The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at San Francisco's SFO may be the airport's best kept secret [lounge]. The combination of amazing food and service, relatively ease of access and generous guest policy, as well as the lack of crowdedness in the lounge makes this one of my favorite places to hang out before a flight! Read on to find out more!
The lounge is located in SFO's International Terminal A. Currently, the only airside access (no need to clear security twice) to the international terminal is through Terminal 1 (B Gates). If you are flying out from another terminal, you are still able to enter, but will just have to exit and clear security again after using the lounge. There are plans underway to eventually connect all terminals airside.
After clearing security from International A, turn left and you will see a large display with various lounges. Enter this area and take the elevator to the 5th floor.
This can be confusing, but note that SFO's two International Terminals (A and G) are NOT connected airside!
Amex Platinum cardholders with valid same-day boarding pass (any airline) can enter (along with 2 complimentary guests), as part of the Amex Global Lounge Collection. DragonPass members are also accepted. Of course, those flying in eligible Virgin Atlantic premium cabins + partner airlines also have access.
Note that this lounge used to be part of the Priority Pass network. However, that is no longer the case. This makes sense since this all US Virgin Atlantic lounges are now managed by Plaza Premium, which recently left Priority Pass (but still maintains a separate relationship with Amex and select partners).
2:00pm-10:00pm Daily (as of July 2022). Note this is for Plaza Premium (and presumedly DragonPass) only, as Virgin Atlantic & partner airline access will be based on time of scheduled departures.
*hours appears to change periodically - check LoungeBuddy/Amex App for most up-to-date hours. Previous hours were 10:30am - 5:30pm Daily.
Interestingly, many of the lounge information have not been updated on Google Maps, LoungeBuddy (owned by Amex), and even Amex's own app (which most likely pulls data from LoungeBuddy). See below where Amex's "lounge details" still incorrectly lists Priority Pass as an eligible entry method.
Since my American Airlines flight was scheduled to start boarding just past 11am, I knew I wouldn't have much time to check out the lounge. That being said, I read some amazing things about it, and had to check it out (spoiler: totally worth it!). I actually arrived a little before official opening time, and saw that the staff were still setting things up. However, one of the attendants, Philip, noticed me and welcomed me in! What a great start to my lounge experience.
The decor and color scheme definitely reflects the Virgin Atlantic branding, giving off a playful, modern, but premium vibe. The lounge is small and narrow, but since it is so secluded from the rest of the airport, crowding has never been an issue (and hopefully remains that way).
Food & Drinks
Due to the pandemic, there were no physical menus and you simply scan the QR code located at each table for the menu. Note that everything in this lounge is on-demand and free! No buffets, no prepackaged meals, everything is made when you place your order.
Here's a few screenshots of the menu:
There's an extensive selection of light bites, main courses, desserts, coffee, tea, wine, beer, and cocktails (and in case you missed it, everything is FREE!). Check out to full menu here.
Shortly after being seated, I was offered some sparkling water, and introduced to the menu. Honestly, it felt more like a private high-end restaurant than an airport lounge.
Due to my limited time at the lounge, and the fact that I already ate a bit at the American Airlines Admirals Club, AND more food would be waiting for me on the plane (AA Flagship First SFO-JFK review), I decided to keep my ordering to the minimum.
I ended up getting the Grilled Swai and the "Ruby Shoesday" non-alcoholic cocktail. Both were tasty! My only feedback would be to pair the swai with some vegetables to balance out the fish and rice. Throughout my meal, the staff came to check on me to make sure everything was going well and offered to refill my drinks.
Overall - a fantastic meal! The staff kept encouraging me to order more and to try different items, but I didn't want to waste food and frankly ran out of time. Nevertheless, cheers to a great start to my travels and unlocking a hidden gem at SFO!
Here's the left section of the lounge, where I spent most of visit in. I love the warm wooden tone in this section:
In the center section is a row of comfy individual seats directly facing the tarmac, decent for some plane-spotting! It is here where you'll also find the bar. Another standout feature is whereas most lounges have self-serve coffee machines, the coffee at the Virgin Atlantic lounge is made on-demand by professional baristas!
Finally, the right section features additional seating, with more of a white color tone:
Behind this section, you will also find the bathrooms and showers:
Here's a quick video tour of the lounge:
There is one downside that I found was somewhat not improved since the old Priority Pass days - the Wi-Fi. Even though Wi-Fi is available at the lounge, I found the connection unreliable and it disconnected on multiple occasions. Furthermore, this area of the airport has really bad cell phone reception (at least for T-Mobile). Not sure if this was just my issue or a more widespread one, but keep that in mind in case you plan on getting some work done here!
Since my initial visit, I've luckily been able to stop by a couple of times. It's certainly gotten busier as travel as rebounded, but still one of my favorite lounges! Here's a couple more pics from later visits:
Overall, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at SFO has become my favorite spot to hang out before a flight. Despite having positive experiences at the SFO Amex Centurion Lounge and the SFO Delta Sky Club, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is unrivaled in essentially all aspects. From the over-the-top amazing service to the high quality on-demand dining, this lounge is simply on a whole different level. Add on the fact that it was practically empty (I was actually the only guest there during my entire visit...), this lounge is actually a really relaxing place to be before a long flight.
One could argue that the SFO United Polaris Lounge is still more premium and offers more unique amenities such as a nap room, but the extremely stringent entry requirements make Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse seem even more of a deal - especially since you can bring your traveling companions and don't need to be flying first/business class.
Finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to Philip, who was super friendly, attentive, and made my time at the lounge so pleasant! He seemed to share my enthusiasm and excitement to be at the lounge, and genuinely tries his best to provide the most excellent customer experience. I can't wait to be back again!
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