Flying on New Year’s Eve

Back in November, I noticed that the prices in the Virgin Atlantic Black Friday sale were good.  Crazy good.  So good that I found myself unable to say no, so booked a little trip to New York for the bit between Christmas and New Year. We initially wanted to go from the 27th to 30th December, allowing us to be back home in plenty of time to go back to work, but we left booking just a smidge too long so the dates we wanted sold out.  Always a good lesson – if you see flights you like, snap them up.

We ended up with 28th to 31st December instead, which meant we’d be flying back home on New Year’s Eve.  It also meant that the return flight was with Delta – not ideal, but we were still able to use the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK so it wasn’t all bad. Both planes were A330s.

We flew out on VS3, departing Heathrow at 8.50.  We don’t live that far from the airport but I still made Husband get up stupidly early so we could get to the Clubhouse as it opened.  I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get myself a spa appointment this time (like last time where I was left sorely disappointed).  I manoeuvred a sleepy Husband through an empty Upper Class security lane (praise the lord!) and we made it to the lounge about 10 minutes after it opened.  It was so peaceful and empty – I could only see 8 passengers including us – so that spa appointment was mine.  Husband managed to get himself booked in for a haircut as well.  I paid for a manicure which actually wasn’t that great because the product they use is appalling but to their credit, they have now refunded me.  Still enjoyable even if it did start to chip the following day.    

We sauntered down to the gate at about 8am – gate 22 again, which is a pain in the neck to get to as it’s pretty much 15 miles away from everything.  I always seem to get gate 22.  Upper had just started boarding, so we walked straight onto the plane and got settled in.  We had the usual reverse herringbone seats with 1-1-1 configuration, and we had picked 3A and 4A so were facing the back of the middle row.  I’ve read a lot about how people hate the reverse herringbone, but I still enjoy the seat.  This one seemed fairly well maintained, with all the buttons still shiny and new.  I got a purple Herschel amenity kit this time which pleased me greatly (I love purple).

We were served lunch at about 10.30 which felt way too early to be eating a three course meal.  I had the soup which was delicious, followed by the chicken but I skipped dessert as I wanted to get some sleep.

The last time I few Upper Class and tried to sleep, I could not get comfortable. This time was much better and I slept for hours, only waking up when we hit a lot of turbulence and just in time for afternoon tea.

I was a little confused as I thought this was supposed to be the big fancy afternoon tea by Eric Lanlard, so was a little underwhelmed when this arrived on my tray.  This wasn’t quite what I was expecting, tasty though.  

We landed at JFK at little earlier than schedule, but were then stuck on the plane for 30 minutes as they couldn’t get the air bridge to work.  The ground crew moved it to the front, moved it to the middle, moved it back to the front repeatedly for about half an hour.  The captain asked all the passengers to sit back down as he had no idea how long it would take, and at one stage, they were talking about getting old fashioned steps up to the door.  They managed to get it working eventually, and once again having Global Entry got us through immigration quick as a flash.  

On the way back, we left Manhattan a little earlier than planned as it had just started raining so we thought we’d head to the Clubhouse rather than find something to do.  We checked in at the Delta One check in area with a classic grumpy Delta member of staff (all Delta staff seem grumpy), and she advised us where the Sky Club was.  Ha, as if we’d go there when the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse was available to us.

I love the JFK lounge.  It’s so quiet, the showers are amazing, and the staff are generally excellent.  The ability to have a shower and get changed into clean clothes is my favourite thing about using the lounges.  They still have Bumble and Bumble hair products in the showers even though they seem to have got rid of the hair salon from the spa. I had been looking forward to a hair treatment this time round, but had a wonderful 15 minute facial instead. I wish I’d paid for a longer one.

There was one bit of irritation – they’ve put in this god-awful “B8ta” pop-up, and the staff seemed more interested in chatting with the B8ta staff than checking on customers.  We weren’t as looked after as we were in London.

The Delta flight itself was pretty much the same as our Atlanta experience.  The seats were a little old but still comfortable, the staff were welcoming, and I got hammered on two cocktails (I really should know my limits).  It did get incredibly and uncomfortably hot in the middle of the trip, but other than that, fairly uneventful.  Well, after the fun of take-off

This was our New Year’s Eve flight and we were greeted by flight attendants wearing 2019 glasses.  I thought that might be the limit of their celebrations – we were leaving at 7pm EST so I couldn’t figure out when our midnight would be.  One of the staff explained that they shift to London time as soon as the flight starts, so we would be leaving New York directly at midnight GMT.  We started taxiing at about 6.55, and five minutes later, the flight attendants ran through the aisles with party blowers screaming “Happy New Year!” before running back to their seat for take-off.  It was actually wonderful – I had a tear in my eye.  That might have been down to the cocktails however.

