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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Etihad A380 Economy Review

Having flown with Etihad on their A380 numerous times before, I was excited to see if their soft product had improved since the last time I’d flown with them.

Here at LondonSpotter we generally choose SkyScanner for booking economy tickets and Momondo for business class tickets as that is where you can usually find the best prices.

I arrived to the gate at the supposed boarding time (1 hour before departure) but the gate agents told us that our flight was delayed by 20 minutes. Boarding was called at exactly 14:20 and passengers were boarded using zone numbers via 3 different doors; two doors on the lower deck and 1 on the upper. Boarding was not chaotic in the slightest and quite efficient for such a large aircraft.

The economy cabin onboard the A380

I boarded through door 2L where I was warmly greeted by 1 of the 26 flight attendants operating this flight to Abu Dhabi. I was directed to my seat and to my surprise, it turned out I’d snagged one of the best wing-view seats on the plane!

What a view!

On paper, Etihad offers 17.5” of seat width and 31” seat pitch which felt very spacious and comfortable. My only criticism is that the recline is substandard and, when the person in front of you reclines, you have no space to put anything on the tray table. Regardless of the recline, the seat was fully equipped with everything; A USB charger, a 110V socket, a coat hanger, 2 screens including a 10” wide screen (which I find extremely impressive for an Economy class seat), and a fantastic entertainment system. They offer fast and reasonably priced WiFi, which is especially convenient for passengers travelling on business.

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When I arrived at my seat, I found a pair of headphones, a blanket, and a pillow waiting for me. The noise cancelling headphones were pretty nifty, complete with an adapter. The blanket smelt odd but, on the plus side, at least it was in a plastic bag…

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As I waited for boarding to be completed, I browsed the entertainment selection, which was excellent. Etihad’s entertainment system – E-Box –  has a huge variety of movies, and I also liked how many episodes they have of each sitcom in their library. There’s no shortage of good entertainment options on Etihad. I ended up watching the movie ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ which was really funny. Etihad’s A380s are equipped with 3 cameras (a tail, front and down viewing cameras) which other airlines like Singapore Airlines don’t have.

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We pushed back at 15:05 sharp and at 15:26 we were cleared for takeoff. Fifteen minutes later the seatbelt sign was turned off. Our climb was smooth and, soon enough, we broke out of the clouds at 20,000 feet.

1 hour into the flight, the flight attendants served drinks with a savoury snack and an hour later, the dinner service commenced. There were no menus as before. Instead, there was just an option between chicken or pasta but, oddly, the passengers behind me had a choice between beef or pasta. I chose the chicken which came with cold bread, a salad pasta and a chocolate butterscotch mousse. The pasta salad was amazing and the chocolate mouse was even better. The tray tables were cleared 30 minutes after and tea and coffee were offered which I declined.

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After the dinner service was taken, I went to the toilets and to my surprise, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. While I waited for 15 minutes for my turn, the flight attendant offered me any drink/snack I wanted. I took had the salad pasta again as it was just so good. In terms of amenities, there was just a hand sanitiser – on previous flights, they offered face mist.

An hour and a half out of Abu Dhabi, we were offered a light snack and a drink which I said no to as I wasn’t feeling too well but it consisted of chicken and spinach.

Half an hour out of Abu Dhabi, the captain came on the PA to inform us that we would be landing 25 minutes prior to our scheduled arrival, that the temperature was 26 degrees and the forecast for the next few days was pure sunshine; a stark contrast to London’s clouds.  The crew also started to complete their pre-landing checks and collected our headphones. The entertainment system was switched off to only the map view for the last few minutes of the flight.

We had a smooth touchdown at 00:56 and arrived at the gate 8 minutes later. As I was disembarking, I asked if I could visit the cockpit but I was not allowed as ‘it’s against company policy…’ I bid the crew farewell and headed home.

BOTTOM LINE: 
I couldn’t have had a better experience in economy. The crew all had the biggest smile on their faces and were extremely friendly, attentive, and caring. They were a real treat! Etihad has really improved since the last time I flew them. I would choose to fly them every time over any other airline that operates direct flight to Abu Dhabi.

Want to see more A380 Reviews?

Read our review of the terrible Qantas A380 economy class here.

Read our review of the luxurious Qatar Airways business class here.


