Best airline ever

May 24, 2016

best-airlineThere’s no getting around flying. If you want to go any distance from your home, you have to get on a plane even as every horrible “incident” is splashed all over the news constantly. Flying has never been more anxiety-inducing. So finding the best airline is important.

It is a long haul to get to our first love, Europe, from California. Eleven hours is pretty much standard just to get to London and that’s if it’s nonstop.  Then, there’s the connection there or in Paris or in Munich to get anywhere else.  And if, like me, you can’t really sleep on flights, crossing the pond is not something to look forward to. I flew to London in a narrow, uncomfortable coach seat once and it was miserable. I was squirming and uncomfortable and stayed up all night talking to my seat mate because I couldn’t relax.

That’s why I’ve almost always flown Business class outside North America and Hawaii. Back in the day, it was easy to make reservations using mileage awards and fly premium for free. I’ve had affinity credit cards for United and American both for more than 25 years and I use them for everything. But some years ago, airlines stopped being so generous with mileage award reservations for Business and First. You can’t be assured you have a good seat until pretty much last minute, which means you can’t be sure you aren’t flying coach. My husband and I both have worked long and hard and at our age, we’re just not interested in being that uncomfortable on a flight that’s already stressful.

Traveling on other people’s money is better, but…

And that’s why a good bit of our travel budget goes to Business class airline seats. Yes, that gets expensive and yes, it rankles to have to pay so much. It was far better when we traveled overseas for our jobs on “other people’s money.”  But we plan for it and now we don’t even think about it except for the gasp when the fee hits our credit card. Our AIRLINE AFFINITY card, which means we get mileage credit for that big purchase.

From California we often fly Air France or Lufthansa or Delta or United and I have begun to think that coach might be preferable. Their Business class seats are made for men, I’m convinced. My feet dangle uncomfortably so the blood rushes downward and the beds don’t lie flat. I hate it.  So when I learned that Virgin Atlantic had true “lay-flat” seats in their premium section, we decided to try the airline.


Very little surprises us about air travel these days, but Virgin Atlantic did surprise us with fantastic service, amenities and customer experience. I think it’s the best airline flying our favorite routes. We’re so accustomed to the way carriers are cutting back, it’s hard to figure out how Virgin Atlantic can be profitable with all the added services it offers travelers and especially Upper Class travelers. Which is what Downton Abbey-esque name for their Business and First sections.

First, let’s talk about driving up to Heathrow. There is a special Upper Class entrance for your driver to take you directly to Virgin reps, who already have your baggage tags and boarding passes if you haven’t already gotten the passes. You go through their own security screening, not the huge long lines. Not kidding. I couldn’t believe it.

Once in, you simply must experience Virgin’s airport lounges, where passengers are served free meals and drink while they wait. And good meals, too.  FREE.  Now, it’s not that a free meal is going to make up for the amount of money that a Business ticket costs. But it’s a nice benefit.


SFO’s Virgin lounge serves the best cappuccino I’ve had outside of Rome.

SFO’s smaller Virgin lounge had a smaller menu but at Heathrow, the place was so luxe I could hardly believe it. It was HUGE. The cafe was a large as some restaurants and the morning we were there I saw both a breakfast buffet and a fairly extensive sit-down-and-be-served menu.


The lounge part was expansive, with comfortable chairs that could serve as beds. Here’s a small section of it.

best-airlineThe TV screens in the TV lounge were the biggest i’ve ever

Oh, did you want to see the library? It was so big I couldn’t even get it all in the

There were a few of these for travelers to enjoy.

best-airlineWait. You say you wanted to play billiards?  Oh yeah. Right there. No kidding.

So then, you board the plane.  Here is the clever configuration of Upper Class, where you are in your own little pod.

Everything is at your fingertips and the tray table becomes a table for two complete with a small seat and seatbelt, so your traveling companion can join you for your meal. I am not kidding. What looks like a footstool? Is that seat.  So when it’s time for bed, you ring for a flight attendant. She makes up the bed for you, because it is a little complicated to flip it around. She puts the mattress pad, sheets and pillow on the flat bed and pretty much tucks you in.


