When Virgin Atlantic announced its decision to join the SkyTeam alliance, a primary concern arose about how this would impact access to the highly coveted Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges. The spotlight was particularly on the Heathrow Clubhouse, an iconic space known to operate close to capacity often. As expected, allowing all SkyTeam business class and elite status members to access the Clubhouse, especially with the transition of Air France and KLM to Terminal 3 from Terminal 4, would have overwhelmed the facility. The airline’s recent decision: Heathrow’s Clubhouse remains off-limits as the default lounge for all SkyTeam airlines. However, at international locations, the policy is less rigid.
Access Changes: Winners and Losers
Only select elite status holders can access the Heathrow Clubhouse unless they’re booked in Upper Class or Delta One. This includes:
- Virgin Flying Club Gold members on a Virgin Atlantic, Delta, or Aeroméxico flight.
- Delta SkyMiles Diamond or Platinum Medallion, and Air France/KLM Flying Blue Platinum members on a Virgin Atlantic or Delta flight in premium economy.
Virgin Atlantic, in June, adjusted its Clubhouse access rules, further narrowing the list of eligible guests. At Heathrow, due to space limitations, Clubhouse access centres predominantly around long-haul flights. This excludes those on short-haul journeys with Air France or KLM, regardless of status or cabin. For these flyers, the Club Aspire lounge remains the go-to.
For instance, Delta SkyMiles Diamond or Platinum Medallion and Air France/KLM Flying Blue Platinum members on economy flights have lost their Clubhouse access privileges. Non-SkyTeam elites from Virgin Australia Velocity Club, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Air New Zealand, among others, also face restrictions.
This is also a blow to members flying on La Première on Air France but this seems to be more logistical than access based with KLM and Air France moving back to terminal 4.
International Clubhouses: A More Lenient Approach
Outside of Heathrow, the rules are more accommodating. With Virgin operating fewer flights from its international locations like Boston, Newark, New York JFK, Washington Dulles, San Francisco, and Johannesburg, there’s more space for SkyTeam members. Still, it’s a noticeable reduction from earlier allowances, limiting access primarily to Virgin Atlantic Gold or Upper Class passengers, or those in Premium with Delta or Flying Blue status.
The recent changes have also introduced vouchers for the Club Aspire lounge for SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers and other partner airlines, including Singapore Airlines. While Club Aspire is a notable space, it doesn’t match the exclusivity of the Virgin Clubhouse, leaving some elite passengers longing for the original Clubhouse experience.
In sum, the shift in access rules, prompted by capacity concerns and the integration into SkyTeam, underscores the delicate balance airlines must strike between exclusivity and alliance benefits.