Virgin Atlantic: London Heathrow Clubhouse Review

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow is famous for showcasing the style of Virgin Atlantic and when I knew I was going to be visiting this lounge I decided to film a short video to show you inside as well as showing you the main features in this article! Enjoy!

Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse is positioned with the other airline lounges in Terminal 3. It is lounge H if you are following the signs and above the American Airlines lounge. I’m a big fan of T3 as security tends to be very quick and the lounges are all in one place which helps if you’re hopping between them with your priority pass through AMEX.

As soon as you enter the lounge you know it is special. The entrance area is staffed with friendly Virgin Atlantic faces who check your ticket, walk you in and even show you around if this is your first visit.

The view on entering the beautiful lounge

My first impression of the lounge was amazing. I was shocked by just how big it was. The high ceilings and large windows looking out to the airport improve the lighting and make it a really welcoming environment.

As soon as you take a seat in the lounge, one of the staff will attend you and ask what drink you would like. The length of the drinks menu was so long that I asked what they recommended and two minutes later, a glass of the ‘Virgin Redhead Cocktail’ turned up.

The flagship ‘Virgin Redhead’ cocktail

The drink was lovely and I opted for one more before heading to the Champagne. Virgin offers three champagnes: Lanson, Follador and Jenkyn. I opted for the Lanson and wasn’t disappointed.

My Lanson champagne

The bar area is nice and big which allows people to work but also sit and chat with friends over a drink. It was very well staffed and everyone was happy to help as much as they could.

The bar area!

Once your drink is finished, the staff come and ask if you would like something to eat from the ‘bar snacks’ area of the menu. All the options looked great but I opted for the baked chicken wings with hot sauce. The wings were very nice and left me with very dirty fingers. They gave me a knife and fork but who in their right mind eats chicken wings with cutlery?!

These chicken wings tasted unbelievable!

After I had eaten my bar snacks I went for a quick visit to the other food area. Just to the left of the entrance is an area where you can get salads, breads, meats, cheeses and fruits. There was a fantastic selection but I decided to save my appetite for the flight which turned out to fail as you’ll see later on!

A lovely food selection!

Another fantastic area in the lounge is the mezzanine which has a pool table, lots of TV screens showing the news and sports matches and a long sofa on which two people lay fast asleep (we can only hope they made their flight!).

Floor two. Pool anyone?

The upstairs area then leads up some stairs to the third level which is the outside terrace. The terrace is amazing if you’re into aviation as you can sit outside on the sofas with a drink and watch the planes taxi infront of the famous LHR tower. Do note that it can get pretty noisy out there!

Time for some planespotting!

The area below mezzanine has more tables of which a few had a ‘reserved’ tag on them. I’m not 100% how you go about booking a table and if it costs much but this was cool to see and gave this area of the lounge a restaurant feel.

Can you spot me?;)

After I’d been outside I came in to do something I was very excited about – get a haircut. I’d seen many people do this and so was very excited to actually get a trim in an airline lounge! I headed up to the spa desk and inquired.  She said that there was a relatively long wait for the haircuts but that I was welcome to have one of their complimentary treatments instead. This was a shame but I was totally happy she mentioned the complimentary treatments as mine turned out to be absolute heaven.

I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures but here is a shot from my GoPro

The complimentary treatment I opted for was the ‘head and scalp massage’. The complimentary treatments may only last 15 minutes but once you’re in there you can relax into it amazingly and 15 minutes is plenty to relax before your flight. The woman at the desk asked me to listen to the loud speaker in the lounge as she would announce when it was my time to return to the spa and low and behold as I was sitting down with another glass of champagne I heard ‘Could Mr Stevenson please make his way to the Clubhouse spa for his treatment!’ so off I went!

The spa is located where I am standing, in the far right corner of the lounge

The spa area is kept cool by a fan and kept dark to help you relax during your treatments. You are asked to fill in a small form stating if you have any illnesses or diseases and once you’re done, you’re led into the spa and fully taken care of. After the treatment, you are offered a glass of water and led back into the lounge feeling fully refreshed. I have to say this was my absolute favourite part of the lounge experience.

After my spa treatment I still had about 30 minutes until boarding began so I treated myself to one of the meals on the menu. After deciding that I couldn’t be bothered to save my appetite for the plane, I opted for the ‘southern fried chicken burger’ – lots of chicken today, I know – and couldn’t have been happier that I did so.

What a burger…

The burger was packed full and served with chips (or fries as it said on the menu), BBQ sauce and pickle slaw, spicy mayonnaise and lettuce inside.

After (partially) destroying the burger and chips, I sat down to sweat off the huge meal I had just almost finished and before long my flight was called and I headed on the 20 minute walk to gate 21 where my Boeing 787 to JFK was boarding Upper Class passengers.

Conclusion

I still can’t decide whether this lounge is more of a hotel, bar, spa, viewing terrace or restaurant but one thing is clear, it has elements of them all.

Just look at those chairs!

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse has to be one of the best lounges I have ever visited and almost certainly the best LHR lounge (I still haven’t visited the Concorde room but when I do it will be very interesting to compare).

I was very impressed with the level of service, the space, the whacky hanging chairs, the dine-on-demand service, the drinks and above all the ability to relax into a massage chair for 15 minutes while getting a relaxing head massage.

If this doesn’t do it for you, I’m not sure what will!

If flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class isn’t on your bucket list then you’re doing something wrong – flying Upper Class is an incredible experience in itself and being able to come to the Clubhouse beforehand makes it even more special.

Tip: Booking Upper Class

If you want to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class then what are your options? Revenue fares can be quite high, especially at peak times of the year, so I advise to use miles and points. If travelling at peak times, Virgin will charge you £371 and 57,500 miles to book this flight. At off peak times, you can get it for as low as 47,500 miles and £371. However, those fuel surcharges are still very high.

The flight is also bookable through Delta SkyMiles who are an American Express partner with a 1:1 transfer ratio which can help to reduce the surcharge.

If however, you don’t have points to spend then revenue is what to go for. I would advise booking through SkyScanner as they have great prices.

Virgin Atlantic B787 Upper Class Review

When I knew that I was going to be flying onboard Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product, I knew that writing a review wasn’t going to convey just how cool this experience was going to be. So, in order to really show you just how awesome this experience is, below you can see my very first video flight review! I hope you like it and I hope it complements the written review well.

Background: Virgin Atlantic

Living in London, I always had the urge to fly Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product. In London, it is hard to go a day without seeing an advertising board showing the incredible service or luxury lounge. Last year, as James went to San Francisco, he had the privilege of flying Virgin Atlantic’s economy product and the review is still one of our most read reviews ever! With that in mind, I thought that you guys must LOVE Virgin Atlantic so on my trip to JFK, I tried the famous Upper Class product and fell in love.

G-VOOH awaiting me at gate 21 in London

Virgin Atlantic flies six times daily between London Heathrow and New York JFK while partner airline Delta flies two times daily. This means that flights depart at pretty much all times of day which gives flyers fantastic flexibility when booking. The first five flights of the day are on Virgin Atlantic’s A330-300 aircraft but seeing as I wanted to fly onboard the Boeing 787, I was happy to takeoff in the afternoon so booked a ticket on VS9.

Booking This Flight

If you want to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class then what are your options? Revenue fares can be quite high, especially at peak times of the year, so I advise to use miles and points. If travelling at peak times, Virgin will charge you £371 and 57,500 miles to book this flight. At off peak times, you can get it for as low as 47,500 miles and £371. However, those fuel surcharges are still very high.

For a seat at peak times

The flight is also bookable through Delta SkyMiles who are an American Express partner with a 1:1 transfer ratio which can help to reduce the surcharge.

Pre-Flight

Living in the south of England makes getting to Heathrow pretty convenient by train but seeing as my family were flying from LHR about an hour before me, we opted to get a taxi together. The taxi arrived at 11.00am and the traffic was absolutely miserable meaning that we didn’t arrive at Heathrow until around 13.00pm. I headed straight to the check-in desks to drop my bag.

