Off I Go: US Airways Envoy Class Washington to Philadelphia to Athens

US Airways is one of only two carriers with nonstop service to Greece from the U.S. (along with Delta from JFK), with a seasonal 5x/week service from Philadelphia. This means you can get into Greece in the morning rather than in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Oneworld service to the Greek Islands is terrible, with only Niki service out of Vienna and British Airways service out of both Gatwick and Heathrow. I tried to book an award that got me all the way to Mykonos, but there was no way without an overnight in Vienna or London, which would defeat any cost savings. So I booked a separate ticket from Athens to Mykonos on Olympic Airways, to be discussed later.

US Airways A330

US Airways A330

To get to Philly, I had a short hop from DCA up to Philly on US Airways Express. It’s a super-short flight that I’ve done a few times before. After I booked, there was an equipment change to a plane without First Class, which for some reason led AA to rebook me on an earlier flight . . . which also didn’t have First Class. So I had to call to be put back on my original flight, as the 2 hour connection in provided in Philly was probably long enough, and would allow me to work in the morning.

As usual, the trip to DCA was an easy Metro ride. I dropped off my suitcase, headed through Pre-Check, and up to the former US Airways lounge, now an Admirals Club. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time in both this lounge and the Admirals Club on the other pier at DCA and, though this lounge is bigger and the food pretty identical, I like it a lot less. It is dark and badly in need of refurbishment, and the staff is less friendly than the AA staff. After I had my traditional Admirals Club lunch of a mix of the chicken gumbo and corn bisque, and listening to a bartender and the manager loudly discuss what wine and beer they needed to order, I discovered that the only bathroom in the lounge was not working. For some reason, Admirals Clubs never seem to have sufficient bathroom space, but this is particularly annoying at DCA, since there is no other bathroom on that floor. I slowed my Diet Coke consumption as I passed my 45 minutes until boarding.

From the Admirals Club, after a pitstop, I headed down to the dreaded gate 35X, a waiting area in the basement of the terminal, where buses depart to various US Airways Express smaller flights. Recently, some American Eagle flights have been added to the mess as well. Not fun. It’s a chaotic, claustrophobic area, so I always wait as long as possible before heading down there. Sure enough it was a zoo, but boarding was announced about 5 minutes after I got there.

Gate 35X at DCA

Gate 35X at DCA

There is no consistent way in which these flights are boarded. Sometimes they “board” the buses by zones, which makes no sense as you just wait on the bus and can end up being one of the later people on the plane. Today they called all zones at once, and we waited for a good 15 minutes standing on the bus until the last passenger arrived, 10 minutes before scheduled departure. We finally arrived at our plane at just about scheduled departure time. It was a full flight on the 50-seat Canadair CL-65 operated by Air Wisconsin. The regional jet had seen better days, and would be horrible on a longer flight.

Busing it

Busing it

Jetway/Rube Goldberg device

Jetway/Rube Goldberg device

US Airways CL-65

US Airways CL-65

You learn the true stupidity of people when you’re on an aircraft with only 13 rows of seats. The number of people who could not manage to find their seat, or ended up in the wrong one, was insane. There were at least 6, which is more than 10% of the flight. Then there were people who didn’t like their assigned seats, and wanted to switch seats- on a 25 minute flight. It took quite a while.

A wealthy woman who was travelling with her mother, her child, and her nanny took the seat next to me in the exit row and promptly kicked off her shoes and put her bare feet up on the seat in front of her. As the Countess says, “Money can’t buy you class.” Of course it turned out that was not her seat, and she had self-upgraded to the exit row, though the seat’s correct occupant was gracious and let her have it. The row behind me was a dad and his three children, all of whom needed to use the restroom prior to departure, and one of whom kicked my seat, yelled and, played with the tray table the entire time he was on board. Dad found his phone interesting.

We sat for awhile without any information, and the cabin got pretty warm. Finally, we were wheels up at 2:17, more than 30 minutes after scheduled departure. There was no beverage service, and the flight was at such a low altitude that passengers were never allowed to use large electronic devices. Thankfully it was a short flight with a heavily padded schedule, and we made up most of the delay, landing only 10 minutes late. Unfortunately I still had a schlep to go to my next flight. My DCA flight had landed at PHL’s Terminal F, so I had to take a bus over to Terminals A & B. My ATH flight was departing from the farthest gate at the terminal, and my flight was scheduled to begin boarding at 3:25, about 15 minutes from my arrival at Terminal A.

