As previously discussed, I had some free time between jobs, in which I would be relocating from New York to Washington, with some time for a vacation as well. I ended up using 100,000 United miles for a trip to Croatia in business class, choosing the destination based on award availability and the range of sights in the country. I ended up settling on Croatia with relatively little thought, and then booked everything- including my internal flights and my hotels – in one day. I should have spent some more time thinking about where within Croatia to go, as I ended up with some duds. But hopefully my slightly disappointing trip to Croatia will provide learning material for you.
This was my first long solo trip in awhile, so I was a bit nervous about lonesomeness. But to make up for it, I was getting to try three new airlines: Austrian on the long flight out, Croatia on the connection down to Dubrovnik, and Jat flying from Southern Croatia to Northern Croatia via Belgrade (which ended up being 5 hours faster than flying on Croatia airlines).
I started my journey at Terminal 1 at JFK, which is a zoo, with a hodgepodge of international airlines from all over the world. My flight was at 5:40, on the early side for a transatlantic flight, so I mistakenly thought it might be relatively empty – forgetting there are so many random airlines at T1 that it’s always crowded.
Unfortunately, the Austrian experience wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped, though ended up being a lot better than my return on Lufthansa. Austrian doesn’t have any dedicated staff at JFK, and shares everything with its parent company, Lufthansa. I got to the check in area for Lufthansa and Austrian to see one counter accepting First Class and Star Alliance Gold customers, one counter accepting Business Class, and about 8 counters serving economy customers. In general, I find Lufthansa really doesn’t care about its Business Class customers, and this was consistent with that. The Lufthansa Group is the only airline I know with three levels of lounges, the lowest being for Business Class customers – inferior to not only First Class but the “Senator Lounges” provided to Lufthansa elite customers, even those traveling coach. As a model of efficiency, I can’t see how this works. I also don’t understand why they wouldn’t encourage people paying thousands of dollars for business class transatlantic tickets to have access to a nice lounge.
Anyways, after waiting for about 10 minutes, the sole First Class agent pulled me over to his line and quickly checked me in. From there it was to the clusterf*ck that is T1 security, where the First/Business/VIP dumped into the general area where an agent corralled me into the slowest moving line ever. On my line included a man who forgot his large carry-on at the conveyer belt and had to go back to retrieve it, an African man bringing eight tablet computers in his carryon, and people who, though apparently fluent in English, did, not appear to understand universal commands such as “next” and “step through.
Just through security were the Lufthansa Business and Senator Lounges. I presented my credentials and was simply told “lounge is this way,” and pointed straight ahead to the base lounge.
To the lounge’s credit, the food spread was pretty good, with a salad bar, two types of sandwiches, some prepared salads, pastries, soups, and candy, as well as plenty of self-serve wine, spirits, beer, coffee, and soft drinks. I knew I’d be eating plenty on the plane so had only a small snack and a diet coke. I tried to connect to the wifi, but was unable to. Upon asking, I was told, “Oh, we usually have T-mobile, but it’s not working today.” Well then Lufthansa should have arranged for Boingo access codes for an hour for anyone who wanted them, or at least told people when checking in that wifi was down. Wifi is a basic element of a business lounge, and Lufthansa should be embarrassed. I had hoped to get some stuff done on the computer, but I guess not.
The lounge was decently sized, but pretty crowded, as it was serving Lufthansa, Austrian, and Brussels Airlines flights. The more comfortable seating area was full, so I was stuck at a bar stool. There was a nice view of my plane though, and I played on my phone and had some good soup and a brownie. After about 40 minutes in the lounge, it was time to board.
When I reached the gate, I discovered that my flight had a huge Birthright Israel contingent, presumably flying JFK-VIE-TLV. So I was very glad I wasn’t in coach as that would be a loud flight. There was a lot of confusion as to where the priority boarding lane actually was, with different airport staff coming by and telling the line to move in different (contradictory) directions.
Business class boarded first, and I was in the very modern cabin. The service was pretty spare. I was offered only a glass of water as a predeparture beverage, whereas others seemed to get orange juice and champagne. The business section was emptier than I would have expected for August, with 23 of 32 seats occupied in the forward business cabin, and 4 of 16 in the smaller business class cabin behind the restrooms and mini-galley.
The plane featured Austrian’s new business class, which alternates between 1-2-1 and 2-1-2 seating across. I was in one of the single “throne” seats, which have large side tables, but slightly tapered footwells. There wasn’t a ton of storage room, but the large overhead bin took care of that. Overall, upright, the seat was pleasant.
I really liked the design of the in-flight entertainment system. The touchscreen display was very simple to use, and there was also a smaller touchscreen remote at each seat. The range of selections wasn’t great, though, with one episode of a few different tv shows, and a small number of newish releases.