Checking-in for VS9

Virgin Atlantic’s check-in desks occupy the left side of Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and the entrance hall is buzzing with red-dressed staff eager to help. I walked straight into the Upper Class section which had no queue, checked-in, chose my seat, dropped my back and went on my way to security. Upper Class customers have a separate security lane just next to the check in desks but as my family were waiting for me at the normal security, I headed upstairs and was through within minutes.

Once through security, Upper Class passengers should follow signs to ‘airline lounges’ and head through the departure lounge to the lounge area. Here, you will see the lounges of British Airways, Qantas and many more airlines.

The Lounge

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is world famous for its style. As soon as you get near the lounge, you can tell you’re in for a treat. The stairs are beautifully decorated with marble which is just a teaser of what is to come.

Virgin’s STUNNING Clubhouse lounge

Once you get to the top, you are greeted by friendly Virgin staff who take you inside and explain the different features of the lounge to you in detail. This was a really lovely touch and made me feel very welcome.

Because this lounge was just SO incredible, I will actually be writing a separate article on it to go into more detail. Below are some pictures of the lounge for you to get an idea of what it is like.

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Boarding

Gate 21 was to be the setting for today’s flight to JFK so I made my way out of the lounge and started my walk.

15:45 to New York… That’s me!

The screens said it could take 20 minutes to reach the gates but I arrived after about 10 minutes. As I arrived, boarding had already started so I dropped into the speedy Upper Class line and entered the gate area. Soon after, Upper Class passengers and Virgin Atlantic gold members were called forward and within a few minutes of arriving, I was finally onboard.

Boarding takes place behind the Upper Class cabin and into the bar. This allows passengers who aren’t flying Upper Class to see the bar and instantly regret not buying a ticket!!

I was greeted by the Flight Service Manager (FSM) who directed me straight to my seat, 5K.

The Aircraft

Virgin Atlantic have 47 aircraft in their fleet including 17 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. These state of the art jets were first delivered to Virgin towards the end of 2014 and have steadily continued to be delivered since then with the most recent delivery (G-VNYL) arriving in April 2018. My aircraft (G-VOOH) was actually one of the first to be delivered and arrived in February 2015.

G-VOOH was born in early 2015

The 787s are configured in a three-class configuration with 31 Upper Class seats leading onto 35 Premium Economy seats and 198 Economy seats at the rear. Today’s flight had only one free seat in Upper Class and a handful in Premium Economy.

The Seat

The Upper Class seat is different to any business class product I have flown before. It is set up in a 1-1-1 configuration with the seats angled to face into the cabin.

Here you can see the layout with the seats angled inwards

This means that if you want to look out of the window, you have to uncomfortably turn your body to face backwards. My first impression of the seat was that it was actually rather narrow but as I sat down I found that it was very comfortable and easy to relax into.

The seat once I had boarded

There is a foot stall to put your feet on which is a fantastic edition to the seat. It has a mini belt to strap your feet in and a nice storage area underneath.

The features of this seat are really nice. To your right, you have a personal monitor and remote control.

Screens are on the small side but very responsive

Both the remote and the screen are fantastically responsive which I loved.

Remote was very responsive which I liked

It almost felt like I was swiping on an iPad. While the screen wasn’t the largest, it was perfect for watching something while eating or lying in bed. The screen tilts to make it easy to watch in all positions and moves out of its right-hand side position very easily.

Next to the seat you have a storage compartment which has noise cancelling, single-pinned headphones, a safety card, a help sheet explaining how to connect to the WiFi and two inflight magazines. The headphones are absolutely fantastic as they are noise cancelling. I also loved how they were only single-pinned!!

Above the storage space is one of my favourite little areas. The small tray table can be released with a simple push and is the perfect size to store your drink or phone. It can also stay down when converting the seat into a bed.

A nifty little table

Above this is one of two lights. They emerge with a simple push and are very bright. I would have liked to see an option to dim the light a little bit.

The little light

Behind the seat is a small storage area. It is where the crew store your pillow before the flight but I also used it to store my camera, amenity kit and chargers throughout the flight.

To the left of the seat are the seat controls. The seat controls are on the basic side but certainly get the job done.

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You have the option to move the seat while in the seated position to suit your desire and also to eject the tray table. On the right side, near the aisle, are the controls used by the crew to put the seat into a lie-flat position.

One of the main selling points in this cabin is that each seat has direct aisle access. What makes it even better is that you can leave your seat even while you’re eating. The tray table is designed so that you can push it back far enough to sneak out next to it but you can also pull it close enough to you to eat in an upright position while watching something. The table is very large and sturdy which I really liked.

Very large tray table – like it

The Flight

After taking my seat, I was immediately offered a welcome drink but having drunk more than enough I went non-alcoholic and chose water. This stint of not drinking alcohol lasted for approximately 15 minutes as we taxied out of terminal 3 and took off from runway 27R for JFK.

Taking off out of LHR

After we hit the skies and the seatbelt sign turned off, the crew came around with the offer of champagne and crisps! This is trademark Virgin Atlantic and they compliment each other really nicely.

Alongside the welcome drink we were also given today’s menu. The menu lists all the drinks onboard and the options for the meal service. You can see the full menu in the slideshow below.

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Not long after the crew had taken our orders, it was already time to eat. The meal service began just as I started watching a film but I was already getting hungry by this point so put the monitor away. What was great was that I could continue watching my film as the food was brought to me.

Meal Service

Firstly, my table was set by one of the crew. The layout is lovely and it was lovely to see the famous salt and pepper shakers.

The cute little salt and pepper shakers

Very soon after my table had been set, the starter arrived. I opted for the Tomato and Mozarella carpaccio starter and it didn’t disappoint. The dish was excellent with my favourite part being the rich dressing.

As soon as I was finished, the starter was cleared away and cutlery arrived for my main course. There were lots of options for the main course and I went for the lemon and thyme roasted chicken. The layout was fantastic and the taste didn’t disappoint either. The chicken had been cooked to a perfect texture and was fantastically complimented by the sides it came with.

After my main course I was stuffed but it would be wrong to not eat dessert, right? There were two options for pudding and I opted for the burnt sugar custard tart. The flavour was overwhelming and very sweet! I ate half of it but couldn’t finish it off.

Overall, the meal service had been a phenomenal success. The starter and main went together incredibly, the layout was fantastic and the myth of airplane food being inedible was completely debunked!

After I had eaten and my meal had been cleared away, I decided to go and do some work in the Upper Class bar.

The bar was probably my favourite feature of this aircraft as it so nicely laid out. There are for fixed stools set up around the table area which mean you can sit around with friends and share your meal or do some work. In my case, I did both!

After lunch and before I had a sleep I spent a good hour working up at the bar and was fantastically looked after by the crew. They offered me drink refills, snacks and when I was ready to go to sleep they brought me pyjamas and offered to change my seat into a bed as I was getting changed. I was eager to see how the seat could be transformed so watched them. In an interesting process, the seat actually tips forward and essentially lies flat so that you lie on the back of the seat.

After my bed had been made I went and got changed into my pyjamas which were nice and soft.

I was sceptical about how comfortable this would be but after getting changed into my pyjamas, putting on my warm socks and lying down I was very surprised. The bed is made with a soft, padded layer which really adds to the comfort. The only problem is, you’re limited once your bed is made as you can’t then adjust the recline or lift yourself up a little higher which was slightly annoying as if I didn’t push myself all the way up to the top of the bed, my feet stuck off the end by an inch or so. I guess most of you aren’t 6’2 though!

Off to bed

Probably due to the large amounts of alcohol I had been consuming that day, I fell straight asleep while watching ‘The Death of Stalin’ and woke up a couple of hours later to watch a documentary on my favourite cricket player, Sachin Tendulkar, which was very interesting. As soon as the crew saw that I was awake, I was offered a cup of tea and shortbread which was a really nice touch. The tea comes in the most fantastic mugs which makes you feel like you’re in bed at home!

