Alison Millington - UK Business Insider
Flying first class might seem like the ultimate goal when it comes to travel. However, what happens before and after you flight can be equally as luxurious.
Business Insider spoke to Priya Milhotra, head of Heathrow VIP for the past three and a half years, to find out what sort of treatment world leaders and A-list celebrities — or simply those willing to splash out £3,300 ($4,400) on top of their flight cost — can expect when they travel to and from London's most famous airport.
"If you're looking at the movers and shakers and people leading our globe, these are the people using Heathrow VIP," Milhotra said.
And with a "massive" team of 96, the VIP squad has everything covered — they even start work at 4 a.m.
The service starts before you even leave home.
"We have a chauffeur service that will pick you up, then we do not leave your side until the point we drop you off at the plane at Heathrow," Milhotra said.
A 7 Series BMW — complete with massage seats — will pick you up at home or your hotel.
It looks very comfortable indeed.
The car will take you to a private entrance, the location of which Heathrow does not disclose.
"It's elusive, part of the allure," she said. It's also due to the service's focus on security, privacy, and discretion.
"The type of people who use it sometimes want to stay under the radar, and sometimes there are security elements," she said.
You'll be met by a doorman with top hat and tails.
He or she will send your luggage off to be screened and put on the plane for you, then will "whisk you away into your own private lounge." That's right — you and whoever you're travelling with will have the lounge all to yourself.
Heathrow recommends guests arrive 90 minutes before their flight so they can fully enjoy the experience, which should allow for 60 minutes to hang out in the lounge.
You'll be assigned a member of the Heathrow VIP team to organise your flight check-in for you and "try their best to get the seat you want."
You'll have your own butler
They will take care of "everything" for you, including serving you food and drinks.
As well as its own Heathrow VIP menu, there's also a Michelin-starred menu from chef Jason Atherton available.
You can enjoy food such as these cinnamon spice waffles...
"You can order from the menu as much as you want," Milhotra said. "You can even order the entire menu and drink me out of Dom — please do so, but I might be grumpy."
A personal shopper is also on hand to take you around the terminal, and "allow you to purchase the delights of Terminal 5."
The perks seem pretty endless. This VIP guest said: "My baby even got a lovely surprise teddy bear which will probably end up joining the others in the back seat of my car."
All airport formalities are done in the lounge as well, including immigration and customs
A VAT refund service is also available in the lounge, as Heathrow deals with "high net worth individuals who want to claim 20% on their VAT refund."
The only thing the lounge doesn't have is showers, because "when I look at the client base there's no way these clients would ever shower at an airport," Milhotra said. She added some of them travel with their own team of stylists and hairdressers.
When it's time to head to your flight, you'll have your own security lane, which "takes about 30 seconds" to get through, according to Milhotra. There's also a private search room for those who require it.
You then head back to your private BMW to be driven to your plane.
If you're wondering what it's like to fly into Heathrow as a VIP, YouTube user Krispyshorts posted a video in December last year of his experience landing at the airport using the VIP service.
You can see him and his companions get off the plane, get into a private BMW, and be taken to the discrete entrance, and eventually their own lounge. Their bags are brought to them, and passport checks are done while they order some breakfast.
"Once you've had your breakfast and you're ready to go, just press that buzzer, then we'll come back in and get your stuff into the vehicles," a staff member tells them. They then take their private car to their hotel in London.
The service costs £2,750, plus VAT (around £3,300) one way for a private individual, though Heathrow offers a diplomatic service — a discounted rate if you're from an embassy or a mission.
Early last year, The Daily Express reported that until 2012, the Government was in charge of the VIP suite, and only those on its special list were allowed inside.
However, full ownership of the scheme was reportedly "axed as a cost-cutting measure," adding that the Foreign Office stumps up a £100,000 annual fee instead, on top of the fee it pays per guest.
The most luxurious way to travel through an airport anywhere in the world
"Heathrow is an independent business, we're not government funded," Milhotra confirmed. She added that Heathrow VIP is "undoubtedly the most luxurious way to travel through an airport anywhere in the world."
And she's certainly dedicated to making sure it remains so. She gets up between 3.30 a.m. and 4 a.m. to be in the office by 6 a.m. "I like to be present," she said. "Clients are coming in at diferent times, I like to be the go to person and get involved."
Alongside client relations, her job involves seeking out partnership opportunities, and project and product development, including looking at "revenue options."
Even she gets some perks, though.
"At 8 a.m. yesterday morning I had to taste desserts," she told Business Insider. "I eat some amazing food, taste some amazing dishes, go out to amazing place."
When we spoke, she was getting ready to host a dinner for bloggers along with Jason Atherton. All the while, the service is running. She gets a report at 11.30 p.m. to hear about how the day has gone and any client issues.
"Every day brings new challenges," she said. Luckily, she added: "I'm a workaholic. I'm not really one for sleeping."