Austrian has a reputation for great business class cuisine, offering an on-board chef and meals catered by Do & Co. I was curious as to how the “On-Board Chef” worked, and on my flight, he looked about 15 and did a lot of things that the Flight Attendants really should have been doing, but alas we had some very lazy Flight Attendants up front. Shortly after boarding, the Chef came out and passed out breakfast menus, asking for us to mark and return them – which seemed a bit out of sequence but whatever.
Next, the Flight Attendants passed out amenity kits, which were disappointing.
They were a small grey felt, tied with a red ribbon instead of any zipper, snap, or velcro, making reuseability very low. Inside, there was just a small lotion, a toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, a shoe horn, socks and an eyemask. Later I found there were cleansing wipes, stain removers, shaving kits, and more earplugs in the bathroom, though.
We had about an hour and a half delay on the ground due to heavy traffic at JFK (shocker), and I was offered some juice. The chef used the delay to take individual entree orders for dinner. Alas, the inflight system hadn’t turned on yet so it was pretty boring. I did manage to grab some sleep, though (upright).
Once we were finally in the air, the FAs finally did move into gear. Hot towels came very quickly, and then a drink service, (cold) nuts and rolls. I watched episodes of “Don’t trust the B in Apartment 23,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “The Newsroom.”
The appetizer courses were served from a cart in the aisle, with a choice of caramelized goat cheese and beets salad or lox salad, and a beef consommé. I went with the goat cheese salad and soup. The soup was okay, but the salad was really good. I don’t like beets, but there was also lettuce and some sort of sweet relish-type thing.You’ll note from my pictures that they completely darken the cabin for meal service, which seemed unnecessary so early.
Throughout the dinner service, there were frequent refills of wine and water. There was a long delay between the appetizer and entree courses, probably because there was one chef plating all of the food. The flight attendants came out with one dish at a time. Of the choices of shrimp pasta, steak, or chicken, I went with the “healthier” chicken option. The chicken was good and moist, once you pulled off the dry prosciutto wrapper. There were these weird polenta spinach “crespelles”, which I couldn’t tell how I felt about, as well as some meh zucchini, on the side.
Dessert was also served off a cart, with a large choice of options – fruit, cheese, strawberry mousse, apple streudel, and raspberry sorbet. I went with the streudel and sorbet, and it was superb- alas, the best course.
After dinner, a previously unseen male attendant came by with a coffee menu, another major feature of Austrian’s business class. I ordered an Eiskaffe – an Iced coffee, which I know is really just coffee with ice cream. I have an extremely high caffeine tolerance, so wasn’t worried about the ability to sleep.
Alas, when it was time to sleep, the flight was kind of a disaster. Forget about the food, the movies, etc. The most important thing about a business class transatlantic product is the ability to sleep. Alas, I never got comfortable and even with an over-the-counter sleep aid, I got less than two hours sleep. The seat has a very narrow area for feet, and folks report this is particularly bad in the solo “throne” seats. I thought about moving to one of the empty double seats, but didn’t bother. No matter how I positioned myself, I couldn’t get comfortable. The seat was just too narrow in every direction. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the crew was gabbing and banging around in the galley for god knows what reason, and a passenger was constantly shuffling a deck of cards – all so loud I could hear through both earplugs and noise-reducing headphones. The best I could figure out was adjusting the seat so it was closer to an angled-flat position, leaving more room for my torso. All in all, I much preferred Alitalia and Delta’s transatlantic lie-flat seating in business class.
We were woken for breakfast about 40 minutes before any breakfast was served, though hot towels and juice were passed out. For breakfast, there were two different hot options- sunny side up eggs with bacon or ham, or an omelet – as opposed to the zero offered on Delta. I’m not a sunny side up guy, so went with the omelet, along with yogurt and a meat assortment. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what the grey mass in the omelet was (avocado?), but the eggs were fine. The lack of sleep meant I didn’t really have much of an appetite, anyway.
With plates cleared, we still had an hour left in flight, so I tried to sleep again in vain, as the crew in the galleys seemed intent on making the most noise possible – opening and closing every latch about 50 times.
Overall, I was disappointed with Austrian. Given how empty business class was, there should have been friendly, attentive service. Instead, no one ever addressed me by name, or in English, even though I responded in English every time. It sounds petty, but I think it’s the only international business class flight I’ve been on and not been offered champagne. The noise and the discomfort of the seat kept me from sleeping. I wasn’t expecting Singapore-level luxury, but for Austrian’s flagship product on one of its flagship routes, I was pretty surprised. Who knows if I had a dud crew, or just couldn’t get comfortable that night, but I’m not rushing to fly Austrian business again