Good morning!

With around two hours to go until landing I went back to the bar area to get my clothes which the crew had hung up for me. It was then that I met three guys who were interested in why I was taking so many photos and videos during the flight. I explained to them what I was doing and we ended up chatting for the next hour about using credit cards, miles and points and all else flying! It was really awesome to see how enthusiastic they all were and we shared details so as to stay in touch!

As we were chatting, the crew proved themselves once again! They had begun serving scones to Upper Class passengers and instead of simply seeing we weren’t at our seats and ignoring us, they came to the bar, asked us if we would like some and then brought them to us there.

Scones!

Once we were done, they even sprung some Victoria sponge cake on us! What a treat.

I got changed, headed back to my seat and started packing up as we began our descent into New York. We landed on runway 04R and taxied to our stand before disembarking and heading into JFK.

Conclusion

While judging this flight it is important to state that Virgin Atlantic’s seat is out of date and in no way comparable to business class seats like the Q-Suite. The privacy is ok, the IFE very responsive but limited in choice and the seat is only convertible into a bed by a crew member and limited in options once you’re down. This immediately limits how good this product this.

However, this flight was probably one of my favourite business class flights ever. Let me explain why.

Firstly, Virgin Atlantic’s crew are some of the most genuine and attentive I have ever had. Cabin crew are supposed to be attentive, especially in business class. On many airlines, however, that attentiveness is forced and the connection with the passengers seems a little fake. With Virgin, that is totally different. The crew were able to see which passengers to be formal with and which to show off Virgin’s sassy and cheeky side to. Virgin Atlantic is always presented as a slightly different airline and I could really see that. The flights are more fun and less formal which I absolutely loved. It takes well trained and energetic crew members to carry this out and that’s exactly what I had on my flight.

Secondly, the food was fantastic. Presentation was immense and the flavour was incredibly strong. The layout of the table boomed with ‘Virgin style’ from the tiny airplane salt and pepper shakers to the classily branded cutlery and champagne glass.

Overall, I have to say I was really impressed with Virgin Atlantic and had fantastic fun onboard. If I were to choose between BA and Virgin for flying between London and New York, I would have to choose Virgin. The lounge product is undoubtedly better than the galleries lounges at Terminal 5 and while the seat probably isn’t  more superior in terms of privacy, I would rate the soft product and service a lot higher. With an onboard bar, also, Virgin has my money.

 

disclaimer: an economy class ticket was booked and then upgraded on a space-available basis by Virgin Atlantic. I was under NO pressure to give any opinions and all opinions are strictly my own. The crew were not told I was going to be onboard so as to make this review fair.

 

 

 

 

Air Baltic 737 Business Class Review

As you will read in this flight review, my trip on Air Baltic was two things: a massive success and a massive failure.

Air Baltic had initially invited me to fly out on their 737-300 and fly back into London, the very next day, on their flagship Bombardier CS300, both in business class. However, due to an unforeseen operational mishap, my CS300 was swapped at the last minute for another 737Classic, thus leaving me without a trip on the new Bomabrdier jet. However, as you will later find out, my return flight inherently became the best flights of my life, knocking the incredible A350-1000 flight with Raj off the top spot.

My outbound flight was the evening departure from London Gatwick to Riga (one of 2 daily services). This flight is supposed to be operated by the CS300 so it was horrible luck that I ended up on the 737Classic twice (this first flight was a known equipment swap). However, I was yet to fly on the -300 variant of the 737 so I was not fussed. Air Baltic has a total of 6 737-300 and 5 737-500 ageing classics in their fleet and currently operate the largest CS300 fleet in the world with a total of 20 aircraft ordered and eight currently flying. They have recently placed an order for 30 more CS300s and acquired options for a further 30 aircraft. The total value of this order is being placed at about $2.9 billion, based on list prices.

“I am excited to grow our fleet up to 80 CS300 aircraft while phasing out our other aircraft types in the next three years.” Air Baltic’s Chief executive, Martin Gauss.

Photo Credit: Air-Baltic

Flight Number 1 | Air Baltic B737-300 Business Class

Business class passengers departing from London Gatwick can enjoy the No.1 lounge at South Terminal, with access via passes handed out during the check in process. This lounge is perfect for a quick drink and a snack and has hot food on order. The fact it is also a ‘pay to enter’ lounge means it is unsurprisingly busy most of the time. However, it does offer an amazing view over the apron of which you can gaze at for hours watching the busy airport life pass by.

Priority boarding at the gate was strictly enforced and the handling agent made sure business class passengers boarded first. Once on-board the crew distributed pre-departure drinks, with a choice of orange or still water. Menu cards were handed out while still on the ground.

Once boarding was complete we had to incur a small delay while waiting for a take-off slot.

Taxiing out towards 08R

The Business class configuration on-board Air Baltic is very similar to the product of most other European carriers whereby the middle seat is blocked off. The Recaro seats show their age but the seat itself was pleasant enough for the near 3 hour flight, the tray tables were adequately large and do slide towards the user.

After the long taxi out to Runway 08R, we took to the skies bound for Latvia and after reaching a safe altitude, the cabin crew were released and more beverages were served. One thing I noticed throughout the entire flight was how diligent the crew were, as I was constantly asked if I would like a refill or another drink.

After a short while orders were taken for the hot meals. I opted for the sweet and sour chicken with rice. As I was flying on standby, however, this wasn’t the normal meal of a business class passenger but you can see the business class meal in my second flight below. As the flight progressed the sun continued to set over Europe, a sight best seen from 39,000ft.

Sunset from 39,000ft

The flight itself had been for the most part, smooth and this was no exception for the stunning approach into Riga, where we touched down safely on Runway 36 with only 15minutes of delay. Riga airport is home to only a small handful of jet bridges, so it is no surprise that we were parked on a remote stand with buses back to the terminal. After a small flight deck visit and photo opportunity with the crew I boarded the bus back to the terminal where border control took an easy five minutes. I  was soon off to my hotel where I enjoyed a pleasant night in Riga city center.

Touching down on Runway 36

View from St Peters Church

Flight Number 2 | Air Baltic 737-300 – With a Twist

My flight back home was scheduled to be operated by the Bombardier CS300, hence the trip out to Riga to review their flagship product. However it seems the aviation gods were messing around today and flight radar had my flight down as being operated by a 73C (The same aircraft type I had previously flown only a few hours ago). I was evidently frustrated at the time, in essence rendering my trip a failure.

I had obtained special permission to film onboard this flight as I was supposed to be making a small video about the CS300 and thankfully I still had the permission to film as it was granted for flight BT653 from RIX-LGW, no matter which aircraft.

Once onboard, I greeted the crew and showed them the letter of approval. The flight crew were very accommodating and let me mount my GoPro in the flight-deck to get some footage for the video. As you will see from the pictures below, I was also invited into the flight-deck for landing after securing special permission from Air Baltic HQ. This really did make it one of the most incredible experiences! Being able to sit on a jump-seat is the pinnacle of any av-geeks dream and is the closest you can get to flying the real thing!

View from the jump seat

I will not go into any significant detail of this flight, as it was operated by the same aircraft type, and I was sitting in the same class cabin. My experience in Business class was still faultless and the crew were still great. This time round I was able to try out their proper Business class meal, on this particular flight it was Salmon with Sweet Potato. The meal was served piping hot and was excellent. Due to huge electrical storms over England the flight back to London was unsurprisingly bumpy and we had to route around the weather, but the crew still managed to land safely and on-time.

Salmon with Sweet Potato

My Conclusion

Both my Air Baltic flights had consisted of exceptional service and professionalism. The crew on both flights were attentive in their service, constantly making sure you were well fed and hydrated. The aircraft them-self, although old in their age, were well maintained but lacked what I would call ‘modern day necessities’ like universal power sockets or USB charging ports. I would never hesitate to fly Air Baltic again and i would love to properly test out their CS300 product.

