The air travel business is a tough place to trade in.  Airplanes are about equal and it is difficult to make the travel experience “special” or different.  Yesterday we saw first hand how an airline can stand out by using its key asset – its people.

If you have flown then you know of what I speak. If you have not, allow me to encourage you to try. Yesterday I flew VS007; LHR-LAX.  The flight was on an A340-600.

The aircraft was surprisingly quiet. By the time we were on board, my sense of the brand was established.  The in-flight crew served to underscore what I had already discovered on the ground. This airline employs really good people.

Arriving at Heathrow in the early morning after an eleven hour flight (CPT-LHR) does leave one a tad burnt out. Changing terminals along with thousands of others; standing in security lines, waiting for transfer buses.  It gets a bit much real fast.

Imagine then walking into the Virgin Atlantic Club House in Terminal 3 to be met by a person such as this (Paula) – who saw me struggle to connect to the free WiFi. She took my Blackberry to get it sorted out and returned with a warm latte.  She steered me to the hair salon (did I really look that bad?) and also ensured I got a massage appointment.  Service like this? From an airline? Wow.

Looking behind the lady above you get a sense of the Club House. If you have to get stuck at the , this is the place to do it. Warm meals, made to order. Drinks made to order. Staff everywhere making sure you are comfortable and have what you need/want.  The place is spotless. Since there was an ash cloud thing going on at the time, it did occur to me that being stuck at the Club House would be entirely bearable. Fortunately the ash cloud did not interrupt service from London to the USA. Every staff member at the Club House was truly warm and exceptionally hospitable.  I can’t wait to go back.  Even the barber said I needed to come back in six weeks!

Back to the flight, here you see the lay out of the seating in Upper Class on the A346.  It looks more crowded than it feels.  While not sure of being faced away from the window, which I like looking out of, a word about the seat is in order.  It is a clever design and folds into a flat bed.  But it is narrow – too narrow.  That said, the IFE was excellent.  Both in content selection and GUI. Certainly as good as anything I have seen. There may have been a power supply but I did not see it.  And I did need it.  Also, for an airline so advanced in its customer focus, the absence of WiFi is sort of glaring.  On an eleven hour ride the small things like a narrow seat and no WiFi become not so trifling.

The airline offers something really nice though – an in-flight stand up bar.  Since I found the seat tight, the flight attendant serving my area suggested to eat at the bar. So I had space and a really impressive meal high over the North Atlantic. (Did you know they serve soup? I have not seen that in-flight before.) Once again, a small thing like service making the other physical constraints of space disappear.

The takeaway from yesterday’s experience is that this airline is really something.  Its people relish in customer satisfaction and I am most impressed. And I want to fly them again, soon.

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