We landed in Heathrow earlier than scheduled, managed to get through immigration really quickly, and our bags were the first off the plane so we decided to visit the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge for the first time.  It’s a small lounge but there was plenty of free seats when we got there, with a spa and showers.  If I was going directly to work, this would have been a godsend.  As it was, we were only half an hour from home so we just had a bit of breakfast which was served in no time at all – we only spent about 45 minutes in the lounge in total but it was just what I needed as I hadn’t had any breakfast on the plane.  The spa was tempting, but my bed was calling.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

I am not ashamed to admit that flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is one of the best holiday experiences I’ve ever had.  We were incredibly fortunate to be in a position to upgrade both to New York and back, so were able to check out the view from an Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner (my favourite plane), as well as sample cocktails in both the Heathrow and JFK Clubhouses.

Check in at Heathrow was a bit stressful – we didn’t use the Upper Class Wing, and joined a bit of a scrum at the normal check in which felt like it took forever.  The “private security channel” wasn’t actually worth it as it was going slower than the main security line, but it does look as though they’re in the middle of renovating that area. By the time we got to the Clubhouse, I was a little frazzled.

A Clubhouse that was rammed, but we managed to find a quiet spot next to a window.  I remember Rach talking about the spa, so went over to get an appointment – they had one spot left for a Bumble and Bumble reconditioning treatment which would be cutting it a bit fine for my flight, but I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem.  Whilst waiting for my treatment, we had some breakfast and I wandered about to see what else the Clubhouse had to offer (we weren’t actually given a tour when we got there).  There’s a deli area, bar, pool table, half-finished TV room, and the most gorgeous tiles in the bathrooms.  I might have taken a photo for bathroom renovation inspiration.

The hair treatment itself was free so I’m not complaining but… The two women in the salon before me had insanely long hair which they were getting straightened and curled (each, not both at the same time obviously), which meant that my appointment was 10 minutes late.  It was a great treatment and my hair felt gorgeous afterwards, but Husband was waiting for me as I left the salon because our flight was already on it’s final call.  We almost had to sprint to the gate, which of course was the gate furthest from the lounge, so all that nice relaxing was ruined!

Our experience at JFK was a million times better, starting with the dedicated check in desk in a quieter area of the airport (although security still took an age).  The JFK Clubhouse is a smaller lounge, but I loved it as it didn’t feel busy at all.  We sat in a sofa pod where I almost fell asleep because it was so comfortable and just so quiet.  The service was impeccable, and we felt truly looked after – that might have been because our waiter checked up on us frequently to make sure we were stocked up on cocktails. It was almost a “thank you, Linus” situation.

I ended up having the same Bumble and Bumble treatment as before, but was able to enjoy it this time as I didn’t have to rush off afterwards.  I really don’t think my hair has ever felt or looked as good.  Not only that, but the luxurious Clubhouse showers were an absolute godsend after walking round a hot Midtown all day.  The flights were amazing – I mean, how could they not be when there’s a bar on board? The Airbus was a little older, a bit scuffed and chipped with the 1-2-1 configuration.   Husband preferred this – the seat dividers were higher than the newer 1-1-1 layout on the Dreamliner so he didn’t have a nosy American peering at his dinner (unlike our second flight).  The Herschel amenity kits are very cool so we now have two different Herschel toiletry bags each, and I of course kept my Virgin Atlantic PJs.  The salt and pepper shakers might have found their way home with me as well.

I tried the lie flat bed  on the Dreamliner for about 45 minutes, but it was just too hot to sleep with the duvet so I sat up and kept watching TV.  I did nap for a bit longer, but I was absolutely roasting and I only had a sleeveless top and thin leggings on – I didn’t dare try the long sleeved PJs as I think I would have melted.  It was a shame that I couldn’t make more of the bed, but the chair was just as comfortable.

The main negative from the whole thing was that the flights were only 6/7 hours long – I could have stayed on there for hours (I’ve just checked the price on the longer Miami flight – yeesh!  That’s not going to happen).

Oh, and the scrambled egg was the most hateful thing I have ever eaten – I don’t know why I thought they could make decent eggs on a plane.

Premium economy just doesn’t compare though, so now I’ve just got to hope that the upgrade gods smile on us and I get to experience it all again.  What an absolute joy.

