How Virgin Atlantic designed a feel-good airport experience

Virgin Atlantic's team at London Heathrow's Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse
Virgin Atlantic
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
20 July 2021

Virgin has always been an experience-led brand and we’re constantly searching for ways to make those experiences better across all of our companies. 

You can’t just paint it red and cross your fingers – extraordinary experiences take time, hard work and proper investment. By building a distinctive brand known for creating incredible experiences, we’ve been able to enter new sectors and make a real impact on everything from records stores to airlines, small satellite launch services and beyond.

When it comes to the architecture and structure of designing a feel-good experience, the evolution of Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses is a masterclass in how it’s done.

Virgin Atlantic cabin crew stand outside Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines' entrance to London Heathrow Terminal 3
Virgin Atlantic

It was back in the nineties when Virgin Atlantic adopted a revolutionary new approach to airport lounges with a brand new, 900-square-metre lounge at London Heathrow. Complete with a library, barbershop, beauty therapy space, a 14-metre long cocktail bar and a sound-proofed music room – this was an airport experience people could actually get excited about. Virgin Atlantic later went on to expand the space and revitalise the interior design. According to Joe Ferry, head of design at the time: “We wanted the space to feel as though you’ve got on board an aircraft, broken through the rainy clouds and there’s the blue sky and the sunshine.”

A Virgin Atlantic customer arrives at the Upper Class Wing at London Heathrow Airport
Virgin Atlantic

Simply put, The Clubhouse was designed to be a space people felt good in, rather than a place to kill time. Every element of the experience has been carefully considered and curated to reflect this - including everything from spa treatments, to shoe shining, an elegant dining experience and an extensive cocktail list. Creating these feel-good experiences turned out to be a pretty great business investment too. The Clubhouse has won over 30 awards to date and the design has been replicated across nine airports around the world. Not one to rest on its laurels, Virgin Atlantic has continued to tweak and refine The Clubhouse concept and design to remain relevant and refined over the years.

Despite having only just reopened its Clubhouse at London Heathrow due to the pandemic, Virgin Atlantic is still offering Clubhouse customers an exceptional experience. While there are still some limitations and restrictions, Virgin Atlantic has worked hard to make sure that customers still receive the service they expect. The airline has introduced ‘scan for champagne’ QR codes allowing customers to easily order some bubbly, or whatever else they might fancy from the extensive menu, wherever they are in the Clubhouse. 

Virgin Atlantic's 'Scan for champagne' signs in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse
Virgin Atlantic

Peloton exercise bikes have also been added to the Clubhouse for customers who want to workout before they get on their flight. And of course there are showering facilities so they can freshen up before jetting off. 

As Richard Branson put it himself: “Don’t think about the fastest way to do it, or the cheapest way to do it. Think: ‘What’s the most amazing way to do it?’”

For a greater dosage of design inspiration and insight into Virgin’s 50-year history, pick up your copy of Virgin By Design today.