On the Ground: Virgin Atlantic’s complimentary ground transfer to the airline’s Upper Class check-in area at Heathrow, known as the Upper Class Wing, is pure James Bond and highly ego-boosting. My VA-arranged car pulled up to a private gate at the terminal, where a security guard asked the driver for my name. After checking his computer to confirm my reservation, the guard released a concrete roadblock that lowered itself into the roadway, allowing the car to approach the Upper Class Wing entrance. After a no-line, two-minute check-in, I fast-forwarded through the wing’s security lane and walked to the Clubhouse, a large, busy lounge with dozens of windows letting in afternoon light. Upper Class passengers were in constant motion here, walking between the massage station; the wait-staffed restaurants, where you can order meals from an extensive menu; the Cowshed revitalization treatment; the hair stylist; and an extensive Champagne, wine and cocktail bar — all complimentary. Just about any type of edible item a human could ingest — from Jing teas to organic muesli to grilled sardines on toast — was offered self-service or brought by a waitress. Complimentary laptops and free WiFi were available around the room. My senses were totally overwhelmed, and I was thankful to have arrived at the lounge three hours before my 4 p.m. flight. (30/30)
Pre-flight: Entry into the aircraft was fast and efficient via the separate Upper Class boarding lane and cabin door. Virgin Atlantic’s interior décor has a subdued pink and purple glow which may have pretensions, but I found the aura relaxing. This Airbus A340-600 aircraft had 45 lie-flat Upper Class suites in the front cabin, arranged in an angled 1-1-1 configuration, so no seat was next to another. Two-thirds were window seats and one-third in the middle of the cabin, with an aisle on each side. Champagne and refreshments were served prior to take-off, which was about 50 minutes late due to Heathrow air traffic. (28/30)
In-flight: The Upper Class suite, a comfortable beige and brown seat surrounded by a thick plastic shell, is somewhat of a technological wonder, efficiently folding down in an unconventional way to form a lie-flat bed. In the upright position, it provides an ottoman for resting your feet. Even the seat tray and entertainment monitor are ingeniously designed. VA’s Freedom Menu allows Upper Class passengers to eat meals whenever they want, but after the delayed take-off I was ready to eat shortly after the cabin crew took dinner orders. Appetizers were oak-smoked Scottish salmon and watercress and potato soup, served with warm rolls. For the entrée, I chose pan-seared cod fillet with buttered new potatoes, carrots and asparagus. The other two choices — pork loin with glazed apple and Somerset cider sauce or fresh macaroni, sautéed wild mushrooms and baby spinach — sounded equally delicious. Dessert was a selection of English cheeses, sponge cake and chocolate marble cheesecake. Prior to landing, the crew offered sandwiches, scones and desserts. We landed at Newark about 25 minutes late, due to the delayed departure from LHR. (38/40)
The Experience: Flying Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic is a real treat, not only because of the in-flight amenities but because Virgin’s pre-boarding VIP experience is even better than what you would design for yourself if you were Richard Branson for a day. The celebrity treatment that begins with a chauffeured car and continues within the luxurious Upper Class Clubhouse extends into the aircraft itself. This is not your cookie-cutter trans-Atlantic airline, and VA’s savvy, high-tech, customer-friendly attitude is evident from airport arrival to wheels-down on the other side of the big, salty pond.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group announced plans to take over an existing hotel in Switzerland. The property is undergoing extensive renovations in preparation to open at the end of next year as Mandarin Oriental Palace, Luzern. The property was previously Hotel Palace Luzern, on the shores of Lake Lucerne and in the heart of the city; it originally opened in 1906.
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As part of Germany’s climate package, a plan to reduce emissions, the country will raise departure taxes at German airports. Taxes will go up as much as 60 percent, and are expected to raise up to €740 million. The funds will then be used to lower VAT on rail fares from 19 percent to 7 percent.
TAP Air Portugal is adding 15 new weekly flights from the United States and Canada by summer 2020, a new record for the carrier of 71 weekly flights between North America and Portugal.
Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of its newest ship, Norwegian Encore, ahead of its naming ceremony Nov. 21. The 1,100-foot-long ship boasts a guest capacity of nearly 4,000. Since Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of the shi, Oct. 30, Norwegian Encore sailed from Germany to England before making its way to New York City, then Miami, where the christening ceremony takes place next week.
United Airlines’ environmentally friendly efforts lessen the impact on local U.S. communities.