Today is my dad’s birthday and to celebrate I’d like to share with you a special guest blog written by my dad himself! All about his experience travelling Upper Class with Virgin Atlantic…
During the 1990’s Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways were really on the up (taking off I could say) and their service was excellent.
I flew with Virgin Atlantic on business to the USA over 50 times when I was working with a Pharmaceuticals giant who had offices in London, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The Upper Class in Virgin Atlantic was about the same price as Business Class with British Airways at the time so that was a good reason to build up airmiles with Virgin Atlantic. My company had a contract with Virgin Atlantic for several years because of this. And Richard grabbed a lot of market share in the price and service war.
I mentioned the good service you could get at that time. They would pick you up at your house in a chauffeur driven Land-Rover and take you to the Airport where checking in was a pleasure , especially when you got past security ( which was a breeze in those pre 9/11 days) and found your way to the Virgin Airways lounge where there was a library, quiet area, hairdresser, hot showers and complimentary drinks and snacks.
The flight was comfortable too. Plenty of leg room and in upper class you got complimentary champagne and could walk around in mid flight or even get a head massage from one of the flight attendants.
The flight attendants bought round lunch and supper on silver service and white cotton table clothed trays, and there were goodies to buy as souvenirs too such as the Navy-Blue Tee-Shirt or Sweat-Shirt with the Flying Goddess draped across the chest area. And the little Bear in a leather flying suit and goggles.
On one occasion I found my self seated right at the front of the passenger seating on the first row.
A familiar looking man was seated next to me and was ordering champagne and laughing loudly at a comedy show on the personal TV screen. When he opened his leather briefcase to reveal a copy of Country Life I realised it was Captain Mark Phillips ( now Princess Anne’s ex ).
On another occasion I found myself in the next cabin bed to Simon Fuller who was then planning the start up of the Spice Girls by reviewing drawings of different role type models such as the sporty one, the posh one the baby one etc.
Films and adverts were shown on each flight. This included the famous Neckar Island (owned by Richard Branson ) which passengers could visit if they got to a million airmiles on their Virgin Atlantic Flight Card. Or you could listen to music hosted by a young Johnathan “Woss” and sample the fine wines.
Usually I flew into Newark airport, but sometimes to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Newark (same name as the Nottinghamshire market town with a castle) is part of the urban sprawl of Greater New York. Each time I got to the passport security area there were two queues: One for US Citizens and one for “Aliens”. This always made me smile as I imagined Green Martians and other out of space creatures queuing up. I guessed it must have been the inspiration for Sting’s song: “I’m and Alien in New York”, too. Songs by the Police were really popular then. And I don’t mean the dark uniformed version of the Police either.
I used to hum the Alien in New York song as I was queuing up in the Aliens line. Ready to be interrogated by the Passport Security version of the police. Why are you here, pleasure or business, what’s the name of your business, what’s the address of your hotel?
There were two forms given to you on the plane which you had to fill in if you were an Alien visiting the US. Questions such as how many dollars are you bringing in to the country and are you carrying any plants in your baggage? Usually it took a good 15 minutes to complete these forms which after the first couple of trips I learnt was best to do before you landed. It made the queue go a heck of a lot faster.
The Branson Empire grew rapidly and I was always touched to remember that it all started when Richard Branson pitched Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells record as his first LP (Long-playing record) on the Virgin Record label back in the early 1970’s. I think it was 1973. It was a major success and earnt them both millions at a time when A level students like me played the LP on continuous repeat on our vinyl Fidelity record players. It was a bit edgy to play Virgin records then.
So, as I said at the start of this blog, I travelled over 50 times to the US on Virgin Atlantic -all on business until the last one. I saved up loads of air-miles (although not enough to go to Neckar Island). In fact, I saved enough over 3 years to take my wife and my two children to the US on holiday. All flying Business Class with Virgin Atlantic. My daughter was only 3 at the time but loved the flight and was invited to see the cabin by the pilot when she first got on board. She looked out the window all the time there was a view to see.
We flew to Boston, New England and hired a large comfortable car , which was rather like driving your own lounge around, and we travelled round Boston, Salem -where the witch hunt took place centuries ago, Cape Cod -did the whale watching bit, and up through New Hampshire, Portsmouth, Portland and Wolfsburg, into Maine and Bar Harbour (Harbor in American) where my daughter enjoyed her first Tom and Jerry’s ice-cream and my son aged 8 , and I played with the Lobsters served up on our restaurant plate, making them talk and wave. Poor dead things.
We had to listen to the Spice Girls first cassette in the car all the way round the East Coast of the US – my daughter was very much into telling us what she really, really wanted to hear – the “Bice Girls” as she called them. “Play it again” – she would say every hour.
Probably that’s how my daughter developed her love of travel. Now she works as a Marketing Executive for a travel company (although not Virgin Airways) and she writes a regular travel blog, with the occasional guest- blogger, which you are now reading!