This is part 2 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta. You can read an overview of the trip here.
(I have done some website redesign that should help with readability. I still cannot figure out how to get my photos to resize for mobile readers though 🙁 Tips for doing so on WordPress welcome!)
When I booked this trip about 10 months ago, I was scheduled to fly Austrian Airlines Business Class both ways – using United miles for the outbound, and Avianca miles for the inbound. I wasn’t super-excited but it was a pretty direct route, with good connections, and there was availability on the exact dates I wanted. For a while back in 2012 and 2013, all the bloggers were gaga for Austrian Airlines’ business class. The hard product was fairly new, and it is known for its food and beverage product, catered by DO & Co., and featuring an on-board “chef” – unusual for business class. When flew the product back in August 2013, and was not impressed, as detailed in my review. But perhaps it was the product of heightened expectations. This time, the flight was fine, though I don’t think any better than the U.S.-based carriers.
One of the pros of using Star Alliance miles is that it opens up a lot of transatlantic options directly out of Washington, as opposed to connecting in New York or elsewhere. The associated con is that means flying out of Dulles. Traveling from Dulles is just an unpleasant experience, particularly in the late afternoon in the summer. The Vienna flight is a pretty early transatlantic one, leaving at 5:05pm. I ended up leaving straight from my office at around 1:30, straight from doing my exit HR paperwork. The 5A bus from downtown DC got me to the curb around 3pm, which should be a bit on the early side for a 5:05 departure but in reality was just right.
Austrian and Lufthansa share check-in facilities and the line was long and slow, even on the business class line, with passengers heading both to Vienna and Frankfurt. After check in, I headed to the massive security lines. The only not-terrible TSA experience at Dulles is with pre-check; alas, Austrian doesn’t participate. The “premium” line just dumps you closer to the end of the ID check line, and then you’re merged with everyone else from then on out. Security moved very slowly, but I made it out and to the train to the concourse and B-gates at around 3:40pm.
I had planned to just go to the Turkish Airlines Lounge, since I knew it was much nicer than the Lufthansa Business Lounge (which is the designee for Austrian passengers and which I used on my way to the Seychelles in 2014 on Ethiopian). At check-in, though, the agent had mentioned I could board directly from the Lufthansa lounge, which seemed like a good reason to end up there.
The Turkish lounge was much more crowded than it was on my prior visit, thought it calmed down a bit as I was there. At first, I thought it might be that summer is more popular, or that more Star Alliance and Priority Pass customers knew about the lounge than they had 4 months earlier, but I also realized there were a ton of Star Alliance flights departing within an hour, including two Avianca flights, an Air China flight, a Copa flight to Panama, an SAS flight to Copenhagen, and the SAA flight to Dakar – plus the Turkish lounge is the designated lounge for Saudia which had its Riyadh flight at that time.
I managed to grab a table though and have a little nosh, and pleased to report the food offering remains excellent. The staff was doing a pretty good job keeping up with clearing plates and keeping up demand. For a more detailed review of the Turkish lounge, check out my post from earlier this year.
About 15 minutes prior to scheduled boarding, I headed to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. As I recalled and you can read more about in my review from 3 years ago, it’s a pretty pitiful space, in the basement and making Admirals Clubs look luxe. I actually wanted a glass of champagne, but there was no one staffing the bar when I was there, and they didn’t seem to have any sparkling wine options any way. In terms of food, there were finger sandwiches; sandwiches; cookies; hot bratwurst, kraut, potato salad, and pretzels. The lights were industrial and fluorescent. Fine, but not even close to the Turkish lounge experience.
About five minutes before scheduled boarding time, there was an overhead announcement that the flight to Vienna was boarding. I gathered my belongings and was surprised that no one else was moving, but ended up being only one of 3 people who boarded then. The lounge opens onto a shared hallway between the doors from the gates to the jetbridges themselves. At the same time, families with small children were boarding through the gate. 5 minutes before scheduled boarding, they announced boarding in the lounge. It was nice to avoid the crowding around the gate and the inexterminable gate lice.
I headed on board to the pleasant Austrian 767-300 business cabin, which has feature walls painted like blue skies. Seating is laid out in a 1-2-1 layout, so every seat has direct aisle access. The seats on the sides alternate between being closer to the window with a large table between the seat and the aisle and vice versa. I had selected a “window window” seat. The seat is plenty private, but there’s really no storage at all – just a tiny shoe compartment, an eyeglass/phone-sized pocket, and a magazine pocket. There are both USB and A/C power outlets at the seat, in addition to a USB plug in the large touchscreen of the in-flight entertainment system.
There were flight attendants in the stylish red outfits smiling in the cabin when I boarded, standing in the center section, but oddly no offer of a drink or anything. The cabin was pretty empty when I boarded, but eventually filled up with quite a range of characters. There was a man practically shouting on his Bluetooth headset who stayed doing so until the doors closed—so loud I could hear every word five rows in front of him. There was a Russian woman in the center section in the row in front of me who throughout the flight would try to have full conversations with every member of the crew and tell them her life story. She was Russian, and moving from the US to Vienna. And she brought a massive iMac on board with her and tried to fit it in the overhead bin. And she also had a *very* loud laugh throughout the flight. Apparently the movie “Why Him?” is just laugh out loud funny.
