Under new management: Plaza Premium now running most Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses
Virgin Atlantic has handed over management duties of its famed Clubhouse airport lounges outside of the United Kingdom to independent operator Plaza Premium, which currently oversees 180 lounges at nearly 50 airports around the world. Given the great reputation Virgin Clubhouses have among travelers for their customer service as well as their food and beverage offerings, this could be a rather substantial change.
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And it starts today, with the reopening of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK airport in New York City. That lounge, which Virgin Atlantic Upper Class customers, Flying Club Gold members and Delta's Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members have access to, is now being operated by Plaza Premium.
The experience at the lounge has been adjusted to account for pandemic safety protocols. All guests are encouraged to remain seated and enjoy the table service offered by the Clubhouse staff.
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"Whilst customers will continue to enjoy the Clubhouse experience they know and love, the award-winning Plaza Premium group will bring a wealth of experience to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse offering," Virgin Atlantic said in a statement addressing the new partnership.
Plaza Premium will also take over the management of all Virgin Clubhouses outside of the United Kingdom, such as the locations in Boston (BOS), San Francisco (SFO), Washington (IAD), and Johannesburg (JNB), once they reopen. The JFK lounge is the first U.S. Clubhouse to reopen since the pandemic. The airline's flagship lounge, the Clubhouse at Heathrow as well as others within the U.K., will continue to be directly overseen by Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic and Plaza Premium announced they will also be teaming up to bring new lounges to other key hubs in the Virgin Atlantic travel network, but no specific timetable for new locations was given.
Anyone who has visited a Virgin Clubhouse knows they offer one of the best airport lounge experiences. The complimentary a la carte menu features five-star dining options, tapas, and afternoon tea, as well as a healthy selection of spirits, wine and sodas. Some of the breakfast offerings include eggs benedict, avocado on toast and a full English breakfast. Lunch and dinner can include everything from chicken tikka masala to a Beyond Burger for vegans.
Related: Everything you need to know about the Priority Pass program
Will Plaza Premium taking over mean a reduction in the exceptional service that has made Virgin Clubhouses a favorite among travelers? Some industry observers suspect this new arrangement may be about Virgin trying to cut costs after enduring what it called the "most devastating year" in the company's history due to the coronavirus.
One possibility is that this could provide a new revenue stream for the airline, by offering paid entry to the lounges outside of Virgin Atlantic flight schedules, for passengers on other airlines. The Clubhouse in San Francisco International has been available to Priority Pass members during off-peak hours since 2019, so it's not uncharted territory for Virgin. It should be noted that the San Francisco Clubhouse, when it was open, offered a much severely pared-back range of food and drinks for people who used Priority Pass to get in, so they should not expect the full Clubhouse experience.
The other Clubhouses are only open at certain hours of the day, based on Virgin's flights. For example, the JFK Clubhouse is open from 5 am to 8:30 am, and also from 3 pm to 5:30 pm. There are lots of openings in between there to let in paying customers looking to unwind in a lounge before they board their flight.
The challenge will be if Plaza Premium can do that and maintain the high levels of customer service that people have become accustomed to finding at Virgin Clubhouse lounges.