The only negative that stood out was the Business Class ticket price and indeed the economy ticket price. You are paying a hefty premium to fly Air Baltic over the likes of the low-cost carriers operating in this region, such as WizzAir or Ryanair, and for some this premium may not simply be worth it for the 2hr30minute flight. For example on the 13th June a one way ticket from London to Riga would cost £65 with WizzAir from Luton, whereas Air Baltic from Gatwick would set you back a hefty £282 (Economy class Ticket). Worth the price? That’s up to you.

diclaimer: This trip was fully provided by Air Baltic. I was under no pressure to express any specific point of view and all opinions are my own.

More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Thomas Cook Economy Plus A321 Review

Towards the end of 2017, Thomas Cook Airlines announced that they would be launching an Economy Plus service on their short and medium haul services. Traditionally, Premium Economy services are only found on short-haul routes when operated by wide-bodied aircraft; intrigued to see how this would fare on a much smaller Airbus A321, I hopped on board with Thomas Cook from Palma to Birmingham.

When booking my flight, I could have travelled in the main economy cabin for as little as £10.99! The Economy Plus ticket cost £65.99, which I feel was great value for everything that was Included. Any passenger travelling on this fare can check one piece of luggage weighing up to 25kgs, one piece of hand luggage up to 10kgs, a whole host of other extras, including a tasty James Martin Inflight meal and complimentary drinks are packaged together into this exceptional money-saving fare.

The Plus fare includes a wide range of extras for one low price! Credit: Thomas Cook Airlines
MT1249 PALMA DE MALLORCA – BIRMINGHAM:

Having checked in online for my flight, I was able to head straight to security when arriving at the terminal. Access to the Priority Security Lane was included in my ticket and allowed me to quickly head through into the departures hall. After a spot of duty free shopping and a quick bite to eat, I made my way down to the gate and waited for my flight to begin boarding.

When arriving at the gate, myself and my fellow passengers arrived to find that It was still occupied by an easyJet flight to Gatwick. They were awaiting the final passengers to come forward for boarding, but with no sign of them rushing to the gate, it was clear that a delay may be in store. 15 minutes after boarding should of commenced, the screen changed over to a Thomas Cook logo with Birmingham labelled across it.

The gate agent apologised for the delay, and invited priority passengers and families to come forward for boarding. After making my way on board the bus, a short ride took us to a remote stand where our Airbus A321 was waiting. G-TCDE would be flying me back to Brum and after a quick photo, I made my way up the stairs to board. Before reaching my seat, I was greeted by the familiar face of one of my former Monarch colleagues.  Following a brief catch up, I settled into my bulkhead seat, 1A. Before my flight I had used Thomas Cook’s Airshoppen service which allows you to pre order your duty free to be delivered on the flight. This was bought to me at my seat before the doors had even closed.

Boarding G-TCDE

After another short slot delay, we eventually pushed back and departed from Runway 06R. A bumpy climb through the clouds over the Mediterranean kept us seated for slightly longer than usual but eventually the seat belt signs were switched off and Inflight services begun. It was at this point that I encountered my only issue in an otherwise great flight experience. As the meal service began, I found myself not served. As the bar service came through, I ordered myself a Pepsi Max and found myself being asked to pay. I asked the crew member serving me if drinks were complimentary to economy plus passengers, she replied that they were, but that I was a normal economy passenger!

After taking away my boarding pass and booking confirmation email to show the cabin manager. I received a swift apology, my drink and my meal. All Inflight meals served on board Thomas Cook Airlines are designed in co-operation with celebrity chef James Martin. Today’s offering was a Chicken Tikka Masala and coconut rice, accompanied by a Treacle Sponge Pudding with crackers and cheese. The food served was delicious! It’s clear to see why Thomas Cook take pride in working with James Martin and want to push their Inflight Meals as much as possible. For anyone travelling with them in the future, I highly recommend pre purchasing a meal as they are very tasty and great value for money. For anyone that doesn’t, Thomas Cook don’t offer any sandwiches on their bar services so you will be going hungry for the duration of the flight!

The Tikka Masala was a lot tastier than it looked!

After my meal was cleared away, I caught up on some sleep before my arrival back home. Economy Plus doesn’t have a separate cabin on board the Airbus A321, but passengers will find themselves seated in rows 1-4. The seats on board aren’t big and bulky, unlike those that can be found on other airlines flying the A321. I personally found the ones on board very comfortable, lightweight and quite spacious. Being 6” 0’  tall, legroom is normally something I have to struggle with, but not on this flight thanks to my bulkhead seat. With seat selection being complimentary, I made sure that I had the best seat available to me. The overall cabin appearance is well presented, however seeing the drop down IFE screens on an aircraft that is just 4 years old did surprise me.

Old school IFE screens on a 4 year old aircraft!

Our descent into Birmingham began soon after the crew passed through the cabin collecting donations for their partner charity. After arriving onto stand, the worlds best ground handling agency (If you’ve ever flown into Birmingham, you will know that this is me being sarcastic!), Swissport, managed to encounter a problem operating the air bridge. Rather than wait for it to be fixed, disembarkation began at the rear of the aircraft. After a while, the air bridge was reattached to the aircraft, and I was free to make my way home.

summary:

As mentioned before in the article, my experience with Thomas Cook was exceptional. All of the crew on board took genuine pride in being able to deliver a nice experience on board my flight and being able to catch up with an old friend was an unexpected privilege. To find a fare that includes everything you can possible need when flying on a budget carrier for a very low price is quite frankly brilliant. Should I ever be flying out to a leisure destination again and be faced with a choice of flying with the likes of TUI, Jet2 and Thomas Cook, I certainly know who I will be choosing!

 

Want More Airbus A320 Family Reviews? Check Them Out Below!

 

Lufthansa B747-8 First Class Review

Anybody that knows me will know it is no secret that I love Lufthansa and I especially love the Boeing 747-8i. Having not flown the ‘Queen of the Skies’ on the FRA – JFK route since 2013 (when they still had the old upper deck First Class on the 747-400 with the adjoining bed) it was time to fly the newer model on the B747-400s older sister to see if the experience would differ from the FRA-EWR route I have taken recently.

Photo: liveandletsfly blog

Booking

I love miles and points for the simple reason that it enables you to fly incredible classes for a fraction of the price. I have the JP Morgan Reserve credit card which has all of the same benefits as the Chase Reserve, plus some more. This redemption was part upgrade, part mileage award ticket.  For Star Alliance I collect on Mileage Plus – this is both a blessing and a curse as it is the best program because of the low fuel surcharges and generous upgrade voucher deals but I hate flying with United and I only fly them enough to meet the minimum segment requirements, so most of my miles from Mileage Plus were accrued from other Star Partners.  Fortunately on this trip I was able to apply a 1K upgrade voucher from Business to First from United on Lufthansa (nice perk!) and then redeem a mileage bank balance of 110k miles for the other ticket. As I’ve seen countless other times, United seems to get special award space that other partners such as Air Canada and Avianca don’t seem to have so it is definitely worth considering this option.

If you want to fly this flight then it would make complete sense to do it with miles. My advise for our UK readers would be the American Express Gold Card as it has perks such as double points when spending directly with an airline, extensive hotel benefits such as free upgrades and free lounge access at airports. The best perk of all though, it is free for the first year!

If you’re looking to book on a revenue fare, we advise looking at Momondo or SkyScanner for the best deals.

Munich – Frankfurt | Lufthansa A320 Business Class

Unfortunately since it was a Sunday, the trains were not fully running as there was some construction so I ended up having to take a taxi to Munich and after a short walk to the check-in area I arrived at the luxurious First Class check-in (also shared by Star Gold).

Checking in at MUC

One of the things that really separates Lufthansa from the other carriers is how they care for their passengers. There were weather reports of lighting that afternoon so the agent suggested he move me and my travelling companion to an earlier flight to ensure we make our connection – after few quick clicks on the computer we were confirmed on the next departing Munich – Frankfurt flight.