This guest review is written by Wasim Zemerly. Four times a year, we give one person the opportunity to have their work featured on our platform. If you’d like to apply, email ethanegcc@gmail.com with a proposal. 

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Worst A380 Economy? Qantas Flight Review

Our keen readers will remember that in my last flight review, I flew to Dublin and back for near to nothing with Ryanair. Last week I decided to step it up a notch and booked last minute on a super cheap return fare to Dubai with Qantas on the A380 superjumbo! With Qantas changing their base to Singapore in the coming months I jumped at the chance of getting on the A380 for such a bargain! The stage was set, I was to depart London Heathrow at midday on the Saturday, on QF10 to Melbourne, hop off at Dubai, and return to London 3 hours later on QF1!

It was the big day and I arrived at Heathrow a few hours early so decided to use the pay to enter lounge at Terminal 3, the No.1 lounge, of which I have visited before on my flight to Los Angeles. As it was before, the lounge was quite packed although I managed to grab a nice window view overlooking Runway 27L/09R. No.1 lets you have a free snack, ordered at the bar using your menu (of which you get the complimentary meal/snack). Usually you can pick from the likes of, Beans on Toast, Fish finger Sandwich etc. There are also other cold items on offer, of which you can help yourself. My service was of poor standard today and after a 30minute wait for my beans on toast it was apparent that they had been sent to the wrong table. After explaining this to the barman another one was ordered and after another 20minute wait I had my food. It had seemed they have significantly downsized the portions since my last visit, if I was only paying for entrance for the food, I do not think that at the price of £40 (for 3 hours) this is justifiable.

With 1-hour till boarding, I parted ways with the No.1 lounge and headed to gate 1, where my red A380 awaited me! When I arrived at the gate I still couldn’t believe I was soon to fly on this beast. I have never had the chance to fly the A380 before as most of the long-haul sector is dominated by the 777 and 787, but today was to be different! As I arrived at the gate, I got talking to the lead cabin manager for today’s flight and he sorted me pre-boarding so I could get shots of the empty cabin. Economy passengers are seated in the lower deck (in a 3-4-3 configuration), with a few rows at the back of the upper deck (in a 2-4-2 configuration). The economy product on Qantas is very poor in my opinion, it was designed during a time Qantas was in some tricky water, the seat pitch offered is 31’ and width 17.8’, the seat itself feels very old and the IFE was, well there is no other way of putting this, the worst I had ever used, but I’ll come back to that later.

But one thing I couldn’t fault was the crew – great hostesses made every passenger feel welcomed as they stepped on-board. Furthermore the cabin itself felt very roomy, signature to the A380. Awaiting me on my seat was a blanket, a pillow, and the worst headphones ever. There were some small cracks in the overhead panels above me, of which I could peep through and see the installation. These A380s are starting to show their age. All this was forgiven when I looked out of the window, just WOW! My view from seat 49A was incredible and I had a fantastic view of the 2 left Trent 900 engines! Totally worth the £25 seat reservation.

After a small but concise welcome brief from the captain, we pushed back on-time from our stand at Terminal 3 bound for Dubai. Kudos to the A380, I heard nothing during engine start.  Heathrow was using westerly ops for today so it was a 27R departure for us. This was what I paid for, the take-off was spectacular and I was in awe of this huge jet, and the simple fact that it can lift off of the ground at all. Conditions today were not the greatest but after piecing the cloud layer we had crystal blue sky.

It wasn’t long after departure until the crew came round handing out water and a menu for today’s flight. I opted for the beef and it was one of the tastiest meals I have had in the sky however, I was a very disappointed at the amount of food offered, especially when compared to airlines such as Turkish. To eat using this awful seat requires the capability to keep yourself in such an awkward narrow position while attempting to use the fork and knife so you don’t knock your co-passenger unconscious. The petite tray table barely fits the  food tray which as mentioned is significantly smaller than most airlines anyway.

