Virgin Atlantic JFK Clubhouse: the best lounge in the USA?

Lounge Review: Virgin Atlantic JFK Clubhouse: the best lounge in the USA?

Country:
United States
Airport:
New York JFK
Cabin Class:
Business
Alliance:
None
Airline:
VS (Virgin Atlantic)

location:

dining:

work:

overall:

What's Hot

  • fabulous design
  • your choice of the perfect style of chair

What's Not

  • boring wine

X-Factor

  • fantastic food
  • salon and spa: the only one in the USA?

Introduction

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 is funky -- but not quite as funky as its London sister.

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.

Head up the ramp and round the central area to find the spa and salon.

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 clever area dividers mean that there are distinct areas in the lounge, though sound isn't blocked.

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.

Access

Want to get past the door? Here's how.

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.

Dining

The bar is extensive, with mixologists ready to craft your heart's desire.

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.

Menus are on every table, and red-jacketed staff are enthusiastic about their lounge's offerings.

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.

The side brasserie area is available if you prefer a sit-down meal experience.

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?

You can eat anywhere in the lounge: just pick a spot and grab the menu.

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.

Work

The business area is a bit small and feels like an afterthought.

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.

Relax

Our pick of spots to chill out: the Eames chair corner.

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.

Summary

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.

John Walton

John Walton (John Walton)

@thatjohn

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.
 

10 Comments

  • nix584

    nix584

    21 Jun, 2012 11:05 am

    It looks great! You mentioned that VX First class pax have access, is this now included in the ticket price or do they still have to pay the fee? The access to Main Cabin Select pax is a new (and appreciated) feature too.

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  • airtraveladdict

    airtraveladdict

    21 Jun, 2012 03:29 pm

    All the United/Continental, AA, Delta lounges put together couldn't beat VA's lounge LOL.

    I'm serious.

    No member give thanks

  • ciaomucca

    ciaomucca

    21 Jun, 2012 05:09 pm

    The Virgin Atlantic website says that their JFK Clubhouse is only open to link in with evening Virgin Atlantic departures. Do you have a confirmed opening time? No opening hours are listed on the VS website. Hopefully there will be enough time between its opening and our afternoon VX flight...

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  • DrTGanguly

    DrTGanguly

    24 Jun, 2012 03:37 pm

    It will be an interesting point of comparisson when QF open their new F lounge in LAX next year.  It is hard to compare F to J lounges, but if you are looking for the 'bets lounge in the US' then you can make that comparison. Either way the QF lounge will need some Niel Perry juice and at least a slim version of the Payot day spa to be comparable. 

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  • cssaus

    cssaus

    21 Aug, 2012 07:50 am

    Attempted to access the VA Clubhouse at JFK tonite and was refused access.

    I showed my boarding passes for first class flight on VX413 to JFK connecting to business class on VA2 to Sydney as well as my Platinum Velocity Card....Access refused!!!

    I think VA needs to clarify what access if any is permitted for its premium passengers connecting from JFK to SYD. I intend contacting Velocity when I get back to Sydney to find out what gives.

    No member give thanks

  • cssaus

    cssaus

    1 Sep, 2012 12:19 pm

    I now have had it confirmed by Virgin Australia that access to the JFK Clubhouse is only available to holders of Virgin Atlantic boarding passes that meet the access requirements.

    Holders of Virgin America boarding passes flying in first class to LAX to connect to their VA flight to Australia in business class are not permitted access not even if you are Platinum Velocity member.

    To quote Virgin Australia in their reply to me "We are currently working with our partners toward a resolution"

    No member give thanks

  • John Walton

    John Walton

    5 Sep, 2012 06:47 am

    Hi cssaus -- apologies for the delay, family emergency and I'm thus delayed in responding. Unfortunately, that's the same response I got when I raised your initial query with VIrgin Australia. Frustrating news, but at least what they're telling Velocity members and the press is consistent..

    No member give thanks

  • cssaus

    cssaus

    14 Sep, 2012 09:07 am

    John, you should update your page's "What's not Hot" with the bullet point that there's no access for anyone not travelling on a Virgin Australia ticket.

    The point to be made, if you want lounge access at JFK you need to be travelling on a Delta operated flight to LAX and not a Virgin America flight.

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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    14 Sep, 2012 10:37 am

    Well, access is allowed for passengers on several airlines, and I've made it plain who gets in in the "access" section. I'm hesitant to put that in the "not hot" section as well.

    (I'd still pick Virgin America for the flight over Delta, mind, but I'd not pay the $75 to get into the Clubhouse.)

    No member give thanks

  • quikboy

    quikboy

    16 Dec, 2012 03:37 pm

    Looks nice for the most part. Lots of variety of seating obviously.

    Had to laugh at the "business" area. No real desks? iMacs? I don't know what kind of business users they're targeting, but for real business people who have their own laptops/tablets to work from, this isn't what I would consider a business area. The least they could offer is some Windows workstations with Office on them for those of us who want to get at least some work done, rather than just browse the web on a glorified desktop machine.

    No member give thanks

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28 Sep, 2016 11:51 pm

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