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Travails of travel (not really)

I was woken up this morning by the wonderful sound of jackhammer right under my window. Two nice blokes informed me that there was some water leak that they would be repairing for the next hour…

Looking at the bright side, I might have overslept work if not for them…

The jet lag normally does not bother me when I cross Atlantic eastward on an overnight flight. I can’t sleep on planes, so I just spend the day of arrival dog-tired, but then put in a long night’s sleep and arise next day bereft of any side effects. Which is exactly how it played out this time. But lo-o-ong night is the key component, and despite going to bed around 9:30 last night, I still slept through the clock alarm. Plumbing crew to the rescue!

As promised, I’ll work through a few highlights of my trip home in the next few posts. And one of the most vivid ones occurred right at the beginning.

To set the stage, I should note that Natasha and I are big fans of the concept of business-class only air travel. You get all of the perks of a premium seat, including, in no particular order of importance, deferential service, legroom, limited number of strangers intruding on your personal space, passable food, above-average wine, personal entertainment system, access to a lounge, shorter security lines, etc., all for the price that in many cases is only marginally higher than that of an economy ticket.

I now know of three business-class-only airlines that link New York metropolitan area with London, and we selected MAXjet from among them based on available prices at the time of booking and our prior highly favorable experience with them.

But when we arrived at the London Stansted airport two hours prior to our departure, we were informed that the flight was cancelled due to some aircraft problems. It should be noted that MAXjet also flies to Las Vegas from Stansted at about the same time, and that flight was proceeding without delay. Too bad I am not much of a gambling person…

The eager airline representative informed us that we were already re-booked on a Virgin Atlantic flight departing in the late afternoon. Going back home was not an option, since we needed to leave the car at Stansted for my return, and Virgin flies from Heathrow. We were faced with spending several hours in a nearby hotel lobby, then getting on a bus for a two-hour ride to Heathrow, and arriving at JFK (MAXjet does not fly to Newark) close to 10pm local time, which would mean reaching our final destination in New Jersey by midnight at best.

In addition, we were told that the premium section on that Virgin flight was full, and we would only get premium economy seats, meaning that some additional legroom would be the only perk. We were promised free round-trip MAXjet tickets as compensation, but I immediately imagined three more hours of spending time in regular lines and common waiting rooms at Heathrow, and the day projected to be even less bearable.

Fortunately, Natasha is much smarter than me when faced with a problem of this magnitude. While I resigned myself to a horrible day, her first thought was Hey, Virgin flies to Newark.

We asked the rep, he made a call, and just like that we were confirmed on a flight to Newark that was departing a couple of hours earlier than the one to JFK. Another rep arranged for a taxi, and in just over an hour we were checking in at Heathrow.

One of the check-in reps, upon seeing our MAXjet-issued ticket vouchers, commented Oh, MAXjet cancelled the flight again?

That did not make me feel any better about our choice of travel for the day.

We did not ask initially what kind of seats we were confirmed for, happy with the obvious shortening of the overall timeline. But when the first boarding card slid out of the printer showing seat 1A, I knew we were in for a much better experience than it seemed just moments ago.

We did not realize how much better until we walked into the Virgin lounge. Talk about your five-star hotel. Fancy decor was only the beginning of it. I have travelled enough in business class to know that lounges normally provide basic amenities, plus drinks and uninspiring snacks. But this lounge was something else.

Plenty of uncrowded space to seat. Huge deli counter. Separate large room with computers. Several computer-games stations for kids. A pool table. A garden.

As soon as we selected a spot to sit down, a waiter inquired whether we would like anything. Again, based on my prior experience, lounge bars are not free. Not knowing how much anything would cost, I consulted the menu, which listed a large selection of food and drinks without indicating any prices. A realization dawned on me that it must all be complimentary. We ordered a couple of hot dishes, champagne and wine for the adults, went for assortment of meats, fish and cheese from the deli, plus Becky had two sushi combos.

All complimentary.

We still had to spend over three hours at the lounge, but they were largely carefree. Becky and I played a couple of games of pool, Kimmy got on a computer and played her favorite internet sites alternating that with swinging in fun hanging-basket chairs…

Natasha noticed a woman showing her nails to a travel companion, and upon inquiring, was advised that onsite salon & spa can be booked for manicure, massage, treatments, and so on. Again, complimentary. She obviously could not pass the opportunity. There was not enough availability to accommodate Becky as well, but she was promised that the same service was available onboard the airplane…

We literally did not want to leave that lounge.

The actual travel in the Upper Class on Virgin is certainly no less enjoyable in itself. All of the perks mentioned above, plus the promised manicure for Becky… It was the first time that I flew on the upper deck of a 747, where there are only two seats in each row, diagonally facing one another.

Great way to travel. And I can certainly understand how people who can afford spending eight thousand on a round-trip trans-Atlantic ticket would not think of flying economy.

I even hoped for a similar scenario on my return leg, but no luck. The lounge that MAXjet is sharing with twenty other airlines at JFK Terminal 4 is pretty crummy – undoubtedly better than a common waiting room, but crummy nonetheless. The other perks were there, but paled in comparison with what we experience with Virgin.

And the plane sat on a ground for over two hours after boarding…

It’s been raining all day in London today. The summer completely evaded these shores this year.

Posted in State of travel