Ignore the disco lighting in this commercial photo.

Snug as a bug in a rug, right? Notice the bed is flat. Oh wait. Did I tell you that they handed out navy blue lavender-infused PJs you could wear? I think she’s wearing them in this photo.  I hate the aroma of lavender (I know, shoot me) so I gave it back right away.

Ok, so here’s the truth. It looks good but it wasn’t all that comfy. In fact, on the way back we found it easier to sleep in the chair position.

The meals were very good. I mean, very good. There was an endless array of snacks in the back lounge if you got hungry. The whole experience was designed with customer service in mind, something U.S. airlines go out of their way to NOT do.  I can’t remember when I was as pleased with a flight experience as I was with this one and Virgin has become our new go-to airline for overseas travel.


I could do this. Premium economy looks as good as many American first class sections.

Now, I had a peek at Premium economy and it looked pretty good, too, don’t you think?

All of the flight attendants had a rather retro look, with long, slim pencil skirts (red) and their hair done in old school styles reminiscent of the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s. Which I loved. Many had these rather elaborate but gorgeous up-dos. Here’s one:best-airline

These days, air travel is more like a cattle call than the special experience it started out to be in the early days of passenger air travel.  Virgin Atlantic brings back some of that old school feel and also shows its customers that passenger experience is important to them. I can’t think of a single American carrier that does that, can you? We’re not only fans, but trying to figure out if we could give up a nonstop to Paris just so we could fly Virgin Atlantic on our trip next year.

And no, they didn’t pay me a cent for this.

I’ve got a question for other travelers among us. What’s your experience been on long-haul flights?


55 comments on “Best airline ever
  1. shari Eberts says:

    I flew Virgin Atlantic for work years ago and it was just as you describe. The lounge is outrageous! You make me want to fly with them again. Glad you had a good experience.

  2. Robin Masshole Mommy says:

    I only fly domestically and stick with my personal favorite airline. Virgin Atlantic sounds nice 🙂

  3. Pam says:

    Fly Emirates if you get the chance. After 18 hours to Dubai, I still wasn’t ready to get off the plane.

  4. T.O. Weller says:

    Wow Carol, thanks for sharing!

    Kip and I are not travelling anymore this year, with too many commitments here at home, but it looks like we’ll travel Virgin Atlantic when we cross the pond in the future (something we plan to do soon).

    • I might make an extra stop on our trip to Paris next year just so I can fly it instead of a nonstop Air France, which I took not too long ago and hated. This airline is great!

  5. Oh my goodness! This plane ride seems heavenly. I agree, it seems other airlines seem to go out of their way to NOT give good service, unfortunately 🙁

  6. pia says:

    Thanks Carol. I used to collect skymiles because I could travel often in business class (I’ll never be a “frugal” blogger even if I run out of money) Now it’s cashback and hotel points because I still like the stupid tangible reward—though cash really is king.

    Thanks because you solidified the “at our age,” for me

  7. GiGi Eats says:

    I have never been on VIRGIN! I was supposed to be but it was actually Air NZ! Such a tease! LOL!

  8. Joan Stommen says:

    I totally agree with flying dust class/business overseas. I would have preferred VA for my Austraila trip, but my Delta miles really helped (combined miles and $) with cost! Lay down beds were awesome; meals were great but it was the little things that mattered to me too! Seperate lines, priority Attention tagged luggage and bypassing customs made the trip smooth and efficient! When we retired, my husband and I decided we’d earned two important things…buying books on release days (Costco!) and flying first class! Mileage and sales help. And for me…the $85 I spent for TSA precheck is worthwhile…whether an hour flight or 7-8 hours from east coast to west! Great post, Carol…I can’t wait to try Virgin! Planning a trip to Europe next year…going to check on their Partners!

