square foot club was not), Upper Class passengers will also be able to don their Virgin all-black “sleep suits” in the lounge (and be given hangers and garment bags for their street clothing) before taking the short walk to the gate.
Similar to the lounge at London's Heathrow airport, the club features a spa that offers complimentary hair and beard trims or minor hair styling, hand and skin treatments and 15-minute back and head massages. Additional services are available for a fee.
The New York City-themed club is divided into three areas. Although there is food and beverage service throughout the lounge, there is a seated dining area, a bar/pool table/funky furniture lounge and a quiet area (though the divider – walnut spacers suggesting the New York skyline – is hardly soundproof).
The menu also has a New York motif, with pork sliders, caramelized apples, tin baked steak and Brooklyn Ale pie. A new cocktail has been concocted, and unlike lowercase “virgin” drinks, the uppercase Virgin Apple contains alcohol.
As guests arrived, the evening’s featured entertainer, KT Tunstall, sat in a recessed, padded “cave” carved out of a wall in the quiet area, drinking a glass of wine. She performed a three-song acoustic set (though Branson tried his best to amplify it by holding a microphone up to her guitar during the third number, a cover of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”). Between songs, she praised Virgin’s environmental efforts and dissed the Transportation Security Administration.
While the club is certainly the most stylish at JFK, those who have been to the London Heathrow Clubhouse, with its multiple levels, huge video wall, charcuterie and loft bar may feel the New York version pales in comparison. We asked Branson about that.
“You have your base where you have many flights coming in and going out; that’s your absolute flagship,” he replied. “You don’t have everything you have there exactly the same down-route. If we tried to duplicate Heathrow everywhere, we’d be bankrupt pretty quickly.”
He noted that one thing both lounges have in common is a pool table. “I like to take money off people,” he explained.
— Arnie Weissmann
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