Observations While in a Virgin Lounge for 8 Hours

Sitting in the Virgin Atlantic London Heathrow lounge for more than 8 hours today gave me a chance to see the operation from busy to slow, and then back to busy again. While waiting to depart for South Africa, I was lucky enough to enjoy some food, a quick rest and an entire movie on my laptop. Here are a few observations about the Virgin Lounge, created by a company I love.

All about the experience. As a flagship location for Virgin, the London Heathrow lounge is pretty big, but from the minute you enter it’s all about the experience. Case in point? Two greeters (not behind an impersonal window) welcome you, then you step inside to an entirely different universe. Fun, modern design, plenty to eat for free, friendly staff and the unmistakable “kid in a candy shop” mentality make it easier to forget you’re in an airport. Don’t want to talk to anyone? Make your own snacks and just kick back.

Branding without logos. In the Virgin Lounge, everything is branded: the color of the LED lights in the ceiling, the leather couches, the menus and even the table numbers. Everywhere you look it just oozes Virgin Atlantic without having a single logo anywhere. But how do they do that? By selecting a “look and feel” and letting that carry over into every dimension of their brand both in the air (just look at the seats, the flight attendants’ uniforms, and the bar area) and on the ground inside of the lounge. It may be James Bond meets Austin Powers, and a little off-beat, but they don’t do anything half-way, which results in an extremely memorable brand that doesn’t rely on a logo as its only means of identifying itself.

Give the feeling of “free.” Inside of the Virgin Lounge, everything is “free,” from the martinis you order while you wait to the upscale deli where they’ll make you a sandwich exactly how you want it. Need internet access? That’s free, too. How about a service from the on-site spa? Yup, one service per visitor is free as well. With all of these amazing amenities, it’s fun watching Virgin Lounge newbies’ faces; they’ll look at the menu (which has no prices but also does not say it is free) and then ask a server just for confirmation that everything before them is in fact, free of charge. At the Virgin Lounge, they make you feel like a rock star, even though, who are we kidding though, none of this is free since you’ve paid (or used American Express points like I did) for an Upper Class ticket. Somehow, though, it doesn’t matter—by purchasing a ticket, Virgin makes you feel like you’ve purchased a lifestyle.

Hidden process improvements. When you sit back and think about it, it makes a lot of sense to serve full dinners to passengers in a lounge where you have staff and a kitchen compared with on a plane. I am sure it saves on food costs, makes the staff on the plan happier and the best bonus of all:it feels exclusive to the customer.

Double duty. Spending so much time in the lounge, you get to see all the uses of it and it is for more than just passengers. There were a number of Virgin staff having meetings, talking with clients, and making use of the space. I might have expected to see flight staff, but there were none, however a group of at least ten staff had a meeting for an hour upstairs. Greatway to use the space you already have.

Turn a cost center into revenue. For a number of years, Virgin has offered the Bumble and Bumble salon at the lounge and even on planes at one point I think and it use to be all free with the limit of one service. Now you can get as many services as you want, but the first one is free and there are upgrades to all the free services. Nothing is too expensive but what a great way to turn a cost center into a revenue center; I have no idea if it’s profitable or not, but same staff and resources are generating some revenue now.

It was a very pleasant day in the lounge and I am sure I will visit again, just hoping some day (though doubtful) I will run in to Sir Richard Branson here.

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