As the hours began to tick by I made my peace with the IFE and tried to watch a film, but the process was tedious and the IFE was horribly slow, the selection of films were poor and the remote was very dirty. Considering that Wi-Fi isn’t offered the IFE will be most passengers form of entertainment, Qantas is servery let down by the IFE and that would be a key decision maker in choosing Emirates over Qantas, who are the current leaders in in-flight entertainment (also a direct competitor to QF on this route). After an hour of raging with the IFE I decided to try and get a few hours’ sleep. The blanket provided was larger than I expected and far better quality than ones I have seen before. I was able to get a somewhat decent sleep, despite being in economy. The worst part however is when the person infront reclines their seat. I am quite small at about 167cm but when the seat is reclined, I had close to negative legroom. A very poorly designed seat that induced several backaches throughout the flight.

I awoke 1 hour before landing for the last snack to be offered to us economy passengers. Today it was some kind of weird sausage roll, I didn’t take to it and just left mine in its box. Passing Iran and Kuwait on our way into Dubai we had the most insane view of the blood orange moon. Cruising at 39,000ft also gave us an incredible view of all the bright Arab cities on approach to Dubai, note there was not a cloud in the sky on this night.

We started our descent very close to Dubai itself and I could certainly feel it. The time was now approaching midnight and it was pitch black outside. After making a right turn over the Persian Gulf near Dubai we touched down smoothly onto Runway 30L, and it was a short taxi to our Gate at Terminal 1A. As per all my flights I made my way to the flight deck for a small tour from the captain and then unfortunately disembarked the whale. It was not long, however, until I would be back on-board OQB for the return flight to London!

Dubai airport itself was not as large as I was expecting, there were A LOT of duty free shops in my concourse of which I was expecting. Being a homesick brit abroad I made my way to McDonalds for a snack before my flight back to the UK. However, when about to check out I find out my debit card had been blocked, fantastic news to hear while in different continent thousands of miles from home in the middle of the night. I remained cool and unpassed and just decided to wait at the gate for the next flight and just wait for some food on-board. Before I knew it we were boarding QF1 back to London.

I’m going to spare your time as this flight was near identical to the first but it was dark the entire flight and I was asleep so nothing to really talk about there. I also somehow managed to miss the meal service, leaving me weak and hungry while waiting at immigration back in the UK.

Overall I would call my last minute trip a success considering my primary aim was to experience the A380 which was extremely pleasant, but if I was to fly to Australia and had the choice of Emirates or Qantas, there would be no hope of me ever picking Qantas over such a passenger focused airline like Emirates. The economy product on Qantas’ A380 was very uncomfortable for me, and as I mentioned previously am quite small at 167cm weighing around 50kgs. Now imagine what this will be like for an average sized person. I would fly Qantas again as I could not fault the crew, my flight deck tour on the ground at Dubai was ace and the crew were super engaging and happy to chat, but I will never be booked onto their A380 again unless I can go first class.

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American Airlines 787-9 Economy Review

American Airlines’ 787 Dreamliner dominates most international routes out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). I was supposed to be flying from Chicago O’Hare to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) with the service of Main Cabin Extra in seat 11A. However, due to adverse weather conditions and  my previous flight from Dayton being late by 45 minutes, I missed miss my connection to Shanghai. American then rebooked me on a flight to Tokyo Narita (NRT) and then connecting from there with ANA on flight NH921. Luckily for me, the flight to Tokyo is also on a 787-8 Dreamliner. Although I wasn’t too pleased to find out I was moved to seat 19K (a middle seat in the exit row) which American still considers as Main Cabin Extra; they wouldn’t refund me the difference for the seating. I wasn’t happy about being stuck in the middle seat after $189 for my original window seat.

Once on board, I got to my seat and it wasn’t all that bad, I ended up having 8 feet of space in front of me which offered some consolation for the middle seat! Minutes after we finished boarding, the captain informed us that we would have to wait around 20 minutes for deicing which turned out to be a huge lie as we sat for 90 minutes before we even stated de-icing, owing to a large queue at O’Hare.

Deicing was extensive and delayed the flight by quite a margin.

After a long 2 hours of waiting at the gate, we finally started taxiing to the runway – which, surprisingly, took a relatively small amount of time.

Sunset over the Pacific.

Around 20 minutes after departure, cabin crew started serving us drinks. American has a very good selection of drinks onboard and I chose Dr Pepper. Soon after the drink service, they began to serve meals, there was chicken with shrimp or beef noodles, I chose the beef noodles, to my surprise it tasted phenomenal, good job American!

