Boors and barstools at 36,000 feet

On a recent trip to London, I flew Virgin Atlantic.  While I had flown Virgin to London before, I had not experienced Upper Class, which no surprise, was a total game changer.   Sure, the seats turn into beds.  Yup, the service is great.  Standard fare for first class carriers.  But the big differentiator?  There’s a bar!

I, like many, hearken back to the glory days of flying – back in the 70s, with the fab outfits, hot stewardesses (as they were called back then) and…bars on planes.  Flying took on a groovy and relaxed persona!  Then everything got so serious, and bars went the way of metal cutlery and dressing up for a flight.

Well, I am delighted to say that Virgin Atlantic has brought back the hippest aspect of the heyday of flying.  And speaking from firsthand experience, there is something about sitting at a bar having a drink at 36,000 feet that is pretty, well, intoxicating!

Virgin Atlantic’s bar is cloaked behind a curtain (as it should be, for heavens sake), and though it has only a little footprint, it was buzzing during my flight back home from London last week, attracting the rich and powerfully thirsty to engage in a couple of drinks with a strong bravado chaser.  All within the anonymous confines of a 747 aircraft where only your cabin crew (is this the new moniker?) know your true identity.

Looking slightly worse for wear due to this early AM flight and with my hair limp and totally lifeless, clinging to the side of my head due to mistaking the shampoo for the bodywash in my haste to get out of the hotel,  I sauntered up to the bar to grab a stool.  Nothing was going to deter me from partaking in this experience.  Not even the three boorish Englishmen, with one particularly boorish ringleader, who was slurring his way through an insipid and slightly misogynistic conversation about his various “bird” conquests at a decible level that must have offended far more passengers than just me.  (No disrespect meant to Englishmen in general – this was just a particularly uninspired speci-man).  Not daunted, I made a bee-line to the last of the four barstools, grabbed the first magazine I could find – British GQ with Lana del Rey on the cover – and claimed my rightful place alongside the Slag Pack, as I was now calling them – at least in my head.

The conversation, or rather monologue, ended as suddenly as a sonic boom.  Ringleader was uncomfortable and awkward, and began his yarble again only with enormous hand gestures that managed to knock one of the cabin crew’s coffee right onto her chest.  More awkwardness as he apologized all over himself and instinctively ordered another drink – likely the latest in a succession of drinks that had started since dawn, fortified no doubt, in the uber cool Virgin Clubhouse.

I put my best game face on and engaged with my fellow barflies and soon, ringleader had accepted I wasn’t budging and simply ignored me while I made his cronies laugh and he shot them sardonic sideways glances.  Then, thankfully, a shining representative of the Anglo male joined our little group.  Charlie was a young, dashing London attorney, who, like me, had a partner back in the caboose while our companies allowed us to fly in front.  Nursing a righteous hangover with a medicinal gin & tonic while I sipped my cabernet, Charlie and I swapped stories, hotel recommendations, apartment prices in central London and more.  The Slag Pack were overtaken by our animated conversation, and given the small size of the bar, were forced to simply go along for the ride.  Triumph!

Just as we were hitting our conversational stride, (and had been told to “sssshhh” by the cabin crew), alas, the seatbelt sign came on, like the dreaded last call light, signaling that the party was over, and we must make our way back to our sleeper seats.  Which made me wonder why they don’t just put seatbelts on the barstools, which, upon further consideration, seems like a good idea for bars on land, as well.  There are a couple of occasions in my 20s when I might have benefitted by this added security precaution.

The rest of the flight, for me, was spent in Downton Abbey bliss and fits and starts of sleep.  At least I was prone.  At one stage, the ringleader did a drive by past my seat.  I did not look away from my ipad screen, mortified at a stranger seeing me in my boudoir, which is kind of the weird thing about flying in beds, but that’s another story.

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