Virgin Atlantic has what we reckon is the best business class lounge in the world -- its fantastic Clubhouse in London Heathrow's Terminal 3.
But we've been hearing great things about its younger Clubhouse sibling in New York John F Kennedy (JFK)'s Terminal 4.
Since it's the lounge you'll be using if you're in business (or US domestic first) class on any Virgin airline leaving New York, we were keen to take a look (before we tested out Virgin Atlantic's new Upper Class Dream Suite) and to see how the Clubhouse measured up.
(Want some glitzy, post-processed PR lounge shots to go with our real-world snaps? We've got you covered.)
Having spent a lot of time flying internationally from the US, and almost always being disappointed with lounges, my questions were this: is this better than any other lounge in the US? And does it live up to its London Clubhouse sibling?
Location & Impressions
The Clubhouse sits next to gates A4 and A5 in JFK's large "other airlines" Terminal 4. It's after security, which is an improvement on its previous pre-security incarnation, so you can pour yourself away from the bar and straight onto the plane.
Your first impression on ascending to the second level is the light, bright and airy reception area.
From there, you head into the lounge, and your first destination should be the spa and salon at the far corner from where you enter. Pick a treatment and a time before you enjoy the lounge -- slots are limited and if you're late to enter the lounge you may find it tough to get a session.
(I had a blissfully relaxing scalp treatment in the spa, from the absolutely lovely Amy, who's a real New York gem. Highly recommended, both for the treatment and for the brilliantly sardonic chat.)
If you can't get right into the spa/salon, your best bet is a relaxing beverage from the incredible bar, which wouldn't be out of place in the latest NYC watering-hole. This is seriously top-notch booze, turned into fantastic cocktails by the bartenders.
The lounge itself is a donut shape, with the middle firmly reserved for the bar area and pool table, with the outside containing seating for the rest of the lounge (including the salon and brasserie area).
Each area of the lounge is separated by metal poles that sometimes carry wooden louvres. It's fairly reminscent of Air New Zealand's "Koru Express" regional lounge in Christchurch.
You might not notice it at first glance, but the ceiling of the lounge includes cleverly descending gold cylinders.
The cylinders help to turn what's actually a fairly right-angled box into a human-sized space with pleasantly separated areas to enjoy.
You're allowed into the Clubhouse if you have:
- A Virgin Atlantic Upper Class ticket
- A Virgin Atlantic Gold frequent flyer card and are flying on Virgin Atlantic
- A Virgin America First Class or Main Cabin Select (first row of economy) ticket and will pay a surcharge, currently US$75
- A Virgin Atlantic ticket and a Virgin Australia Gold or Platinum frequent flyer card
- A Singapore Airlines First/Suites Class ticket
- A Singapore Airlines PPS card and are flying on Singapore Airlines
- A TAM first or business class ticket
Edit: Virgin Australia has confirmed that Velocity members are not entitled to access on the basis of their Velocity status when flying Virgin America.
Hungry? Virgin Atlantic has you absolutely covered here. There's an incredible range of nosh (try the amazing pulled pork sandwiches) from chic deliciousness to comfort food.
A full menu -- which changes by season -- is available at every table and sofa, and the staff are remarkably solicitous to your needs.
Beluga lentil, quinoa and cauliflower salad with fennel and raisin croutons with citrus vinaigrette? Or duck rillettes, Chinese sesame chicken, steak and Brooklyn ale pie or grilled salmon -- that was just half the menu when I passed through.
But seriously: make sure you try the desserts too. The dark chocolate mousse with salted pecans was divine.
Surprisingly, the wine and champagne are pedestrian at best. Uninteresting Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne? A boring Pinot Grigio? A Marlborough NZ Sauvignon? Gnawing-on-a-plank oaky 1990s-style Californian Chardonnay?
Virgin Atlantic needs to up its wine game to attract business travellers who know their grape. Apart from the reasonably good Rosenblum Syrah, there's not a drop there that's innovative or particularly interesting. Go for the cocktails, wine fans.
If you can tear yourself away from the fun, you can get some decent work done. Wifi was 8Mbps down and 4Mbps up when I tested it in the early evening on a weekday. That's good enough to snag yourself a few episodes or a movie while you're pampered in the lounge.
The work area is distinctly Virgin, with iMac desktops available for your use if for some reason you're not travelling with an Internet device of some form.
A few desks, however, would have been well-received. While most travellers spend time with their laptops on their knees, that isn't always the most practical option.
Relaxing is what this lounge was made for. Spa? Salon? Cocktails? Comfy chairs? Pool table? All sorted. You'll have to drag yourself away to board.
Once you've been spa-ed or salon-ed and have a drink in your hand, it's time to find a spot to sit down and relax before your flight.
That might actually be a little tricky, since the entire lounge has been created with the idea that no two seats are the same, according to Luke Miles, who designed the Clubhouse.
Between strange pod-like seats in the centre…
…and relatively private two-seaters…
…and gold satin-covered banquette sofas…
…and velvety, curvy Jacobsen chairs…
...or the signature red sofa...
…but our pick are the Eames chairs, found if you turn left and then bear right when you enter.
Park yourself here to get a bit of conspicuous emailing done between sips of your cocktail, while awaiting your spa session. Sure, we believe you're working, business traveller.
Or pick up a cue and have a game of billiards with the boss.
I was struck that, despite the glitz, the lounge isn't actually all that big -- and while it doesn't entirely need to be since Virgin Atlantic's flights are spaced out through the day, it felt about the same size as the Singapore Airlines lounge in Sydney.
What's there, though, mostly lives up to its London sibling -- with the minor exception of the wine, which could use some attention.
Its competition is mainly the decent British Airways lounge in JFK terminal 7, which Qantas also uses. But I think it's fair to call the Clubhouse the best business class lounge in New York -- and probably the best in the US.
Our reporter was a guest of the airline.