Mood lighting then came on after they collected litter. Although the mood lighting created a very relaxing atmosphere, I wasn’t tired so settled in for a movie. In the exit row of seats, you have to pull the tray table and IFE out of the armrest, thus slightly hampering seat width. However, to make up for that, they offered the movie “IT” which has been one of the films on my “must see” list!

The seats on the Dreamliner were fairly comfortable for the 13 and a half hour flight however I would of liked them to be a bit wider. My original plan was to lean on the window to sleep but I found myself having trouble in the middle. I only slept for 2 hours on this long flight which wasn’t fantastic. I did manage to sleep through the distribution of landing cards for immigration in Japan and when I got up to ask the flight attendant about this, she was rude and said she couldn’t help me because she was “busy” for whatever reason. This was disappointing.

The iconic 787 cabin.

A bit later, we got a little snack which consisted of a Turkey Sandwich and some ice cream, the sandwich was great but the ice cream was hard as rock so I didn’t eat that. In the galley, there was a little snack bar with chips, breads, and cookies that anyone could walk up and take, I didn’t take a lot of food but I did hang out there for quite a while, serving as a good place to stretch and walk around on these long trans-pacific journeys.

American’s “Snack” Meal Service.

Soon after, we recieved our final meal service and began our descent, that meal was a ham and cheese filled croissant which was really good, the croissant was soft and the meat was warm along with the cheese. A nice touch. About 20 minutes before landing the flight attendants told my neighbours and I, since we are in the exit row, that we had to put our bags back in the overhead locker and after we did, in what felt like a blink of an eye, we touched down in Tokyo.

Once I got off the plane, there were lots of gate agents helping everyone with connections since our plane was delayed, I had around 25 minutes for my connection which was not enough for me at all but lucky for me an agent helped me rush through security and she took me on a bus to my gate. The bus ride was around 10 minutes and it gave a really good view of the airport but it was night time so I couldn’t snag any good pictures without glare. To conclude the trip, due to the delayed arrival of my flight, I missed my onward connection and wasn’t able to be with my family for Christmas.

In conclusion I have to say this wasn’t my greatest experience in the skies, however not my worst either. The Dreamliner is a fantastic plane to fly on however, I feel that American would have made my trip a lot better if I wasn’t stuck in that middle seat for so long. If you are ever flying to Japan, I would definitely recommend ANA or JAL over a US carrier just because, at least in my experience, Japanese carriers are more enjoyable to fly on.


This guest review is written by Fengning Liu. To apply for our February Guest Review position, go to www.londonspotter.co.uk/guestreview, fill in the form and send us a sample of your work. 

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Japan Airlines ‘Super Economy’ Flight Review



As you read last week, I was onboard the first JAL 787 Service from London to Tokyo in Premium Economy and wrote how impressed I was with that. Well, I wanted to know what went on further back in the aircraft. I knew JAL had incredible reviews in business class so wasn’t too fussed about adding to them. What interested me was what flying from London to Tokyo in economy class was like. This flight is bookable on Momondo.

The economy cabin

For my return journey I was onboard JA841J, another three class 787 just like my outbound leg.

Japan Airlines have focused on the launch of JL41 for a while now and as part of their sales push, have added some immense extras. When buying an economy ticket, you aren’t simply treated to a ticket from A to B, but a range of pre-flight activities to get you in the mood for your flight.  For that reason, I have named this review ‘Super Economy’. Let me take you through my experience of JL41 by beginning with the first perk:

1. Complimentary Heiwajima Spa access to all passengers

Picture by Heiwajima Onsen

The flight times (2.45am takeoff and 6.25am landing) of JL41 may look controversial and horrible at first sight to lots of travelers but this slot has, in fact, been chosen for a reason. The early takeoff means that passengers can and probably will fall asleep almost as soon as the aircraft hits the skies. To help passengers do this, passengers are able to use the spa any time after 6pm on the night of travel. To better the experience, they are also treated to a free bus ride to Haneda once they’re finished.

When I first saw that the spa was on offer, I booked my ticket and thought nothing much of it. It wasn’t until I arrived at the spa that I understood how big a place this was and how out of place I, initially, felt. My first observations of the area were not great, I have to admit. I got off the Tokyo Monorail at around 5.45pm, got the 15-minute walk up on Google Maps and walked through the area of Heiwajima which is basically a huge lorry and cargo terminal. I found the place in good time but couldn’t seem to find the actual spa for a while. It was on floor 2F which wasn’t fantastically signposted until I reached floor 3.

