Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I love Virgin

Do not worry! This continues to be a respectful political blog. Note the capitalization of the noun and the fact that is not plural. I am referring to Virgin Atlantic, the airline that belongs to Richard Branson, the eccentric millionaire.
In general, I never fly Virgin Atlantic because of two reasons, I hardly use its partners and its hub is Heathrow. I have tried to avoid Heathrow for 20 years. The terminals are far apart, you need to take a lousy bus to commute from one to another, security guards are very often rude and especially because I felt very offended by the signs at customs when I was there 20 years ago. One of the signs said “Europe and Gibraltar” and the other said “Spain and rest of Africa” (that’s at least what I recall, maybe in reality, it only said “Spain and Africa”, but who cares, the damage was done).
However, last month when I was in Malta, I was called back for an urgent meeting in Boston, and the only way to make it in time was taking Virgin through Heathrow.
Heathrow has not changed much, it is still a lousy airport and the buses are still there. Security guards are nicer, even one of them noted that it was my birthday (February 22nd) and wished me happy birthday!! (isn’t that nice?) and the signs at customs had been removed and replaced by the more neutral “E.U. countries” and “non E.U. countries”.
But that’s nothing compared to the Virgin Atlantic “upper class” (that’s the way they call it) lounge. It is like a high society club. You sit down and a waiter will come to take your order. He will offer you drinks, the menu and will recite the daily “specials”. While he brings you the food, you can help yourself at the Deli counter where I got some fresh sushi and sashimi after booking an appointment with the hairdresser (you can also have a massage, spa, manicure, etc.). All of this free of charge (in relative terms). Let’s say that this is included in the $4000 that you pay for the one way ticket from Malta to Boston. But the luxury does not end there. In the plane, the “upper class” features real individual flat beds (not the almost flat that you find in other airlines) with pillows, bed sheets and blankets. They give you a supercute black pajamas that almost everyone will wear (you change is the toilet, in case you are interested). In addition to that, a “Spice Girl” looking therapist will offer you her services that range from a head massage to finger acupuncture or even a manicure. At first, I politely refused because I had missed the word complimentary (and you know how stingy Catalans are and I was sure my company would not foot the bill), but when I realized that the Scottish guy lying next to me had accepted, I changed my mind while promising myself to work on my British English listening comprehension. After this experience, Heathrow moved twenty places in my airport ranking, I started to wonder whether I had actually seen the sign “Spain and rest of Africa” and I ordered myself a Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer card.
You must be wondering what these last two postings have to do with Catalonia Politics. I will try a hat trick. One of last points being debated in the Catalan Statute is the ownership of the airports. The Catalan government wants to manage them and the central government does not want to give them up. In this case, I fully support the transfer of the Catalan airports to Catalan jurisdiction. Looking at the current events, if we live them to the central government, Barcelona airport will become a provincial airport with a handful of European flights and no intercontinental direct connection.
If I were the Catalan government, I would fight for control and immediately after, I would partner with a good international airline like KLM, Singapore airlines or Cathay (or even Virgin), I would turn Barcelona airport into one of their European hubs and I would pass to them the management of the airport to convert it into a Schipol, Changi or Hong Kong airports. This would make of Barcelona an even more attractive city for leisure and business that would outshadow our archrival Madrid with Iberia that tops the ranking this year of European carriers that have lost more pieces of luggage.
I am now on my way to Sao Paulo in Brazil with United. No pajamas, no masseuses, no haircuts.


Rhys Wynne said...

...with Iberia that tops the ranking this year of European carriers that had lost more pieces of luggage.

Aw crap, I just booked tickets with them last week for a flight to Bilbao :-(

Ale said...

ian said "supercute"... !!!!!! supercute!!!!!!!!!! aaaahhaa

oh another note- i'm superjelous :) that you are going to brazil!!! your job rocks - totally