A chauffeur driven ride to the airport* and a drive through check-in
straight to the Upper Class wing at Heathrow Terminal 3 certainly put me in a good mood before I even reached the lounge; especially since passengers are fast tracked straight through security too.
Sadly I still have to negotiate the designer desert of duty free shops and Heathrow's badly placed lounge system but we can't blame Virgin Atlantic for that. My mood is restored when I spot that Virgin has indulgently installed a leather banquette in the lift to go one floor to the lounge, nice touch. The Clubhouse's wide sweeping staircase has style too.
There is a good reason the Upper Class lounge is called the Clubhouse, because that is exactly how it feels. This is the only airport lounge where I've actually wished my flight was delayed so I could stay longer because it is such fun to be in. There is the touch of the Austin Powers shagadelic here with Sixties-inspired hanging pod seats and sunken sofas -but in a good way.
The lounge is divided into very clear zones so you can move from a restaurant to a 'mountain lodge' zone (complete with a cyber fire to sit next to), to a cinema section depending on your mood. I take an impromptu fly-by past all of them before picking a seat.
I peak into the quiet zone separated from the central area by angled glass panels. This is a great place to relax and look at planes through the wide windows. There are couple of cane hanging chairs for a gentle swing if things get dull.
The Clubhouse is one of the few business or first class lounges that actually acknowledges passengers do travel with kids and tucked away at the back of the lounge is a very cool kids' play area. Although you might find it hard to keep older kids away from The Den complete with pool table and retro video game consoles - Pacman or Space invaders anyone? The multi-screen cinema area has angled low slung leather seat and foot rests. Pedestals with headphone sockets allow you to plug in your own set of Beats or you can borrow headphones some from the lounge.
Dell laptops await your pleasure on the large desks in the businesszone - plenty of room on the desk if you want to use your own too. Blackberry playbooks are also scattered around the lounge for complimentary use. There is a large table and benches for impromptu board room meetings. (Trivia note: the table originally belonged to Branson - no family names scratched into it though).
Once you've fed up with being a mover and shaker you can transfer from the busy biz zone to some oversized squashy chaise loungues perfect for a doze if you have a long wait between connections. Although I quite like the look of the Poolside Lounge, where the acrylic bubble chair have a cabana vibe and a ceiling to floor Japanese water wall runs into a tranquil pool. The ski lodge zone (channelling Virgin's ski lodge in Verbier methinks) with its mock fireplace is fun too.
'This is the only airport lounge where I've actually wished my flight was delayed so I could stay longer'
Food-wise there is a sleek white bench for casual eating a restaurant area with more intimate table and chairs but sit anywhere and the staff are there in an instance proffering menus and asking for your order. The 14-metre bar has a seriously good selection -some business class lounges are, frankly, stingy in this area but not Branson's bar. The sommelier has worked overtime here and there is an impressive spirits list too.
However, I'm heading for the white marble staircase leading to the mezzanine. I'll always follow a sign that has those magic words 'Cocktail Hour' and the Grey Goose vodka lounge looks like the happening place to be. Walk up another level and you can actually get outside on to a deck with rattan furniture and a view. A great place to plane spot in good weather. The bar is run in conjunction with Bacardi group, so next year the sleek grey Goose bar turns into a Bombay Sapphire gin palace, and in 2014 it will be rockin' Bacardi rum hangout.
It has to be said that my favourite part of the lounge is the pampering zone. I can get a wash and blow dry while watching the runway or indulge in a massage or facial in the spa. The airline has a new partnership with Dr Hauschka Skin Care. Dr. Hauschka-trained therapists will be offering passengers a holistic range of complimentary or paid-for treatments, including their signature Radiant You Facial or a hot stone back treatment No wonder I practically float onto the plane (I blame the massage, not the well stocked bar).
Is this the best airline lounge at Heathrow? Undoubtedly. In the world? Just maybe... Now let's see if the flight
is as good as the lounge
*Complimentary with some grades of Upper Class ticket , separate booking needed with others