Nevertheless, I walked in, had my name checked off the list and got handed my bag which included soft clothes and two towels. Now call me naive for not fully knowing what to expect but I was amazed by the size of the place. Once I had undressed and entered the spa room I went around looking at the different options. There were around 10 different types of hot tub/baths, a sauna, shower stations and many other points of use. I experienced all of the features of the spa before getting out, and to tell the honest truth, in a state of complete relaxation. I got changed into the clothes they provided, shaved and went to lie down to relax even more. The experience was just fantastic. I was SO impressed. Once I was ready to leave there was still a lot of time to kill before the buses back to Haneda (00.20 and 1.20) so I headed back through the lorry terminal to Haneda feeling very refreshed.

This photo sums up why the spa was a perfect choice before my flight

 

2. Complimentary JAL Sakura Lounge access

The upstairs of the JAL Sakura Lounge

I arrived back at Haneda with plenty of time to spare and headed for the lounge to crack on with some work. Unfortunately, once I arrived at the lounge it became clear that economy passengers were only welcome after 11.30pm. I later realised I should have known this as we were handed a note at check-in letting us know. Oops. With that in mind, I headed back to the terminal and found a quiet spot to work at.

Haneda International Terminal is a long terminal but very simple in its design, which I like. It’s not hard to find your gate with this easy system and there is one food court for all restaurants. At 11.30pm I headed back to the lounge and found the next catch. Economy passengers were only welcome to use floor 5. A quiet area upstairs from the lounge with its own food selection. I am really impressed, however, that JAL have been able to offer economy passengers the lounge experience while keeping their prices competitive. The lounge was a very comfortable experience and it looked as if passengers were in good spirits as we went to board the flight.

Boarding began smoothly at 2.25am and we pushed back for takeoff as soon as we could. Our takeoff time was 2.50, 5 minutes late. We took off to the Northwest but banked right straight afterwards and flew down south before banking again and heading up the left of Yokohama. Lights went out straight after takeoff and the cabin, for the most part, fell into deep sleep. I woke up over central Russia, four and a half hours later, feeling very rested. We were cruising at 40,000ft and were around five hours into the journey. It wasn’t until this point that I realized how important perk number three was.

3. An updated and more spacious configuration

The updated configuration

There is only one economy cabin as the aircraft is premium heavy (lots of business class seats). The cabin has 11 rows of economy seats and is unique from other airlines by offering a 2-4-2 configuration rather than your standard 3-3-3. They are one of the only airlines I have ever experienced to do so and on research, the only airline that operates this cabin on the 787. This dramatically changes the feel of the cabin and helps passengers to feel like they have a lot more space than they normally would. By going eight abreast instead of nine, JAL have managed to increase seat width to 18.9” and seat pitch (gap between seats) to 33”.

More spacious than other economy cabins I have flown

As this is the case, JAL only offer 88 economy seats on the whole aircraft. I did a bit of research into other economy products to see how this compared. ANA, JAL’s major competitor on the Tokyo-London route, operate the B777 to London Heathrow. Their economy cabin is setup in a 3-3-3 layout and the seats offer 31” of pitch and only 16.5” of width. A huge difference for this mammoth flight.

Only 88 seats in the whole cabin!

JAL have promoted this new night flight saying that you arrive in London feeling refreshed and ready to start the day. To confidently say this, JAL needed to ensure passenger comfort to all passengers, not just those in upper cabins. I can confirm that, after flying both economy and premium economy, JAL’s evident policy of ensuring comfort over cash has worked.

But increasing seat space isn’t all that JAL have done. The new Sky Suite product is unique from other economy class products in other ways, too. New earphone plugs have been fitted to allow passengers to listen to the IFE using their own headphones instead of the double plugged airline ones, AC power plants have been fitted underneath every seat, accessory holders have been added to the seat back pocket, screens have been updated and now carry 10.6” of width and space under each seat has been completely cleared to allow unobstructed space to place your briefcase or backpack.

