The Day We Turned Left to New York

New York steam

I have always imagined First Class as a magical land of satin eye masks, cosy pajamas, comfortable fold-out beds and mouth-watering food on real plates. The latest Emirates advert featuring Jennifer Anderson has also alerted me to showers and a bar!

Until last week, it has always been completely unattainable and in all of my 28 years of flying (I took my first flight at six months old on a trip to the UK from Singapore), I have only ever turned right on planes.

When Pete told me that he had won two Upper Class tickets on Virgin Atlantic to New York and two nights at the 5* newly opened Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square I was absolutely ecstatic. This was after my initial reaction of ‘You had better be taking me, not one of your housemates!’.

As this was going to be my fourth time in New York and Pete’s second, so although excited about visiting favourite places, discovering new tourist attractions and catching up with old friends, we were looking forward to the prospect of experiencing Upper Class the most.

In the Virgin Lounge
Us in the Virgin Atlantic Lounge at Heathrow

This is why we wanted to share our experience with you from start to finish…

We arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 three hours early for our 11.30am flight. The slightly earlier start was worth it to take full advantage of the Virgin Lounge. We checked in at the Virgin Upper Class desk, were fast-tracked through security, another perk of flying Upper Class, and then hurried past Wetherspoons (my usual haunt at the airport) to the white shiny door manned by girls wearing the bright red Vivienne Westwood outfits.

Invited in and shown around, we made a beeline for the spa area. There is a choice of 15 and 30 minute complimentary treatments of which you are allowed one each time you visit the lounge and I planned to take full advantage of these. After careful consideration, I chose to have a mini facial and Pete had a hair trim. I went straight into the little spa room; the lights were dim and the atmosphere calm, not something I usually associate with airports. I came out feeling relaxed with soft and healthy skin after having enjoyed an exfoliating, cleansing and moisturizing routine with Dr Hauschka natural products.

Breakfast Burger in the Virgin Lounge
Breakfast Burger in the Virgin Lounge

We had a leisurely breakfast of breakfast burgers and drinks (almost all food and drink in the Lounge is complimentary) and nabbed a few newspapers and magazines to read before it was time to board. The process was completely painless, taking only five minutes to walk to the gate and having the privilege of boarding first.

As we stepped into the First Class area and found our (single digit) seats, I looked around me thinking “Who are all of these people? Have they paid to do this? Or are they just regular business flyers, people using air miles to upgrade and other competition winners?” I’m sure people were in turn looking at us and thinking similar thoughts.

Cheese and port
Not just dessert, cheese and port

The flight was seamless from start to finish. An air stewardess takes your coat, offers you a welcome glass of champagne and then it’s time to sit back and relax in your own little private cocoon. What I love most about day flights is that you can sit all day eating, drinking and watching recently released movies without feeling guilty that you should be doing something productive, like sleeping.

First course, Waldorf salad and a choice of roll

We had barely begun to watch our first movie before someone comes to take your order. Your collapsible table is brought out from its discreet slot and a table cloth, cutlery, glasses and even salt and pepper shakers with ‘pinched from Virgin Atlantic’ (a hint if ever there was one) on the bottom are placed in front of you. We were given the choice of chicken and smoked duck terrine, Waldorf salad or tomato and basil soup for a starter accompanied by a choice of warm roll.

For the main course, I chose the Garlic and herb marinated beef with slow braised cabbage and dauphinoise potatoes, which was absolutely delicious. Pete opted for the curry, although managed to forget to take any photos in his haste. At this point, we were beginning to feel rather full and sleepy, not helped by a couple of glasses of tasty South African red wine from the wine list, but we just about managed a dessert of chocolate brownie with raspberry coulis followed by cheese, biscuits and a tipple of port.

Pete had a different dessert

I’m really not exaggerating when I say that all of the food we tasted in Upper Class was exquisitely cooked and well-presented. Not a foil-topped tray to be seen. I love economy class plane food but this was something else!

On the way to New York, Pete and I ate in our own seats (I was already engrossed in my first movie) but on the way back we discovered that you can ask to eat together either at one of your tables or at the bar. This is a really nice thing to do and you can pretend you actually are in a fancy restaurant, despite the seat belts and odd bit of turbulence.

Shared supper
Table for two sir?

We arrived in New York feeling refreshed after a little nap in our cosy beds and a spot of afternoon tea, ready to begin our weekend of festive explorations.

Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea. Scones and cake galore!

Our return leg turned out to actually not be long enough to really take advantage of the comforts of Upper Class, being only six and a half hours long. We were, however, extremely grateful to walk off the plane, into the Virgin Revival Lounge and straight into a shower. Landing at 6:15am and with the prospect of a full day of work ahead, this made the day all the more tolerable.

View from JFK Lounge
View from JFK Lounge

Upper Class really was a fantastic experience and I’m not really looking forward to my next long haul economy flight, now I know what lies on the left side.

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