Our return routing from Israel to Washington was a complicated one. Originally, I was booked on the reverse of our inbound trip, Tel Aviv to Paris, Paris to Dulles, on Air France business class. There was no availability on any of the morning flights out of Tel Aviv, so I was going to have an overnight at Charles DeGaulle, before continuing onto Dulles in the morning.
Award availability was even more difficult for my boyfriend, who was going to use United (pre-devaluation) miles. The only transatlantic flight I could find in business class was London to Dulles, the same time as my Paris to Dulles flight. But no Star Alliance carrier flies from Tel Aviv to London, so the best I could do was Tel Aviv to Vienna to London on Austrian, with the LHR-IAD flight in the morning.
After we booked our flights, Air France had a schedule and equipment change (away from the A380), which didn’t substantially change my itinerary. But in the interim, award availability had opened up on Virgin Atlantic’s LHR-IAD flight, leaving the same time as my boyfriend’s LHR-IAD flight. I’ve always wanted to fly Virgin’s Upper Class, and as this was pretty much the last of my Skymiles, it was a perfect opportunity. I then faced the same problem, though, of getting from Tel Aviv to London. The only option was Alitalia, connecting in Rome. Not ideal, but we’d end up having to get only one hotel for the night, and I’d flown Alitalia on TLV-FCO before, and it was fine.
The Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion is used by most of the airlines that fly out of TLV, except for El Al. It had been completely renovated since my last visit in 2012, and was actually pretty nice, though a bit cramped. The food on offer was pretty good. It was all cold, but I don’t know if that was because it was Shabbat. There was tuna salad, eggplant, hummus, babaganoush, green salad, and some rolls, cakes, and cookies. I had a sampling, a Diet Coke, and a mineral water before heading to my Alitalia gate.
I boarded my Alitalia flight on schedule, with a lot more Italians than I had had on previous Alitalia flights to and from Israel, and there were a lot of crosses and rosary beads, priests, and an insane number of people who couldn’t figure out how to find their seats.
The A321 was identical to the one I rode and reviewed two years ago– much newer looking than our Air France plane on the way over, but starting to show the wear of a few years. The business cabin had the same Recaro slim line seats as the rest of the plane, but with the middle seat blocked off with a tray. The legroom was good, and the seats reclined pretty far, although the back was uncomfortable, as it usually is on these stupid slim line seats. About 20 minutes after I boarded, the pilot came out and helped the flight attendants move the business curtains forward, making it a 4-row cabin.
The service was pretty minimal, with no predeparture beverage offering, but a tray of orange juice or water was passed around after take-off. Quickly after that was served, dinner was brought out, which was one big ravioli with indeterminate filling and some limp asparagus, served alongside an okay green salad with some tuna, and a cheese plate. The female purser was fine, but fairly brusque and uninvolved. There was one pass of the bread basket, and just the one drink service accompanying dinner.
Although the flight was pretty short, it was exasperating, as a passenger from coach had come up to the business class cabin and was talking extremely loudly with two of his friends across the aisle the entire flight.
After we began our initial descent into Rome, the purser distributed some packaged cookies. And then we were on the ground at Fiumicino a few minutes early, where we landed at a remote stand and were bussed to the terminal. Since I wasn’t staying in the Schengen area, I only had to go through a short security line and screening, and then took a train to Fiumicino’s G-gates, where Alitalia’s non-Schengen flights depart from, and where I’ve flown out of many times.
The Alitalia lounge at the G gates is one of the worst lounges I’ve ever been to, with only its name, “Freccia Alata Giotto,” reflecting class. It was at least emptier than it’s been on other occasions I’d visited, as not many long-haul flights were still left to depart. The food on offer consisted of some orechiette pasta bathed in olive oil, and small sandwiches with indeterminate cheese and meat. There was a staffed bar with espressos and alcohol on offer, and sodas poured out of two liter bottles. The only self-serve drinks were water from mostly-empty fridges. I had about an hour in the lounge – a lovely stay in Italy – before heading back upstairs to the gate.
Boarding via jetbridge began about 10 minutes late, but a large line had formed well before. The Rome to Heathrow flight was a codeshare with China Eastern, and there was a large tour group of wealthy Chinese travelers who were being shouted at like herded cats. It was a pleasant sound. Soon, the entire rest of the plane formed a line. At boarding time, I ended up being the first person on the plane by simply walking to the Sky Priority lane when Business Class was called. Shocking how that works.
The A321 was the same as on my TLV-FCO flight, but with only two rows set up for business class. The curtain cabin divider was behind my head and was a little uncomfortable, but it was fine. The cabin had a total of only two passengers, and the purser was much more attentive than on my first flight, with several drink offers over the flight. Again, there was no in-flight entertainment, and the meal was pretty similar- a decent stuffed ricotta pasta, and some gross vegetables, along with cheese and some unappetizing fruit, and frequent bread passes.
After a short flight, we landed at Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which was a ghost town. There was no wait at immigration, and I walked over to the Hilton for the night, which was connected to the terminal by a long walkway.