Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Virgin Atlantic has a pretty slick sense of style. The many elements of the airline’s brand – from the unique metallic red of its livery down to its creative cocktail lists and small touches on its printed materials – ooze cool. We definitely picked up on that sense of style when we dropped by the airline’s small but well-provisioned lounge — called the “Clubhouse” — in the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). We put the place through its paces and came away very impressed.

Read on for a quick photo tour of the Clubhouse and all that it has to offer, from menu-order dining and creative cocktails to airfield views and even aircraft models. It’s a space that goes way beyond the bare minimum for business class lounges.

Walking up to the lounge – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Clubhouse is one level up from the check-in concourse, pre-security. Landside lounges are always less convenient, but the airport is working on changing that (more on that below).

There’s a big Dreamliner floor mat at the entrance — just one part of the 787 flair on display.

Welcome to the Clubhouse – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Exploring the Clubhouse

The lounge is long and thin, with a sleek bar spanning much of its length on one side, and huge windows with views of the runways on the other. Size-wise it’s pretty cozy, but there wasn’t much of a crowd when we dropped by. Depending on the day, Virgin Atlantic operates one or two departures from SFO to London Heathrow. This past year they also launched a seasonal summer route to Manchester.

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Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

On both ends of the bar there are seating areas that can accommodate solo travelers and small groups. The furniture has a quirky contemporary vibe, though not at the expense of comfort. I loved the design finishes like the tinted panes of glass and cove lighting.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The views from the lounge are spectacular, especially because you’re so high above ground level. You get a close-up look at the long-haul aircraft at the non-Star Alliance side of the international terminal, the soon-to-be-expanded terminal 1, and the run-up area of runways 1L and 1R, which handle departures on most days.

Front-row seats to the greatest show on earth – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A-gate international departures – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Dining in Style

My favorite aspect of the Clubhouse was the real-deal à la carte dining — a feature that most business class lounges in the U.S. don’t offer.

I tried out the “farmer’s cheese plate” starter, which was bursting with flavor thanks to pickled carrots and a healthy dash of spice.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I snapped a quick picture of a soup dish that was coming out of the kitchen for another guest. The staff here take the art of plating seriously.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As creative as Virgin Atlantic’s cocktail list is, I was most interested in the airline’s new partnership with Seedlip, a brand of non-alcoholic spirits. I thought the phrase “non-alcoholic spirits” was a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but the two drinks I tried were delicious, creative, and prepared with a lot of TLC. The “Peas of Mind” — which had real peas in it — was surprisingly refreshing. And the “Garden Sour,” topped with a layer of thick salt foam, struck a great balance between sour, sweet, and bitter.

The Peas of Mind and Garden Sour off the Seedlip cocktail menu – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I’m no teetotaler — you can check out my other AirlineReporter articles for proof. But given that alcohol can worsen the dehydration and jetlag often associated with air travel, I love the idea of non-alcoholic cocktail options at airport lounges.

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Business, Bathrooms, and Beyond

Done with the bar, I explored the rest of the lounge, including the small business center.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

In my book, showers are one of the things that differentiate an acceptable lounge from a great one. No surprise, then, that the Clubhouse had that covered.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A fun feature that fell a little flat was the brand-new VR experience. I wish I could tell you more, but the headsets weren’t working.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I did appreciate the Virgin Galactic spacecraft model, a fun tie-in to Sir Richard Branson’s highest-flying enterprise.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Final Verdict

I tried my best to think of things that could be improved about this place, but it was pretty darn hard. Virgin Atlantic’s SFO Clubhouse is a class apart from the average business class lounge — good enough that I’d go a bit out of my way to fly the airline just to have access to this place.

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Going through my checklist of criteria for excellence in lounging, let’s see how the Clubhouse does:

  • Comfortable and plentiful seating: ✓
    • To be fair I dropped by at a non-peak time, so I can’t speak to the crowd factor right before a flight.
  • Real meals, not just light snacks: ✓
    • I stuck with starters but there are more substantial options on the menu, like burgers and pasta. Bear in mind that food prep at the Clubhouse may not always be speedy.
  • A good drink selection: ✓
    • It’s a fully-staffed bar, so you can enjoy a well-made cocktail even if you don’t know how to fix one for yourself.
  • Showers: ✓
  • Apron & runway views: ✓
  • Friendly staff: ✓
  • Model planes: ✓

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The one major downside is the fact that the Clubhouse is pre-security, so that even with expedited passes through TSA lines you need to leave the lounge fairly early to make your flight. Fortunately, by the end of 2018, a re-design of passenger flow through the terminal will make the Clubhouse a post-security lounge without physically moving it. Problem solved!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at SFO? Have you experienced any of the airline’s other clubhouses? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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SENIOR CORRESPONDENT – SAN FRANCISCO, CA. Manu got his private pilot license in high school, setting the tone for his interest in all things aviation. He earned his frequent flyer credentials working as a journalist, and is now a medical student in San Francisco. He enjoys writing about air travel from a millennial’s perspective.

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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4 Comments

We went thru the Virgin lounge in July on a flight to London. It was our first experience with Virgin Atlantic, and we are converts. We loved the lounge, the great variety of drinks offered, and the ala carte menu. We can’t find much to fault about the lounge or Virgin Atlantic. Sure makes United look like the third world airline that it is quickly becoming. We had our choice of United, BA or Virgin for our nonstop to London, and our consolidator recommended Virgin, and are we glad he did. It ended up being the least expensive business class ride from SFO to LHR, and a great start to our trip. It makes getting there part of the adventure, not something that has to be endured. Of course, flying in the front of the airplane makes it all happen, but it was worth it. So far, the only lounge we have been in that beats it is the Virgin Atlantic lounge in London, and that is off the charts. Anyway, we are Virgin Atlantic converts, and next time we go to London, we will be flying with them. Try them, you will love it.

Jonathan Trent-Carlson

I was also at the Virgin Clubhouse in London (LHR) last year, and I agree with you completely Kenny.
Jonathan | AirlineReporter

Jonathan Trent-Carlson

Hey Manu,
Great article. I really enjoyed reading it.
Jonathan | AirlineReporter

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