The GOLDEN ticket

Security at the First Class check-in took seconds and we soon flew through to the Munich First Class Lounge.

The famous ducks decorating the Munich lounge

After only a quick visit due to the earlier departing flight, a double espresso sent us on the short walk to our departing flight to Frankfurt.  Boarding was a bit chaotic as the flight had changed from an A321 to an A320 so a few passengers in economy had to be re-accommodated. Nonetheless, the boarding was very German and efficient.

Our taxi to Frankfurt

Most people talk badly about Lufthansa for their “euro-business class” but it amazing on our flight which had an advertised duration of one hour but actually takes about 25-30 minutes of flying time. We were served a full meal and drinks. Today’s meal was the delicious white asparagus.

This meal was really good – I loved the white asparagus.

After cruising at 32,000 feet and an uneventful on-time landing we arrived at “A” gates which was unfortunate as since we were not at a remote gate, there was no First Class car transfer.

The First Class Terminal

After a short walk outside, it was time to enter the amazing First Class Terminal which, in my opinion, is by far the best lounge in the world and always has the most amazing fresh food. The lounge has DO&Co catering, great selections of Champagne and a huge Gummy Bear dispenser which is always fun. Since I love it so much I had more white asparagus and steak with white wine and Apfelstrudel for dessert.

Let’s gooo!
Like a five star restaurant!

After only a short three hour layover, it was time to board. The main benefit of the First Class Terminal is that you actually skip the normal terminal experience altogether and the only way of boarding the plane is by car. The personal assistant came to collect us on time and we were on our way for the short ride to the beautiful queen of the skies in the back of an extremely comfortable Mercedes.

Arriving at our chariot

Getting dropped off directly underneath the plane and taking the elevator up is one of the coolest things about the whole first class experience and definitely gives it a VIP touch.

Boarding

Boarding and turning left on the 747-8i has to be one of the best feelings in the world as you are greeted and almost immediately poured a glass of champagne upon being seated.  This time around the champagne was a gorgeous 1995 ‘Blanc des Millenaires’ which had the perfect balance of age, taste and bubbles and paired really nicely with the food. The seating in the cabin is one of the best I have flown. It features a 1-1 configuration in rows 1-2 (seats A and K) and a 1-2-1 setup in row three. Seeing as I was travelling with someone, we went for row three and were lucky enough to have seats A and K free which made it feel exactly like the old First class on the 747-400.

Today’s cabin after turning left!

Upon being seated with champagne, the flight attendant hurried over to deliver the pyjamas, internet voucher, slippers, and amenity kit.  I also received a handwritten note from one of my friends at Lufthansa who unfortunately couldn’t be on the flight today as well as a menu with my name hand written in beautiful text.  The menu and wine list is extensive, and has something for everyone’s tastes.  As I love white asparagus so much I selected that for my main course along with a side of Schnitzel.

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Takeoff

Takeoff in the nose of the 747-8 is a bit loud and harsh as you are sitting directly above the landing gear, but once you are off the runway the cabin becomes dead silent.  This is thanks to the sound-deadening carpet and suede walls which mean you can actually hear everyone in the cabin speaking!

The Service

We took off on-time at 17:10 and we were at cruising altitude of 37,999 feet after just a few minutes. Immediately, the flight attendants sprung into action with the caviar. The presentation and taste is so wonderful and so amazing that LH serves seconds on request.

I loved this caviar

Next came the appetizers, the sorbet and then the main course. All of these courses are served with the wine of your choose with a helping hand from the crew who know exactly which wine to pair which each meal.

My appetizer
And the main course

The crew were so friendly on this flight and that really is where Lufthansa shines compared to some other airlines who have employees with bad attitudes or sometimes there are strong cultural/language differences making it hard to connect on a personal level with them. On Lufthansa’s First Class you know you will have an expertly trained flight attendant who can immediately sense which passengers want the full First Class experience and which ones want to be left alone to sleep. Service is so personal and attentive too. For example, the flight attendants would speak to me in German and then immediately repeat to my friend in English even though they could have spoken English to both of us.  It is the small things like this attention to detail that really put Lufthansa above and beyond in my mind.

After too much food, dessert and cheese it was time to settle into the bed and watch a film. The IFE and WIFI on the plane are both free of charge which is a really great perk. The IFE screen is very large and perfect for indulging in your guilty pleasures. I, for instance watched ‘I,Tonya’.

Time to eat even more!

Unfortunately, due to the bottle of wine that I drank and several glasses of champagne prior to that, I fell asleep half way through the film and was woken 30 minutes before landing with a warm and friendly brush on my arm to awake me. The crew had left me a hot towel prepared, a tooth brush and mouthwash and a double espresso, orange juice and water. This was the perfect wake up call.

My wake up call was wonderful!

Landing

The landing was unfortunately a lot longer than expected as we had to make turns around JFK due to the fact that we were slightly early and couldn’t land yet. We cruised at 20,000ft around New Jersey and Long Island for about 45 minutes before being cleared for landing.

Holding around New York

We landed 45 mins ahead of schedule and parked at JFK Terminal 1.  The escort met us, helped us through security and then had our bags waiting for collection. Another VIP moment.

The Conclusion

For me there is no better airline than Lufthansa and no better way to fly than in First Class. Put the two together and it makes for one of the most pleasant flights imaginable. Sure, I am not crazy and know that their 5 star rating in business class is questionable, but in First, the experience is incomparable to any other airline for me.

While Lufthansa isn’t the best airline flying in my opinion, I always choose Lufthansa’s First Class for those extra touches, VIP feelings, incredible food and drink and fantastic crew!

Want to see how this compares to First Class on the British Airways B747 then click here.

This review is part of our monthly guest review programme. The author of this review is Mark (@markbuttons) who flew this flight in early May 2018. If you have an upcoming flight you think we’d like to see then you can apply here.

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WestJet B737MAX Review

Buckle up ladies and gentlemen because this flight review is certainly extra ordinary. It all began while curiously searching Kayak, my favourite search engine, a week or so ago, I had noticed that the seasonal WestJet service to Halifax Nova Scotia from Glasgow, Scotland had just restarted. This WestJet operated flight from Glasgow to Halifax does not, however, finish up in Halifax, the final destination is Toronto Pearson. Prices from Glasgow to Toronto were seemingly cheap and – with some further price hunting – I managed to score a fantastic deal from Glasgow to Toronto via Halifax, and then from Toronto back to London Gatwick, also via Halifax. Flying back into London Gatwick was not only more convenient for me as I am based in Brighton, but it allowed me to compare Westjet’s brand new 737MAX8 to their ageing 737-700 product. I have always been intrigued about how these narrow body 737s fly transatlantic, and how this impacts the passenger experience, and now I had the chance to put this theory to the test and try them both for myself!

Photo Credit: AirwaysMag

It was only a few days later when I found myself eagerly awaiting my flight to Canada at Glasgow Airport. I had pre-booked my priority security which was only £4.99, and unlike the priority security at most other UK airports, it was super-efficient, and did not merge with the other security traffic. I was through security in 3 minutes, saving me upwards of 15-20 minutes.

Glasgow Airport has certainly seen better days, the facilities airside were not too bad, but the overall architecture was ancient and the airport will need renovation in the near future. When it was eventually time to board the aircraft, the ‘zone’ boarding system WestJet has in place was properly enforced, however once in the jetty way we found ourselves waiting for nearly 15 minutes for the ground crew and flight attendants to finish prepping the cabin and aircraft. Once on-board I took my seat 6A, which had a fantastic view on the 737-700 and I started setting up my GoPro and other camera equipment.

Wingview from seat 6F

 

After sitting on the ground for upwards of  30 minutes with no update from the flight crew, it was evident something was wrong. The captain finally informed us that due to a discrepancy between the aircrafts log book and the Thomas Cook engineers at Glasgow, we could not take off immediately, and had to await information from WestJet’s maitainance team. In the meantime, the crew offered water to all passengers. Then finally, with a delay of 1 hour, we pushed back from our stand at Glasgow Airport, still unaware of the actual technical problem that we faced earlier. Nevertheless we took off from runway 23,  1 hour late, bound for Nova Scotia!