Oh look, another bus.

Oh look, another bus.

I haven’t actually flown out of PHL internationally before, though I’ve connected there on the way back from Europe and en route to Puerto Rico. Terminal A has two Admirals Clubs, but it also has a British Airways Galleries Lounge. I passed the BA lounge first, and it looked nice and empty so I figured I’d pop in quickly, based on being a OneWorld Business Class passenger. It was a smaller version of the BA lounges I’ve visited in other airports, and was really quite lovely — and it was *empty*, as the Athens flight leaves Philly much earlier than other Europe-bound flights — particularly London flights. Athens is farther than most destinations served out of Philly (all but Tel Aviv), so that allows the flight to get into Athens in the morning — which was more helpful when US Airways was a Star Alliance member and made for easy connections to Aegean Airlines in Athens. I used the bathroom and the internet, and had a little tuna fish wrap. The check-in agent had told me I had a long way to walk, so I left the lounge pretty quickly, leaving 20 minutes before boarding time.20150715_151713 20150715_151715

Unfortunately, I got all the way to the gate, and saw that boarding was not going to happen for another 20 minutes due to a late arriving aircraft. The Admirals Club was too far away to go back, so I parked at a charging station near one of the gates for another 10 minutes.

Waiting at the gate

Waiting at the gate

Boarding finally began, though I got stuck behind several coach passengers trying to board with Business Class. The flight was on an A330, the flagship of US Airways fleet, and better than many of the planes pre-merger AA flies across the ocean. The business cabin is 1-2-1 across, with reverse herringbone lie-flat seats. Each seat has direct aisle access, and it’s pretty similar to the seat on Air Berlin’s business class. There is in-seat USB power, as well as a standard AC. My only complaint about the seat is that it doesn’t have much storage — just a compartment under the foot rest.

US Airways A330 Envoy Business Class

US Airways A330 Envoy Business Class

20150715_155652

AA TWA Amenity Kit

AA TWA Amenity Kit

Predeparture, I was offered a choice of sparkling water, sparking wine, or orange juice. Menus, newspapers and Bose noise-canceling headphones were distributed, with the warning that headphones would be collected an hour before landing.

The Business Class cabin was being worked by both the purser and a flight attendant. The Purser was a cold, harsh woman, so I lucked out with a friendlier, more casual flight attendant. Soon after we took off, I was served nuts with a glass of Cote du Rhone, accompanied by an episode of Moving On. My wine was refreshed without asking.

Dinner was served shortly after we were airborne. The first tray was a small salad of greens, feta, and sundried tomato, and a choice of balsamic or creamy Italian dressing. There was a bread basket and I chose a pretzel roll, which is always the right choice. There was also an appetizer of chicken breast over watermelon and pineapple, which was good but a bit odd. I watched a few episodes of “The Jinx” while eating, disrupted by some significant turbulence as we flew over New England and Eastern Canada.20150715_161137

Menu PHL-ATH US Airways Business Class

Menu PHL-ATH US Airways Business Class

Appetizer course

Appetizer course

For the entree, I was tempted by both the chicken, fish, and beef options, but went with the beef as I figured I would have less of it in Greece. It was fine, served alongside a hefty side of demi-glace, and a small portion of ok macaroni and cheese, and a few string beans.

Beef filet with demi glace

Beef filet with demi glace

Dessert was served off a cart, with a choice of cheese plate, chocolate mousse cake, or ice cream. I’m not a huge mint chocolate chip fan, but went with the ice cream and a decaf coffee. And then it was time for bed.20150715_183203

I slept pretty well, only waking a few times over the night, and got about 5.5 hours of sleep. I woke up as the cabin lights were turned on, and it was time for breakfast. Breakfast was definitely one of the better breakfasts I’ve had on a plane. I selected the strata, which was served along with chicken sausage, potatoes, a biscuit, and a fruit plate. It was a pretty appropriate sized meal, and not too much carbs.

Breakfast US Airways Business Class PHL-ATH

Breakfast US Airways Business Class PHL-ATH

As we were making our descent, the television was interrupted by a pitch for the Citi AAdvantage credit card, which is tacky and annoying. But overall the flight was pretty good, and I’d have no qualms flying the US A330 in Business ever again.20150716_020319

Coming in for a landing

Coming in for a landing

 

 

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