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Virgin Atlantic's New Lounge at JFK

Virgin Atlantic recently moved from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 at JFK. With the move comes a new lounge for Upper Class passengers. (Upper Class is Virgin's business class; Virgin does not have a first class.)

Virgin's lounges have always exceeded the competition by a wide margin. Just as at Terminal 1, the new lounge has a fully-stocked open bar, abundant comfortable seating, and a restaurant menu that beats eating on the plane.

The new lounge screams "product placement." Advertising for Bombay Sapphire gin adorns the bar, and the featured drink is something called a "Sapphire." In the business center, the Internet PCs are iMacs rather than Windows machines. Virgin must have gotten a sweetheart deal from Apple, since Macs are invariably more expensive at retail. Business travelers, most of whom are likely to be more familiar with the Windows interface, probably won't think that Virgin has done them any favor.

At the moment, I can't fathom what Virgin was thinking. The new lounge is just fine, but so was the old one. Indeed, the old lounge may have been a tad more spacious. What upside did they see?

I rode over to London in Virgin's Upper Class Suite the brand name for Virgin's flat beds, which are the roomiest in any business class. It's the third time I've been in "the Suite," and it continues to amaze. However, on an ominous note, my seat's electronic retractable table was on the fritz, and the aircraft I was on is only four months old. The crew were able to fix it, but the hardware shouldn't be falling apart so soon. The cabin crew hand-delivered a letter from Sir Richard Branson, in which the Virgin Chairman concedes that the service still needs a bit of tweaking. Only a few planes in the fleet are Suite-equipped as yet, so there shouldn't be too much retrofitting required.

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