My screen was slightly smaller than the others as I was at the front of the cabin – still sufficient

The JAL seat is hands down the best economy seat I have ever sat in. JAL have boasted that they ‘strived to create the world’s largest class of space and comfort in economy class’ and, in my opinion, they must have come close or even done so. The Sky Suite economy seat was amazing.

Around six and a half hours after taking off, still somewhere over Russia, the crew began the days inflight meal. To be totally honest, I was a little disappointed with the choice of meal the crew gave. Seeing as it was around midnight UK time and 8am Japanese time, what was offered was very strange. The choice was between ‘Hamburg Steak and Fettuccine’ and ‘Stir-fried shrimp in Chilli Sauce with Rice’. This struck me as a choice I would be offered for dinner and not breakfast. I went for the steak and fettuccine and have to say I was more impressed with the sides and pudding than I was with the main course. My favourite side dish was an octopus and potato salad which was presented fantastically and tasted great. Other sides included a basic salad, bread roll, miso soup and a chicken dish which was stone cold. For pudding was a coconut mange with apple compote. The octopus dish and pudding were both very impressive offerings for an economy product and something I would highlight. That, however, didn’t take away from the strange choice of ‘breakfast’ that I assumed would be offered.

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After meal service, an ice-cream was served and the cabin lights were slowly re-dimmed for the cabin to fall back asleep. Service was then halted, snacks were laid out at the front of the cabin and people slept until the next cabin service one hour and ten minutes before landing. The final service offered a chocolate brownie and any final drinks requests. 

The final service

We then cleared the floor, were offered hot towels and descended into London Heathrow where we landed bang on time with a beautiful nighttime approach over London Heathrow.

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I have to say I was extremely surprised and impressed with what JAL’s economy class had to offer. Before getting onboard I wasn’t expecting the levels of comfort or space that I had. I knew that JAL had striven to better their economy product but I can now confidently say that they succeeded. JAL’s economy class isthe best long-haul offering I have ever used and would highly recommend it to all of you.

When travelling from Tokyo to London it seems to me that JL41 and JAL are the obvious choice. With spa access, lounge access, flight times that encourage rest and one of the world’s best cabins, why would you not choose to fly Japan Airlines?

I would like to thank Eva who looked after me during the flight really well. One of the sweetest and nicest cabin crew I have ever encountered. Thank you Eva.

disclaimer: this trip was provided was wholly provided by Japan Airlines.

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Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Flight Review

On Friday 6th I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco for a United family day thanks to ThePointsGuy! As this was a last minute trip, I booked an economy ticket with Virgin Atlantic as it was the most efficient way of getting there and it gave me a stopover in LA, too.  I knew it was going to be a very long flight so had prepared for it beforehand in Terminal 3s No.1 Lounge. You can read all about it in my upcoming lounge review. The original flight time was meant to be 10hours and 20minutes however it turned out to be 11hours 30minutes. The aircraft operating my flight was a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner going by the name of “Pearly Queen”. She was delivered to Virgin in March 2017 and is the newest of Virgin’s 787s.

G-VBOW at her gate

We boarded on time from Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and were greeted by a warm welcome and the classic purple glow that Virgin’s B787s use. My seat, 51k, had perfect window alignment, 31″ of pitch and 17.5″ of width. This legroom was sufficient for the long flight but nothing to brag about. Being at the back of the first economy cabin made it feel more spacious than it was as I had nobody behind me. The mesh material and large areas of brown exposed plastic on the seat made it feel very cheap, in my opinion. The cabin is laid out in a three class configuration. The setup holds Virgin’s Business Class product, ‘Upper Class’ in rows 1-11 in a 1-1-1 configuration, their premium product in rows 21-25 in a 2-3-2 configuration and finally economy in rows 45-68 in a 3-3-3 configuration. The aircraft has six toilets and three galleys.

The front economy cabin
The rear economy cabin

The IFE was very responsive and the matte screens allowed only the person sitting directly infront of the screen to see what was being played. The variety of movies was sufficient however choice of TV series were very limited. Each TV episode was met by a small 2 minute advert and the movies a 6 minute advert. The headphones provided were comfortable as they were on ear headphones however they crackled when the volume was maxed out, which was needed most of the time.

