Losing My Virgin(ity) | Behind The Scenes At The Virgin Atlantic Base
Hands up who gets excited about airline food! It’s a guilty pleasure of ours and judging from my Facebook page, many of my friends too. When Virgin Atlantic asked us to come along to go behind the scenes at their HQ, we jumped at the chance (although sadly Ade couldn’t make it).
Now I promise I’m not just saying this but Virgin is our fave airline. On the rare occasion we get to go to the states we make sure we fly with them, for us it adds security and somehow makes us feel safe (the Diazepam helps too). It’s worth the extra money not having to deal with an anxious husband, you should have seen him when we flew with Pegasus one time. Have you heard of them? Neither had we.
In an industrial estate a few miles out from Gatwick airport lies the Virgin Base, with mock-up aircrafts which are sometimes used for filming, most recently Johnny Depp’s new film Black Mass. I think everyone played down their excitement about climbing aboard a pretend jet.
Virgin (who’ve recently joined forces with Delta airlines) serve 12 million meals a year to 5 million passengers, so no wonder they need a team of over 30 just to keep things running smoothly. Now I’m a nervous flier so when they told me they load 3 and a half tonnes of equipment onto every flight (the weight of a Hummer – pictured above) my brain went into meltdown, just how the hell does it stay in the sky? Physics was never my strong point so I will never understand it.
I wasn’t that great at maths either (I scored an ‘F’) but I like the odd fact. Guess how many loo rolls they get through each month at Virgin? Nope, you’ll never guess – it’s 3,000. And I thought that we got through a lot in our house.
Back to the food, more facts later… Since teaming up with Delta, Virgin have found that passengers in Upper Class want a more formal dining experience. Although they’re thousands of feet up in the sky, they expect restaurant quality food.
They don’t ask for much, do they? So that’s what the airline strives to achieve, from the lighting to current food trends and even ‘designer’ crockery. There was even talk of using wooden boards and slate – please don’t do that.
Every 12 months Virgin and catering company Gate Gourmet look at the year ahead and create their ‘vision’, which they pass onto suppliers. The menu in Upper Class changes every three months and every six for Premium Economy (you get what you pay for).
It was interesting to see how the other half live when travelling Upper Class – oh how I’d love to fly overnight in one of those individual beds with Tempur mattresses, although they really need to make a double one. As a nervous flier, I think I’d feel a bit lonely if I was travelling like this. Ade and I grip each others hands so tight during take off, turbulence and landing – sad, I know, but it seems to help. Not that I’d turn down the chance to test out this theory – hint, hint Virgin bosses if you’re reading this.
We watched food being plated up in the galley, each meal is ‘cooked’ to order in the glass convection oven and a strict style guide is followed – plating by numbers as Ade called it. Provision is at 140% so they’d never run out of what a customer wants, heaven forbid that happens. There are no freezers on board (imagine the extra weight of that!) so dry ice is used to keep the ice cream frozen
Over in the bar they’ve recently started working with Funkin Cocktails fruit purées for their cocktails. There’s one puree on board that is used to create five different drinks. I had no idea Funkin were so big, they supply over 6,700 bars in London, you just don’t know it as they decant into those generic whiteish plastic bottles.
We like how Virgin are constantly taking on smaller, independent suppliers like Divine chocolate and Jo and Seph’s popcorn. They could quite easily have gone with the massive global brands but they chose to help the little guys. They were also the first airline to rate caterers on sustainability and recently had Lorraine Pascale develop a menu, which got me thinking, where has she got to recently?
And that’s not all, Virgin Atlantic have also been working with One Water for the past five years, raising more than £100,000, helping change the lives of people through sustainable water programmes across Africa. Good huh?
All the menus go through a ‘fit to fly process’ (not to be confused with pregnant passengers’ doctors notes). Because as we know, food tastes a hell of a lot different up in the sky, you actually lose 30% of your taste sensation (not sure why, I wasn’t particularly good at biology either).
But on a BBC article, a clever man called Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University explains: ‘There are several reasons for this: lack of humidity, lower air pressure, and the background noise.’ We only lose our sweet and salty senses yet sour, bitter and spicy flavours remain the same so if there’s a curry option, we say go for that.
However on their fancy new 787 dreamliner, the cabin pressure is considerably lower, apparently leaving you feeling not so wiped out when you step off the aircraft at your destination. Hard to believe that, I think we’d have to try it for ourselves…
Also on this new model they have what they call their ‘wander wall’ with snacks and mags, encouraging passengers to get up and socialise. Plus giving you the option of getting your own snacks as and when you want them, rather than waiting for the crew to come around, or missing out because you’re in a Diazepam-induced sleep. Or is that just us?
After we’d digested all this aviation info it was time to be cruelly whisked away from Upper Class and into Premium Economy (where us mere mortals belong) for our lunch. Looks like I’ll never know what Upper Class food tastes like, it certainly looked better than I imagined and what I’m used to when I travel. On my last flight I couldn’t eat anything as it was all riddled with cheese, but that’s another story….
I have to say that sat alone in a stationary pretend aircraft eating an in-flight meal has to be up there as one of the strangest lunches of my life. Cool though – beat that you Instagram show offs!