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My Pride Flight With 250 Singing, Dancing, Drinking Gay Guys

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic

Imagine you could fly on a plane where almost everybody is LGBTQ, where booze pours until the galley runs dry, and instead of flight attendants scolding passengers not to congregate outside the lavatory, they are dancing alongside you as a drag queen DJ plays club music going "boom-boom-boom." And after the plane takes off, one dude takes off all his clothes.

That is what happened last week when Virgin Atlantic’s “Pride Flight” flew from London’s Heathrow Airport to Newark, N.J.

(RELATED: Family of Four Accidentally Books Pride Flight, Has a Blast)

Upon arrival at the check-in counter, the airline made it abundantly clear this was going to be unlike any other transatlantic crossing. Pride flags, rainbows and hearts adorned signs, flight attendants wore Pride flag-striped makeup on their cheeks, and they served rainbow-dyed cupcakes, fizzy drinks, and other Pride-themed finger food.

Mc Virgin Plane 008

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic 

Even the wide-body Airbus plane was in on the act: our designation was Flight 69, to honor the year of the Stonewall riots.

In a place where normally there is hustle, bustle, grumbling and scowling, smiles abounded, and average everyday people really did say things like “Happy Pride!”

As we boarded, I asked one of the flight attendants, “Is this ‘The Gay Plane?’” The official name, of course, is “Pride Flight.” But friends who had read about this opportunity when it was first reported by The Advocate last October had dubbed it “The Gay Plane.”

“It is ‘The Gay Plane,’” confirmed David, the first of Virgin’s handsome gay men to greet me. “It’s the gayest plane.” Added another gorgeous flight attendant: “It’s a miracle it even gets off the ground, it’s so gay.”  

All of the flight crew with the exception of the captain identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and volunteered to work this flight.

“Representation in the airline industry is very difficult at the moment,” said Rosie Scott, first officer and pilot of the Pride Flight, on a rare visit to the cabin. Scott said she came out as lesbian as a teenager, and has been flying for more than seven years, the last several months with Virgin Atlantic. Being a woman, she said she often gets asked, “Do you actually fly?”

Mc Virgin Plane 031

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic 

“It’s not just LGBT, it’s basically every single minority,” Scott said about the struggle of advancing in her line of work. “Males make up 97 percent of all pilots. So any kind of representation is extremely important.”

And then there were the drag queens, prancing all about at 38,000 feet. “We’ll be lip-synching today, but no singing,” Tess Tickle confessed. “There’s no escape for people on this flight, so we’ll just keep our voices,” she paused, dipping from her falsetto into a baritone, “down.”

Tickle and her troupe joined drag DJ Jodie Harsh onboard, as did some passengers decked out in full drag queen regalia. Somehow, several pairs of their pumps — their most glittery, six-inch-heeled, size 13 variety —wound up gracing the rather large feet of my male seatmates.

Mc Virgin Plane 068

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic 

Unlike on a typical flight, passengers were welcome to walk about the cabin, including First Class, where I found cohost, comic and singer Tituss Burgess (above) of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He described this inaugural Pride Flight first and foremost as “a call to stay awake.”

“We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Burgess told The Advocate. “Consider each other,” he said, relaying the message he hoped to bring to WorldPride via this flight. “Learn to love yourself. I’m still learning to love myself. It is a daily journey. Choose yourself as the person you will love the most, and treat others the way you want to be treated. That is my prayer for the world.”

Across the way was Tree Sequoia, the 80-year-old bartender at the Stonewall Inn. He was one of the people inside when police raided the bar 50 years ago to the day we took off. “We were able to sneak out the back when the cops showed up,” he told me. And then his eyes found AJ Pritchard, 24, the star of Strictly Come Dancing. “Your hair would look very nice on my pillow,” Sequoia said to him. And that was the end of my interview with Tree Sequoia.

Not far away were RuPaul's Drag Race star Courtney Act, Grammy-winning singer songwriter MNEK, model and activist Munroe Bergdorf, and I'm A Celebrity winner Scarlett Moffatt. Richard Arnold of ITV’s Good Morning Britain prowled the aisles with a camera crew. Writer William Sterling Walker told me he and his husband flew to London just to take this flight, as I had. Back in economy, Kate, a Scottish woman on her first trip to New York, chatted me up and asked me out, and I gave her my number. Still waiting.

The hours and miles zoomed by as cohost Harsh played the hits, everyone sang along and a dance party consumed the entire plane. A conga line circled the aisles. London Pride superstar Saara Alto serenaded passengers. Burgess made comic announcements over the public address system, and later sang on a walking tour of the plane.

His next act is on Broadway: he’s written the score for the upcoming musical remake of the Whitney Houston-Denzel Washington film The Preacher’s Wife.

The liquor had to run out at some point, and so it did, even an emergency stash of Prosecco. The only other mishap was one male passenger who had perhaps a wee bit too much alcohol and took off all his clothes. Flight attendants wrapped him in a Pride flag, tossed him in a lavatory — with his clothes — and told him he couldn’t come back out until he was dressed.

But perhaps the most incredible thing about all of this is that none of it fazed a very straight mom and dad and their two boys from the U.K., who were flying to Newark with us. Kerry Powell and her husband, Sean, bought tickets in economy in September. The Essex couple got a call from the airline a few weeks later, informing them exactly what kind of plane trip this was going to be, and offering to rebook the family of four. But they couldn’t fly another day.

Mc Virgin Plane 051

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic 

“We thought it would be fun, and it is,” Sean Powell told The Advocate. Their two sons, 1-year-old Calum and 2-year-old Cody, actually enjoyed themselves. “It’s amazing,” Kerry Powell said. “Everyone’s so lovely to the kids.”

When Virgin Atlantic Flight 69 finally arrived in Newark, a half dozen cheering workers from NYC & Company greeted us as we exited customs on a rainbow carpet. It wasn’t just a once in a lifetime experience; it was the stuff Pride dreams are made of.

Except for the naked passenger. Could’ve lived without seeing that.

Tags: Pride, Travel

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