Takeoff out of Glasgow

Once airborne the fantastic WestJet connect became available to use. Most of WestJet’s fleet are equipped with this ‘SATCOM’ antenna which provides services like entertainment, flight map, and for an added fee, Wi-Fi to your tablet device. You must have the official WestJet app downloaded to be able to take advantage of this. I personally found the service flawless and I ended up purchasing a small amount of inflight Wi-Fi although sadly that was not as fast as I had hoped. I started my own inflight meal service about 20minutes in and I tucked into my WHSmiths meal deal; I knew that there was only a snack and small drink offered so I needed to bring my own refreshments. When the free service was finally offered by the flight attendants, I chose a coke and a small bag of pretzels. I will emphasise that you must buy food beforehand, as coping 6hours on a small bag of pretzels and a coke is certainly not do-able! As the flight progressed I was surprisingly relaxed, the legroom on the 737-700 was great and well above my expectations.

There was a universal power adapter on each seat to charge your electronic devices as well as a USB charge port. The 737-700 Next Generation CFM56 engines were quite loud but with headphones in it was much less noticeable and compared to the option of a WestJet Boeing 767 from London, it was most likely similar.  It also felt certainly more personal on the narrow aisle 737 and your interaction with the crew is more intimate too.

Due to the cramped flight deck of the 737,  and the longer flight time transatlantic, the flight crew kept switching giving them some time to stretch their legs. I got talking to the first officer while he was on his break and this was when I found out that the technical problem we encountered back in Glasgow was that this aircraft was no longer ETOPS. An ETOPS certified aircraft can fly more than 60 minutes from a diversion airport, in essence allowing the 737 to fly transatlantic, but due to a discrepancy on the ground the aircraft was no longer flying ETOPS. Therefore, the flight crew had to plan an alternative route to Canada overflying central Greenland, maintaining close proximity to land, hence our delay in Glasgow.  From a photographer’s perspective this was phenomenal, overflying central Greenland provided some incredible views and with crystal clear skies it was a truly magical experience.

Overflying Greenland

The 6 hour flight time had seemingly flown by, after watching a couple of films we were practically already in Canada! Flying on-board the smallest 737 had been impressively comfortable, not what I would have expected from a narrow aisle jet. We started our descent into Nova Scotia where the weather was also stunning with now only 30minutes of delay. After the “WestJet Stretch” on the ground at Halifax I had a quick flight deck visit and chat with the jolly flight crew from today’s flight. At Halifax all passengers have to de-plane, even those carrying on to Toronto and pass through the Canadian Border Control. I unfortunately then had to pass through immigration as well which ate into my connection time. At this point Passengers with checked luggage have to pick up their hold luggage from a carousel and then like all other connecting passengers then pass through security for domestic departures, the same process as the security in Glasgow. A handy tip I found out when talking to a security agent is that any duty free purchased in Glasgow over 100ml will not be allowed through and so they recommend after picking up your luggage from the carousel putting it in there.

A fellow 737MAX pushing back next to us for a flight to Ottawa

Once back airside at Halifax there was just enough time to grab a smoothie before boarding my onward flight to Toronto. This leg of the flight was being operated by WestJet’s brand new Boeing 737MAX8. I would recommend waiting until you are airside in Halifax or even waiting until you have landed in Toronto for buying a coffee, as my connection time was 2hours and I only just made it through security in time. The plus side is that you arrive in Toronto as a domestic arrival so you do not have to go through border control.

Wingview from seat 20F

Once on-board you could immediately tell that this aircraft was brand spanking new, the cabin was absolutely spotless. The MAX sure does set itself apart from the Next Generation 737s, as I mentioned in my LOT MAX review, it feels like mini Dreamliner! WestJet have ordered a whopping 65 Boeing 737MAXs to replace their ageing fleet of -600s/700s. Their older aircraft will no doubt ably swap hands into their new low-cost subsidiary, “Swoop” which will begin flying in June 2018. After taking my seat, I went to attach my GoPro to my window, as I would normally do. As soon as it made contact with the window an angry flight attendant descended on me and swiftly told me to remove the device as it may “shoot off the window due to the pressure changes”. I was in no place to argue as I was already super tired and I did not want to cause a scene but I have never been asked before to remove my GoPro. The pressure change would never cause the gopro to fly of as the suction cup is attached to the window, and the cabin pressure is maintained throughout the flight so there would not be any dangerous pressure build up that would cause the camera to fly off. Instead I had to resort to manual iPhone filming for the YouTube review, this was in no way as stable footage but it would do for this flight.

WestJet 737MAX cabin (Photo by WestJet)
Takeoff out of Halifax, NS

We experienced some “light chop” for most part of this short hop to Toronto. The snack service was identical to the one on my previous flight. I must say, I was getting annoyed of the WestJet pretzels by the 4th bag!

The MAX itself was remarkably quiet, just as I had remembered it from my flight with LOT Polish late last year. The legroom was fantastic, and not only due to the generous 33”, but the considerably larger overhead storage (the new ‘Space Bins’) allows travelers to store all their carry-on luggage above them, eliminating the need to place bags under the seat in front of you. Another noticeable feature of the MAX is the redesigned light switches that helps to avoid calling flight attendants by mistake. The flight itself was largely uneventful, and after the scenic descent into Toronto, we touched down on runway 23, 10 minutes ahead of schedule! But a long taxi made that 10 minutes a more realistic five. At Toronto, as mentioned previously, you simply exit into the departure lounge where I was 10 paces away from my flight back to Halifax. Any passengers that have their travels terminate at Toronto can simply exit the terminal as a domestic passenger, as you cleared border control back in Nova Scotia.

Westjet 737MAX pushing back at Toronto

I am not going to bore you with the details of the 2 flights I took after deboarding in Toronto, as they were quite simply the reverse of what I had just done, landing in Gatwick rather than Glasgow. These flights were also on the 737-700 and 737MAX, so my passenger experience was near identical. The flight crew upheld the high standards set by the crews on my earlier two flights and I arrived back into Halifax and Gatwick on time!

Landing on Runway 26L at Gatwick

Overall, my personal WestJet experience had been flawless. The cabin crew were great fun yet professional and the seat pitch and width were great. The entertainment worked really well on the WestJet connect app.

Don’t be put off by the thought of a narrow body plane to cross the Atlantic; it’s probably one of the most pleasant flights I have had in economy!

I always check my flights through Kayak, this way I can found out what aircraft type I am flying pre-booking, and therefore tailor my sectors based on the aircraft type. I then proceed to SkyScanner to book.

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More Boeing 737 Reviews on LondonSpotter:

Air Nostrum: Island Hopping

Air Nostrum are a regular sight when flying into or out of the Balearic Islands. Their mixed fleet of Turbo Prop and Jet engine aircraft fly in the colours of Iberia Regional and connect both passengers and cargo to destinations that aren’t always on the beaten track. On my recent trip to Spain, I flew with Air Nostrum between Ibiza and Palma, to experience what life is like on these sometimes essential services.

Always wanting to get the best possible deal, I used Momondo to find the cheapest flight price!

Despite lying only a 40 minute flight away, the islands of Ibiza and Mallorca are a 2 hours away from each other by ferry. With locals having to travel between the two Islands often to see family, for work or to collect essential supplies for everyday life; the air services that are provided are vital to some Island residents.

The ‘retro’ style information boards in Ibiza
ib8111 ibiza – palma de mallorca:

When booking my flight I was supposed to be flying on the Bombardier CRJ1000. Just a few days before my departure however, I received an email from Iberia notifying me of a change to my itinerary. My flight would now be on a ATR 72-500, Operated by Canaryfly for Air Nostrum on behalf of Iberia!