    • I am always given precheck it seems, but we have our interview for Global Entry in late June. That’s going to be amazing. No lines. But there is a 6 month wait for screening interviews at SFO…we booked ours in November…

  9. I’m so glad you do all of my flight tests for me. Virgin it is then. Off to book my flights.

  10. Barbara says:

    My sister in law flies Virgin whenever she can. She flies into Newark from LA instead of Philly because Virgin doesn’t fly to Philly. I think I’ll take the ride up the turnpike and use Virgin myself. If the U.S. airlines make economy any tighter we might as well lie flat in the baggage compartment!

  11. candy says:

    Never flown on Virgin but will check them out.

  12. Diane says:

    Just finished booking our next trip. With a few smaller flights thrown in. A couple of them are Ryanair. Now I’m nervous. I hate paying to pee!
    I’ve made a note about Virgin Air. It’ll be our go-to on the next trip!

  13. Note to self: fly Virgin Atlantic for my honeymoon – the flight sounds absolutely amazing!!

  14. Michelle R says:

    Sold! My sister has flown Virgin Atlantic and loves it as well. Sounds absolutely fantastic.

  15. It’s my dream to fly to Paris or London one day. i will so remeber this post when I can finally afford to.

  16. Jennifer says:

    Lucky you! I used to live when we traveled on “other people’s money”! It’s the best way to go. I love Virgin. They do treat people with class. You’re so right about those damn seats…in planes. My feet never touch the ground.

  17. Mary anne says:

    I flew coach on VA from Atlanta to London last summer. Yes the service was AMAZING (and we are a delta family) but ohmygod we were in the center seats in coach and it was the most painful coach flight I’ve been on. No legroom, couldn’t really tilt my seat back, felt like a sardine but the service saved the advice for flying coach on VA DONT unless you Arron a window seat or upgraded coach. Because we snuggled up to the Male FA in charge we got freed rinks from the onboard bar lol

  18. Jan sollish says:

    Oh my gosh Carol…am looking up Virgin Atlantic immediately as I am planning an Italian trip in November. Just returned from Spain on Iberia..which was really American Airlines. 17 travel hours from Madrid to SFO, a literally inedible meal (“lasagna” that looked like white jello), crushed in a middle seat in the middle aisle. I don’t sleep on planes either and it is a good thing as it wasn’t possible(WellI need to stay awake to keep the plane in the air anyway:).
    Thanks for the great tip..and I am so enjoying your writing!

  19. Remember when this level of service was de rigeur for everything? That’s what I miss about the old days. Gas station attendants, bag boys, movie theater attendants. Service was such a wonderful thing, and so expected that when we read a post like this the fact that we are amazed is a bit sad to me. So upper class I will go, if I can because it sure sounds nice!

  20. Elena Peters says:

    First off, I had to giggle at the number of times you said “no kidding” and the vision of your legs dangling over the edge of the “man” seats. I absolutely hate flying now. It used to be such a pleasant experience and a wonderful start to a vacation but now…not at all. I am certainly going to look into upgrades for my next cross the pond trip. Thank you for such an informative post!

  21. tara pittman says:

    Now that is the way to travel! I love the seats that turn into bed!

  22. Christina says:

    They should totally pay you for this glowing review. I hate to fly, and I mean HATE, but this post had me thinking it looked pretty darn good!

  23. I’ve only flown Virgin once, but I was pretty happy with it!

  24. Liv says:

    We don’t do European trips often, but we did a Holland trip with my toddler two Augusts ago. I don’t think I’d do that again soon. It was exhausting. Might have been easier with those beds though.

  25. Chrishelle says:

    Virgin Atlantic is definitely the way to fly. If I every get a chance to leave the states I am flying with them.

  26. My mother worked for TWA and growing up we flew a lot of places on her free passes. Many times, we were upgraded to first class so I got super spoiled! I also remember that we had to dress up – my sister in I in dresses & my dad always in a coat & tie. Those were the days. My experience as an adult is just like yours. It’s a cattle call for sure. Virgin Atlantic sounds heavenly!

  27. tp keane says:

    I love Heathrow and Virgin. Flying can be so hard and it’s nice to finally find a good airline.