New York: Day five – Blue sky, just not where it counts

Empire StateOur last morning – boo!  We had a lazy start, as we knew we wanted to get to the Top of the Rock by about 11, so we messed about with the suitcase for a bit, double and triple checked that we hadn’t forgotten anything, and checked out.  Our final breakfast was at the Starbucks on the Rockefeller concourse and we sat watching the cute little zamboni prepare the ice rink for the day.

There weren’t any queues up to the Observation Deck at all.  In the first lift, there were 6 of us, but no one told us where to get out, so we ended up going back down again.  The guy at the bottom kind of looked at us oddly before saying “y’all need to get out on the 2nd floor”.  Well you should have told us that!

2nd floor was airport style security (although a heck of a lot faster than the airport), and we then took the long winding walk around the barriers to get to the next lift.  On the walls were posters telling you about the history of the place which would give you something to do if you were queuing, but as we didn’t, we read none of it.  Take that!  The glass ceiling lift to the top shot up quite quickly – I didn’t really understand the theming of the lift as they seemed to be suggesting it was taking you through time.  Um, ok.

But then we were at the top and got amazing views like the photo at the top of my post.  We spent about an hour at the top – it was mostly grey although we could see some blue skies in the distance, and it did try to rain at one point, but it was quite pleasant up there.  I think the weather had put most people off so it wasn’t crowded at all and we had plenty of space to mess about with lenses and get some good shots.

Back on the ground, we quickly stopped by the NHL store to get a birthday present for my brother, and then I decided we’d go back down to the West Village to get some ice cream.  Not just any ice cream though – amazing ice cream from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.  It is possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my entire life.  I had Salty Pimp (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and, chocolate dip) and Husband had American Globs (vanilla ice cream, pretzels, sea salt, and chocolate dip).  I also bought myself a tote bag which we very quickly put the NHL bag into.

Big Gay Ice CreamAnnoyingly, as soon as we got out of the subway at Christopher Street, we were hit by beautiful blue skies and cursed the weather for not being like this when we were at the top of the Rockefeller Center, but to take advantage of this, we got back on the subway and went back uptown to 81st Street to walk through Central Park.  We walked the 30 blocks to our hotel down the west side of the park, and it was lovely aside from the students everywhere.

We got back to the hotel at about 2, grabbed our bags from the bellhop and started on our subway trip back to the air train.  The bellhop had offered to call a car for us, and I was briefly tempted but as soon as he uttered the words $70, I scoffed.  It’d cost $7.50 on public transport!

The E train felt like a long journey and we had to stand for the first half, but eventually we got to the air train.  The station there was a bit skeezy, so we didn’t hang around for too long and we soon found ourselves at Terminal 4, which is ridiculously spacious.  Security was a nightmare and so hot and busy and I couldn’t wait to get down into the shops and restaurants so I could rest my throbbing feet.

And it was passed security that I finally met my main goal of this trip – eating a Shake Shack in New York.  Down by gate 36 (which was very close to our actual gate), there were no queues, free tables, and I finally got MY BURGER!

Shake Shack JFKThe service was a bit crap but I didn’t care – the burger was bloody lovely, as were the fries.  Husband wandered about the terminal a bit later and said the queue was massive, so I’m pleased we went there when we did.  We then found a space by a big window overlooking our plane and settled down to wait.  I did have some change left which I wanted to get rid of, and realised I had enough for a blueberry muffin and a double dark choclate cupcake from Cake Tin – nom.  I ended up leaving NY with only one dollar coin.

Everyone managed to board the plane quite quickly so there was no hanging about.  We taxied just as the sun was setting and gave us the most amazing view of New York.  AS WE WERE LEAVING.

Leaving NY

A terrible photo – it was taken with an iPad.

We were so annoyed – if only we had stayed one night more, we would have seen this.  Ack!  In a bid to get over it, I watched six solid episodes of Brooklyn 99 whilst eating another Delta chicken salad – still with fruit.  I then watched Frozen (didn’t get it) and slept through Catching Fire, waking every now and again to see Katniss running about.  And then our flight was pretty much over.  We had the usual hold pattern at Heathrow for about 45 minutes so we just circled the sky above London.  When we were let free from the plane, we almost ran to Immigration as we’ve been caught in massive queues at Terminal 4 before but there was no one there and we were the first in line for the scanning machine.  YES!  Being the slightly cynical person that I am, I assumed the wait was still to come at baggage claim, but our bag was second off the plane.  YES!

We did have to wait for the bus for the car park, but overall, I think this was the quickest we have ever left Heathrow.  We were home and eating pancakes in no time, and I tried to get myself back on UK time – it was back to work tomorrow.