The day of the flight came and I arrived at Ibiza Airport one hour before my departure. With the peak holiday season not yet underway across Europe, I was expecting the airport to be quiet but getting air side in 5 minutes was a surprise to me. With some sections of security closed for refurbishment, I can imagine that there are some delays when the airport is operating at full capacity.

Large sections of Security and the Departures Hall are sectioned off.

With some gift shops and food outlets, I had soon explored all of the departures lounge and was glad to hear that Iberia Flight 8111 was now ready for boarding at Gate 5. The gate agents invited families, passengers requiring special assistance and priority passengers to board first. Then came the turn of any passengers sat in rows 20 – 10, the finally my self and my fellow passengers sat in rows 10 – 1.

As I approached the desk, my mobile boarding pass was scanned and my cabin baggage was tagged to go into the hold as it was too large to be placed into the overhead locker. That’s when the problem started…

The doors to the tarmac are controlled by magnetised locks and a key card access panel. As passengers were boarding the doors were naturally open but they returned to the closed position as the last group of passengers arrived. With her card not working on the panel, the gate agent rang a colleague and explained the situation to them. After a five minute wait, an engineer arrived and after a few seconds pressing buttons on the panel, I got the impression that he had come to the conclusion that the door was broken. After another phone call and wait, the door on the adjoining gate was opened so that we could make our way to the aircraft.

Boarding EC-KRY from the rear steps

As I boarded the 10 year old ATR, I took to seat 3A that I had pre-booked for free when checking in on the Iberia App. Immediately after sitting down, I began the struggle of getting comfortable is this rather cramped seat with very little legroom. The interior for this whole aircraft was dated and certainly showed it’s age. Luckily for me, this flight has an average flying time of just 25 minutes. I wouldn’t have to be uncomfortable for very long.

As we pushed back from the stand just a few minutes behind schedule, the Captain made his introduction in both Spanish and English, and the following safety demonstration was again broadcast in both languages. The short taxi to Runway 24 came to an end, the crew secured the cabin and we began our hop over to Majorca.

These seats have an advertised legroom of 30″. It feels a lot smaller!

Not particularly looking forward to fighting the passenger next to me for the middle arm rest, I moved into row 2 as soon as the seat belt signs were switched off. With both seats being free, I was able to stretch out and settle into the flight. Understandably, no Inflight services are carried out on this flight, although items from the bar are available upon request. Interested in exploring my Inflight entertainment options, I pulled out a fairly worn copy of ‘Ronda‘, the Inflight magazine, after a quick flick through and coming to the conclusion that there were no Hollywood blockbusters to be watched, my headphones went on and I sat looking out the window.

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The approach into Palma was turbulent but soon we were taxiing off of the runway and towards our gate. Coming into this flight I hadn’t expected much, I certainly knew It wouldn’t be comparable to my recent Business Class flight with Qatar. However, as I sat and looked around this dated cabin, I knew that this flight Isn’t operated to make large amounts of money. It is operated almost as a public obligation so that residents of the Balearic Islands can carry on with their day to day lives.

 

Want More Like This?  Check out our Iberia Express review, are they worse than Ryanair?!

EuroWings A340-300 Review

The Airbus A340-300 is becoming increasingly elusive within Europe and throughout the world as airlines opt for more efficient twin-engine wide body aircraft over the 4 engine A340. The same can also be said for fellow 4 engine aircraft such as the Boeing 747, Airbus A380 and Avro Rj85/100.

As a frequent flyer, I’m always searching for the best deals on long-haul planes. You can read how we fly long-haul aircraft on short-haul routes here!

Madrid-London Heathrow Daily A340-600

I have set out on a personal mission to fly as many 4 engine aircraft before they eventually become obsolete in the near future. I have already flown the Swiss RJ100 and the Qatar and Qantas Airbus A380 but I still needed to fly at least one of the variants of the Airbus A340.

The larger -600 variant is regularly used on the Madrid to Heathrow route so that is easy enough to come by and I will still fly that sector in the near future, however for a limited period, Eurowings are using their leased A430-300s (from Brussels Airlines) on the morning Dusseldorf to Palma route and also in the evenings to Vienna (as crew training for their JFK service later this year). This was the perfect opportunity to catch the more elusive A340-300, tainted for being under powered and subsequently nicknamed the hairdryer.

Picture by Eurowings

Being an avgeek, I looked deeper into the roots of the aircraft and I noticed it was ex-Lufthansa. I googled the registration of the aircraft (OO-SCW) and I noticed through pictures and online reviews that it had not been retrofitted. This meant it was still spotting the Lufthansa mainline long-haul configuration for the A340-300. Using seatguru.com and various other websites I noticed that the extra legroom seats bookable on the ‘SMART’ fare were actually Lufthansa Premium Economy seats which was worth the extra £15 in my opinion.

Just a small note if you book ‘best class seats’ you will actually fly in Lufthansa business class, as shown below. I booked my flights through Kayak it is one of the few sites that shows aircraft type.

So far, I had the DUS-VIE leg booked and my VIE-LGW leg booked through EasyJet however, I still needed to get to DUS. It surprisingly turned out that the cheapest way was via Alicante with TUI UK then Eurowings. This was quickly turning into a very long 4 sector day.

Lufthansa Business Class on the Eurowings A340

After 2 of my flights already completed, I arrived in Dussledorf ready for some planespotting! If you head upstairs from the departure lounge, DUS offers a really nice place to sit and watch the action on a stopover with a small vending for snacks and drinks. Admission is only a couple of Euros, too, so make sure you visit when you’re there!

My A340 (OO-SCW) was patiently awaiting outside as everyone started to board, which was chaotic, unorganized and tiresome, actually delaying our departure time by 20minutes.

We were prematurely boarded and consequently the traffic piled up into the jetty way which was extremely hot and quickly became sticky and sweaty. I made it on-board eventually and was ushered to my seat, 6K, Lufthansa’s premium economy seat. This small section of the cabin was fitted in a 2-3-2 configuration was full, but I later discovered that only a third of economy was booked out and only a couple of passengers were in ‘BEST’ class (aka Business Class). My seat had a perfect view of engine 3 and 4, worth the surplus of £15 on my ticket.

We took off from Runway 05R, the more unusual configuration for Düsseldorf, bound for Vienna.

Once at our cruising altitude the on-board service began. This was where things got interesting. The flight attendants went around distributing the free snacks and drinks for those booked on the SMART fair bracket, when she arrived at my seat the lady beside me received her small food box but I was handed nothing, when I made my presence known she looked at me, looked at her sheet and shook her head. I assumed at this point that maybe I did not book the SMART fare bracket as I did pay extra for my extra legroom seat but after my flight I had realised that booking extra leg-room seats does not put you in the SMART bracket – oops.

I was starving at this point so I did purchase a small yogurt from the paid service.

It was not long until we were starting our descent into Vienna, the sun was starting to set and this short flight was sadly coming to an end. From an aviation geek point of view this flight had been a total success.

Starting our descent into Vienna

We touched down on Runway 16, only running 10minutes behind schedule. During de-boarding I asked the Cabin Manager if there was any chance if I could visit the flight deck, and unsurprisingly they said no, they didn’t even ask the flight deck crew which disappointed me more.

Conclusion

I finally made it onto an A340! Flying Eurowings was a real experience, while I didn’t find the crew overly friendly, it was a great surprise being able to fly on an old Lufthansa cabin. By purchasing a ‘BEST’ ticket I would have been overjoyed by the Lufthansa business seats.

Qatar Airways 787 Business Class Review




For our regular readers out there, you will know that we have tried and tested our fair share of Qatar Airways’ products. Our view of the airline is simple, we love it! In February, Raj was invited on board the delivery flight of the Airbus A350-1000 from Toulouse to Doha. It’s fair to say I was very jealous of this, so when I was given the opportunity to fly out to Doha and cover the opening day of the IATA International Ground Handling Conference, I jumped at the chance!