  28. I love travelling whether by air or land when passengers can get that comfort and relaxation during the whole trip.

  29. I could just stretch out in that airplane seat right now.

  30. Elizabeth O. says:

    Long flights are already very stressful, what more if you’re flying with a crappy airline. I don’t think I’ve experienced a really bad customer service before, but Virgin Atlantic really sounds delightful. I would love to try their services on my next trip!

  31. Gérald says:

    Your Post was very interesting, but there is a catch: you need to be able to afford Business Class or up.
    Nowaydays, most airlines are just crap (forgive my language) in coach. Decades ago, flying was fun, but it has just become a nightmare.
    We fly at least twice a year from Geneva (Switzerland not Wisconsin…) to Minneapolis or Chicago. No direct flight, always a layover in another European hub.
    We usually use KLM but get bumped on a Delta plane 90% of the time because of their codeshare stuff (which works when it has time if you try and do anything on the “other” airline’s website.
    I tried their Economy Comfort which is already a nice improvement, but the prices are just outrageous (2.5 times coach !). Finally I discovered this: buy a coach ticket, then go online sometimes later and upgrade to Economy Comfort, it might just cost you 100 to 200 additional $. Does not make any sense to me, but it is the way it works and I use it any time I ca.

  32. Danne Reed says:

    I heard so many good things about Virgin Atlantic! Your post is very informative and you show how great the airline is!

  33. Kusum says:

    I really like Virgin Atlantic too. We flew domestic on Virgin when we were in UK and really loved the service. If I remember correctly we also got free wi-fi, wow such a blessing haha.
    xx, Kusum |

  34. Courtney Gillard says:

    Wow, you have a wonderful flight because a good airline makes a big difference. Virgin Atlantic sound so amazing!

  35. Roxy says:

    Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to travel domestically (or just outside the US to the Caribbean or Mexico). Those flights are usually right around the 4 hour mark and I’m typically about to explode from this discomfort of riding in coach. With Europe on my bucketlist, I know it is a MUST to find an airline that will ensure my comfort. I will have to keep Virgin in mind!

  36. I’ve never flown on this airline before. I always go with Jetblue, American Airline and some other.

  37. wendy says:

    I have never flown Virgin. I have always flown with the military with the C-130 and C-141’s. I will have to try this out next time I need fly!!

  38. Jessica says:

    I used to travel back and forth between Houston and New Jersey for a job I had and racked up a ton of miles on Continental (before they turned into the hell airline, United) – back then Continental still offered pretty good amenities and I miss them dearly. I’ve never had the pleasure of flying business or first class, though. So out of my price range right now, but if my husband and I ever get back to Europe, I’m definitely going to check out Virgin Atlantic!

    Also, those pj’s sound great except for the lavender scent – yuck!

  39. Judging by your descriptions and pictures, your testimonials deserve to be heard by a lot of people including other airlines. I can see that they’ve really thought about everything! I’d like to take that green chair bed back home and that big TV, please.

  40. Amazing! It is an amazing experience! Cant wait to try it by myself

  41. Kathy says:

    This sounds awesome! That must be an amazing experience. I’ve never even been on a plane before, so I don’t know anything about them.

  42. berlin says:

    That is real comfort and truly an awesome experience.

  43. I am sending this blog immediately to my friend who owns a concierge travel service. i think she will love it…what an incredible article, the detail was perfect and I immediately wnated to book a flight to Italy..
    See you in august, does Virgin fly from Vegas to San Francisco?

  44. Roz Warren says:

    My son and DIL swear by Virgin. Thanks for showing me why.

  45. Tiffany says:

    Okay so the first chance I get to put that first stamp on my passport I will definitely be trying to fly Virgin. This looks amazing and the ammenities are wonderful.

  46. Ann Bacciaglia says:

    This looks like such a comfortable way to travel. I love that the bed lays flat.

  47. Courtneylynne says:

    I have only heard fabulous things about virgin!! I have yet to fly the airline, but definitely would love to give them a try!

  48. I have never flown with with VIRGIN! I was supposed to, but it did not work out! It looks awesome!

  49. I’ve always wanted to take one of their flights. I love to fly but have only done it twice. I’d love to take a Virgin Flight to Ireland and London one day.

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