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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Business, Bathrooms, and Beyond
Done with the bar, I explored the rest of the lounge, including the small business center.
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.
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.
I did appreciate the Virgin Galactic spacecraft model, a fun tie-in to Sir Richard Branson’s highest-flying enterprise.
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.
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: ✓
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.