Qatar Airways fly daily from Birmingham to Doha using Boeing 787-8 aircraft and directly compete with Emirates for the crown of best long-haul carrier from BHX. Flying to over 80 countries and serving more than 150 destinations, Qatar certainly do their best to be the number one choice when flying long haul. Having flown on both British Airways & Air Canada 787 Dreamliner’s in recent months, I had high hopes that this Qatari jet would live up to the standard of those fantastic flights.

As a frequent flyer, I tend to book all my flights through SkyScanner for great prices and Momondo for amazing business class deals. Try it for yourself!

Qatar Airways fly daily between Birmingham and Doha on Boeing 787-8 Aircraft.

Living only 10 minutes from Birmingham Airport meant I could afford to leave the house a little later than normal when catching a flight. After a short taxi ride, in which I happened to see my aircraft (A7-BCX) abandon it’s approach and go around, I arrived at the terminal. When walking into the building, I made my way to the Qatar Airways check in desks, where to my surprise I found them completely empty. After a brief chat with the girls at the desk, I was given my boarding pass and made my way through fast track security and into departures.

Qr34 birmingham – doha:

Whilst making my way up to Gate 45, I was met by the Airport Manger for Qatar. He invited me to pre board the aircraft, explore the cabin and grab some photos. The cabin is set in a 1-2-1 configuration and my assigned seat, 2E, was in the middle of this cabin. Not wanting to miss the views on our way down to Doha, I had a chat with Ida (the Cabin Manager in charge of today’s fabulous crew) and found myself now sat in window seat 2K.  Boarding was relatively quick as today’s flight was only half full and soon after boarding was completed the crew armed the doors and cross checked them in preparation for our departure.

The immaculate Business Class cabin set in the 1-2-1 configuration.

Seats in the Business class cabin can convert into a fully lie flat bed if required. Adjustable armrests and lumbar support ensure that all can be comfortable when flying with Qatar. A 17” television equipped with the Oryx One IFE System is located above a folding table which can be extended fully when dining or working. Storage compartments are seemingly everywhere but are designed perfectly to blend in with their surroundings and a universal plug and USB socket offer the tech savvy travellers the option to stay charged and connected during their flight. This cabin definitely oozes class but perhaps falls just a bit behind the brand new and innovative QSuite. See the pictures in the slideshow below to check out the awesome cabin.

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Unfortunately due to the go around on the inbound sector to Birmingham we had a delay to our scheduled departure time of 16:00, and found ourselves pushing back at 16:45, 45 minutes late. Fortunately due to the close proximity of the terminal building to the runway, we were soon lined up on Runway 33 ready to start our 6 hour 40 minute journey to Doha. Climbing up to 41,000 feet, our routing took us north out of Birmingham and then out east over the North Sea and across Central Europe.

The crew had come around prior to departure and taken our orders from the Business Class Menu. Qatar operate a “Dine on Demand” system onboard with a wide selection of appetising dishes which were made available and would be served fresh accompanied with a selection of warm breads and olive oils. Choosing to eat not long after take off, the crew came around to set my table and  offer me a drink before my Arabic Mezze appetiser arrived. This was soon followed by the Paneer Tikka Masala and Gourmet Ice Cream. Most people would have you believe that plane food is disgusting, today this definitely was not the case. Look at the pictures below to see the incredible display.

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My attention soon turned away from food and onto the Inflight Entertainment. A noise cancelling headset is provided free of charge for all passengers and is only compatible with the Oryx One system. Oryx offers the latest Hollywood, Bollywood and International films as well as a selection of classics. TV shows are offered although the selection wasn’t as wide as the films and various different music albums covering a variety of genres could be selected.  The picture and sound quality on the Business Class screen was second to none.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it sure did on this occasion. Our approach into Hamad International Airport was signalled by light chop that even Delta Airlines would be proud of! Flying into Doha guarantees a scenic approach whatever time of the day it is. The bright lights of The Pearl, the city skyline and the Iconic Sheraton Hotel guided us all the way onto Runway 16R.

Business Class Cabin Inflight
TO SUMMARISE:

From the moment I stepped on board to the moment the doors opened in Doha, I was made to feel welcome and recognized by the fabulous crew who genuinely care and take pride in their job. An intimate cabin of just 22 seats allows passengers to relax and unwind in comfort and style. Qatar Airways have got this product perfected, and it is one I certainly cannot wait to fly again!

Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Qatar Airways as part of the IATA Conference trip. All of the views that are expressed in this review are my own and have been in no way influenced by the airline.

 

ENJOY THIS?  Why not check out our Qatar Airways Airbus A380 Business Class Review!

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EasyJet A320NEO Flight Review LGW-ACE



I have had the EasyJet A320NEO on my radar for some time and now a whopping 5 aircraft are based around the UK and luckily for me 3 of those found themselves flying out of London Gatwick. I happen to have a few inside contacts at EasyJet and on a late Friday night, UZHA (EasyJet’s first NEO) was scheduled to flight to Lanzarote the following morning. The temptation to fly this beautiful bird was too overwhelming and I found myself booking seats for the early Lanzarote flight. Unfortunately, the flight was oversold so I used my connections to get on standby, although my chances were already not looking too great.

Although I was travelling on a standby staff ticket today, as a frequent flyer i suggest booking my tickets through SkyScanner (low fares) or Momondo (great business class fares)

Descending into ACE

EasyJet bought into the A320NEO back in 2013 in order to maintain a modern and efficient fleet with improved levels of passenger comfort. The new EastJet cabin was fitted to aircraft delivered from May 2016 and all existing A320s will be retrofitted by the end of Spring 2018.

“In 2013 easyJet confirmed an order for 100 new generation Airbus A320neo aircraft for delivery from 2017 to 2022 and has taken purchase rights on a further 100 aircraft. These aircraft, equipped with CFM LEAP-1A engines and wing ‘Sharklets’, will be 13% to 15% more fuel efficient than existing aircraft types.” – Easyjet

Back to the Flight

I had to arrive at Gatwick the following morning with plenty of time. First I got my security pass to get to the gate where I had to patiently and nervously wait while all the passengers boarded the aircraft as it is only after all the passengers have boarded that you find out if you have been successful or not.

In this case, I got on! I was going to be flying on the orange NEO! The huge downside of flying standby is that you don’t get a seat choice, you fit in where there is space and in this case, it was arguably the worst seat on the plane: an aisle seat right at the very back directly next to the toilet. The charming EasyJet crew came to the rescue, however and after a great chat with the flight crew during pre-flight checks, the lead cabin manager sourced me a free window seat right at the front, offering the best engine view around!

View from seat 4F

Push back from our remote stand was on-time and we were lining up perfectly on our STD. Gatwick was using 26 operations today and after a powerful and sporty take-off by the brand new CFM Leap 1A engines we banked left, heading south towards France.  The inflight service began soon after take-off, I had not yet had anything to eat today so I ordered the EasyJet meal deal, opting for the feta and rocket sandwich as the main.  The meal deal at EasyJet is reasonably priced at 7€/9£. This ended up satisfying me quite well, the sandwich is of reasonable size and quality and I couldn’t fault it!

Meal deal section of inflight Bistro magazine

For most of the flight my eyes were fixed on the gorgeous wing view, those huge engines really added something to the flight experience, not to mention the fact that the flight was super quiet, I could actually listen in on conversations seats in front of me, unheard of on CEO A320s. I recently flew to Gibraltar on the CEO A320 and any form of conversation is drowned out by the noise of the old CFM56 engines. I couldn’t talk to my neighbour without raising my voice, but on the NEO such conversation was now possible! After nearly 3 hours in the air we were staring our descent into sunny Lanzarote, it was gusting quite heavily on short final but the fantastic flight crew pulled off a greaser despite of the wind conditions.

Once again another successful and enjoyable flight on EasyJet and I still believe that they are up there as one of the best low cost airlines, with friendly crew willing to engage in conversation and inviting, chatty pilots.

While EasyJet may not be part of any alliances or have a points system, they truly are a great low-cost airline. While the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ may be true to some extent, the cheap prices make up for that.

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