The inflight cockpit map

The meal service began shortly after take-off about. The meal itself was fine for me however they provided butter but no bread which I thought was very strange as nothing else with the meal could have been supplemented by butter. The choice of meal was beef or chicken. I went for beef and was impressed.

Chicken or beef? I went for beef.

Whilst crossing Greenland we experienced some moderate turbulence. The 787 handles turbulence very well but to the inexperienced flyer, the flex on the wing would have been a daunting sight. It was an impressive sight to behold. During the flight we received a few snacks at set intervals, these included a pastie, an ice-cream and pretzels. The flight attendants were, however, rarely in the cabin during the flight, so you couldn’t easily ask for something to eat. Unlike Norwegian’s 787s, Virgin have no option to purchase from your seat which disappointed me. I found myself getting very hungry during the cruise.

Beginning our descent
Land ahoy!

Even though it was a daytime flight there were no announcements from the flight-deck nor the cabin crew. Only a acknowledgement of our descent into LA. Landing into Los Angeles was buttery smooth and we parked at Terminal 2 with no trouble. Walking through security was a breeze and before I knew it I was outside the airport.

I always love flying on Boeing 787s and this flight didn’t change my opinion of them. The quieter engines, larger windows and modern feel are all factors that make me so inclined to choose it on a long-haul flight. Based on this I would choose Virgin Atlantic again. I was, however, disappointed with the service offered. The crew were rarely in the cabin during the flight which meant I was left hungry for most of the cruise.

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Norwegian Boeing 737MAX Flight Review

On June 29th, Norwegian became the first European airline to receive the new, state of the art, Boeing 737MAX. The new 737 variant boasts a reduced fuel consumption of 14% from the B737NG. While Norwegian made the headlines by becoming the first European airline to receive the aircraft, they also made the noteworthy decision to operate it on transatlantic flights during the high season. I flew onboard EI-FYA, the first of the MAX aircraft to be received, on flight D81600 on August 25th from Edinburgh to New York Stewart Airport to see what all the fuss was about.

The view from the jetbridge

The Aircraft

The aircraft is set up with 189 standard economy seats in 32 rows of a 3-3 configuration. The seat chosen by Norwegian is the ultra-thin Recaro Leather seat, the same as that on their -800 models. This is a seat Jet2 also use. The effect of using this slim, leather seat is more legroom and a lighter aircraft.

Exit row 16

LED mood lighting is also in use on this aircraft which is used to improve passenger ‘comfort and ambience’. The aircraft offers three extra seats on the front port side compared to some of the 737-800 models. Each seat offers 29-31” of pitch and 17.2” of width. These measurements are nothing major to brag about for Norwegian as they are up to 2 inches smaller than the measurements on the 787. The exit row seats have a much more generous 38” of pitch and are located in rows 15 and 16. I was sat in seat 16A.

Exit row 15

The aircraft is fitted with 2 CFM International LEAP-1B engines. These engines are designed to increase efficiency and reduce fuel consumption. They are fitted with chevrons, similar to those on the 787, to reduce engine noise.

CFM International LEAP-1B engine

The MAX has two galleys, one at the front and one at the rear and includes three lavatories.

One of the most modern elements of the B737MAX is the cockpit. The flight deck boasts huge screens with higher levels of automation than any other 737 before it.

The flightdeck of EI-FYA

The Flight

After arrival in Edinburgh I was taken on a ramp tour by Norwegian’s ground staff, Swissport. The tour was an amazing way of viewing the new MAX up close and I was really impressed with the way Norwegian have kept the aircraft looking so brand new. The tour took me inside the aircraft, too. I was able to get cabin shots and cockpit shots before heading back to the gate and boarding as a normal passenger.

Still looks brand new

Boarding began once the aircraft had been turned around from its short hop to Oslo during the day. My seat for the flight was 16A, an exit row seat, and I was really impressed with the comfort and legroom offered. Doors shut 15 minutes later and we pushed back, on time, at 17.15. We took off on runway 24R from Edinburgh and I was amazed at the small amount of noise the aircraft produced on the takeoff run. After takeoff from EDI we banked right and began our initial cruise at 33,000ft over the north of Scotland to the Southern tip of Greenland before ascending to 38,000ft for approach into the US and Canada.

Departure from Edinburgh’s 24R

Only after landing could I look at our flightpath for the day. I would have liked to see Norwegian introduce a flight map on the overhead screens.

