I have spent the last week in London. I just love this town. There is a lot to hate about it – the weather, the traffic (congestion zone business has made no difference as far as I can see), the tube (A$10 per trip on a train filled with people that simply do not wash often enough) and reluctant embrace of the secret to good food (high quality ingredients). But there is more to love about it – the most cosmopolitan city in the world (walk for ten minutes and listen to 15 languages or watch 25 news channels in 30 languages - yes this is possible with combinations of dialects, variations and accents from northern England), two bit plays with first rate actors (whathisname from that TV show staring in that play by the famous guy) and top rated shows with famous name hacks (Chicago starring Kelly Osborne). Has also been a very productive week.
Travel-wise it was my first time flying Virgin-Atlantic and a chance to experience the famous VS Upper Class cabin. All the things you hear are true – a masseuse to give you a “grapefruit arm scrub and deep tissue hand massage” (cant do business without one), a bar in the sky (I actually saw two passengers starting an affair and breaking up each other’s marriages with a line “my wife just doesn’t understand me”) and more free pyjamas than Madame BOOT will know what to do with.
But – one of Virgin-Atlantic’s top business traveller perks is now looking to be an actual disadvantage. Virgin started a trend now followed by Emirates, Malaysian, Etihad and others of offering free limousine/town car pick up and drop offs for Upper Class passengers. It sounds like a fantastic deal – no painful queues at the airport for a taxi, actual T&E savings and the self satisfied feeling that comes from someone holding a piece of paper with your name on it at the arrivals lounge. Unfortunately airport to work and back again limo service in London is more of a curse than a benefit. It took me two hours door to door to go from Heathrow to my office in the City on the way in versus 45 mins if I had taken a Heathrow Express and tube combo. On the way back I booked a pick up for 1830. The car finally arrived at 1900 and I arrived at Heathrow after 2015. There is the “sexy factor” of riding in the back of a smart Mercedes and arriving to a dedicated security check-in but you pay for it with a travel time that is twice that of public transport. At one stage driving along the Thames I was passed by five joggers beating my car in both pace and what looked like comfort levels.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining about Upper Class travel. It beats the back of the plane any day, every day. However in a world of high speed train connections and congested morning traffic, Virgin-Atlantic and others will need to rethink whether or not the free limo ride into town in London is going to turn from a piece of brilliant marketing to a bonus that nobody wants. My recommendation is