There were also some smaller travelers. There was a tiny baby in the front of the cabin, who I didn’t hear a peep out of the whole flight, and stayed in a little bassinet once airborne. And the woman right in front of me, who was also relocating to Vienna, had what I later realized was a cat in a pet carrier. I didn’t realize you could take cats in the passenger cabin on a transatlantic flight; who knew. Apparently they just had to place the cat in the closet for take-off and landing.
The seats were well-maintained. At each seat at boarding was a pillow and a quilt, each with an appealing blue and red “Austrian” design. There was also a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and an amenity kit. The amenity kit was very bare; in lieu of a standard toiletry kit with a zipper, it was a drawstring jersey cotton shoe bag (“schuhsackerl”). Inside was just a lip balm, a lotion, socks, earplugs, a dental kit, and an eye mask. Face wipes, shaving kits, and more lotion were available in the lavs.
While boarding was still ongoing, the onboard chef came through the cabin passing out menus. Once the entire cabin was full, and most of Economy class was on board, the FAs came out with trays of apple juice, orange juice, and water, explaining that there would be no alcohol until after takeoff.
Before the beverage tray even reached me, the chef was back to collect my breakfast menu and ask for my choice of main for dinner. The flight attendants followed with an offer of magazines and newspapers. The in-flight entertainment turned on right after the safety presentation, with a request that passengers not put on headphones until we were airborne. (I listened; others did not.) There was a decent movie selection, including a fair number of new releases in English and German. I selected “Twentieth Century Women” and prepared to unwind.
The cabin stayed pretty warm, but soon had a heavy citrus scent, which I discerned came from the wet towels (neither cold nor hot) that were then distributed. I couldn’t get the AC power to work the whole flight, so it was good that it was an evening flight where I didn’t need much laptop time.
About 45 minutes into flight, the two main flight attendants in the cabin rolled out beverage carts and started a beverage service, while another flight attendant distributed tablecloths. The wine menu was fairly comprehensive, with three different whites, three reds, a champagne and a prosecco, and a dessert wine. I had actually wanted the prosecco, but they only had champagne on the cart – which ended up being pretty good, a Duval-Leroy—served with some nuts.
Shortly after, the chef came down the aisle with the appetizer cart. There was a choice between a chicken and a salmon appetizer; I went with the chicken, which was unremarkable. There was also a tomato coconut soup, though, which was delicious. (The chef also doled out some bread.)
There was a second pass of the beverage cart during the appetizer course, at which point I switched to a Riesling. The flight attendants also kept refilling water and other beverages proactively while the chef prepared mains. About 90 minutes into flight, the main was served. None of the three choices stood out (beef madeira with pasta, swordfish, or ravioli), so I went with the lighter option of the swordfish. The swordfish was a bit salty, but a nice size portion. The celeriac/potato puree was surprisingly tasty despite not looking so great. I think presentation, though, is an area where you really see the difference of the onboard chef. I don’t think the standard FAs would plate like this.
Two hours post-takeoff, the dessert cart came down the aisle. The two pastry options were a bread pudding and a chocolate tart. I asked for the bread pudding, but perhaps they were low as I was only given a half portion – about 1 inch by 2 inches. (People getting the chocolate tart got a whole individual pastry.) To supplement, I requested a scoop of the caramel ice cream and some strawberries. The bread pudding was great, but more than a half piece would have been nice. Indeed, with the strawberries and the ice cream, it was one of the best airplane desserts I’d ever had.
Finally, Austrian’s signature coffee menu was distributed by a male flight attendant as we passed Nova Scotia, with only about 6.5 hours left in flight. The coffee menu is weird on these flights, since most people want to sleep. I asked for decaf, though it wasn’t mentioned on the menu, and it turns out they had that. There’s a range of coffees, including latte-types and cordials. Because I was still warm, though, I went with the eiskaffe (ice cream and coffee). Given how many coffees had to be made, I thought it would take a while, so I started my bed prep. One weird thing about Austrian’s 763 is that both business class bathrooms are on the same side of the plane — the left side when I was on the right. And for one of them, you have to go through the galley to get to it, which was awkward given that the crew was busy making coffees and putting dishes away. Either way, the coffee was surprisingly ready shortly after I got back to my seat. Yay Austrian efficiency. And tasty coffee served with a chocolate.
Throughout the meal service, the crew was generally attentive and quick without seeming rushed, which is good for a relatively short overnight flight. I generally had a better impression than on my last Austrian flight.
Given the time of year and time of departure, it was still light out as I was getting ready for bed, and lots of passengers had their window shades open, which was annoying. Shortly after I lied down, though, a flight attendant asked the woman behind me to lower hers, which helped. I slept on and off for about 4.5 hours. The seat wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d remembered, though it certainly could have been wider. Noise was more of an issue – there was a loud toddler in coach, some conversation, and, yes, at one point, the meowing of the cat. At some point in the night, a water bottle had been placed at my seat.
With about an hour and twenty minutes left in the flight, the breakfast service began. Breakfast had more options than typical including meats and cheeses, lots of cold items, and two different hot items: an omelet or sunny-side up eggs with ham or bacon. I went with the omelet and a yogurt, served with some fruit and a croissant from a basket, and a tiny piece of brown bread that was stuck to the tin foil. The omelet was fairly standard airplane offering – i.e., not very good. The yogurt was actually very delicious. I watched an episode of Legion on the IFE over breakfast, before we landed about fifty minutes early at Vienna’s Schwechat airport.