We were looked after fantastically by the four cabin crew members who went above and beyond to meet our needs throughout the flight. I am really happy I had the opportunity to meet them. A special thank you to Eilidh and Kevin who went above and beyond to make sure we were happy during the flight.

My ticket included a ‘Nice and Tasty Meal’ which was served at 18.30 and consisted of a choice between chicken or beef. I chose the chicken. The meal consisted of a piece of chicken on rice with a peas and sweetcorn side, a small pot of pasta and for dessert, a Belgian chocolate square. I was really impressed with the food I was served and would definitely recommend it. The meal comes with one drink of your choice, too. It will cost you £25 to add this meal to your ticket. Other buy on board meals include sandwiches at $7 and salads at $9.

We landed at Stewart International at 19.40 local time to conclude a flight of 7 hours and 10 minutes.

On final approach into Stewart

So, what exactly does a passenger do for 7 hours? Norwegian aim to provide complimentary wifi on their 737MAX aircraft within a year, but for now, it is non-existent. While the framework for internet connectivity is in place, final preparation needs to be completed. The aircraft provides no IFE apart from a few screens above the seats. On the 737-800 product, seats are fitted with headphone jacks to tune into the audio on the screens but the MAX isn’t equipped with this. This raises the question of the necessity of them. Without Wifi, passengers should download their own entertainment before flying and maybe load up a portable charger, too. The seats aren’t equipped with any AC or USB power ports so a full battery is needed to take you across the Atlantic. Passengers are, also, not given any blankets or pillows for the flight. I, however, didn’t find this a problem as temperature and comfort didn’t were not an issue.

My choice of entertainment was editing, of course.

If you’re looking for a comfortable ride across the Atlantic, then choosing the exit row seat is very important. The extra legroom under the seat in front results in quite a comfortable ride and space to stretch your legs. The legroom offered on a normal seat is, as you might expect, on the small side. With less legroom than the larger 787 models, you are likely to feel the limited space over the 7 hour flight. You can choose your own seat for a price of £25 on the cheapest ‘lowfare’ ticket and I would definitely suggest that. At no extra cost than a normal seat, you can sit in the exit row or front of the aircraft and enjoy much more comfort.

The exit row offers 38″ of pitch. A comfortable option.

We landed at SWF’s gate number 1 and were led through into the first ever airport I have witnessed where you reclaim your baggage before getting through security. Being last off the aircraft meant that we had a slight queue getting out of the airport but nonetheless, were outside 40 minutes after touchdown at 20.40. This is a huge selling point for both Norwegian and Stewart. With so few flights it is almost unlikely you’ll be held up for anymore than 30 minutes after arriving on stand. Until the arrival of Norwegian, Stewart handled only domestic traffic. For this reason, measures have had to be taken to establish a sterile area where international arrivals can be cleared. This requires the erecting of a screen to block access into the landside departures area. You can read more about this in my upcoming article on Stewart Airport.

Baggage reclaim

Norwegian have to be praised for the product they are offering. They have opened up transatlantic travel to people that, before, could never afford it.

How have they done it?

By using modern, efficient, aircraft, they are cutting the fuel costs by up to 14% from the older 737NGs. They mix this with flying into smaller airports where landing fees are a fraction of that of bigger, more popular airports (ie: JFK and EWR). The final money saver is a model that lets passengers choose the products they want to add to their ticket. By not offering complimentary food and drinks, seat selection or hold luggage, passengers have to pay for what they need.

This model means that getting to the East Coast can be as affordable as a train journey from London to Manchester and is opening up the market to people that could, previously, never afford the privilege.

The state of the art B737MAX uses up to 14% less fuel than the older 737NGs

CONCLUSION

By flying on Norwegian’s 737max to the East Coast, you aren’t going to receive a service comparable to other airlines in regards to complimentary amenities. But you also aren’t going to pay anywhere near what you’d pay other airlines. Norwegian offers a no-frills service that is cheap – very cheap, and for this reason they have to be congratulated

I had a very enjoyable flight with Norwegian on the MAX and I am really impressed with the business model they have created, that lets more people than ever before fly transatlantic, and hope to see a lot of you do it in the future.

disclaimer: this trip was provided by Norwegian Air

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