Trip Reports

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: The Intra-Europe Business Class Experience

When a blocked middle seat is the epitome of luxury.

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A330 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air Business Class Lounge, MCT
Oman Air E175 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
Cathay Pacific Arrivals Lounge HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


No one in the right mind should be paying their own money for intra-Europe business class (IEBC). It’s fine if you buy/redeem it as part of a longer route, eg LHR-FRA-SIN, or if it’s already included in a RTW-type ticket (as was the case for me), but anyone who otherwise pays their own hard earned cash/miles on an IEBC flight needs their head examined.

Someone over at OMAAT found this video that sums up the IEBC experience to a T.

Because that’s exactly what IEBC is. The sum total of the product is an economy class seat with a blocked off middle portion. Your seat is exactly the same as that in economy in every single way. The cabin crew adjust the curtain accordingly depending on how many people are in business class that day. You may be served a meal, you’ll have a somewhat better ground experience, but you’re not getting anything beyond that. Consider yourself warned.

On the European legs of my RTW trip, I flew IEBC on both Iberia and British Airways. Here are some aspects of the experience that I’d like to highlight in case anyone’s wondering what to expect slash not expect.

Check-in & security

You do have special check-in lanes for IEBC, but they’re the same as the priority lanes you could access if you’re an elite status holder with Oneworld/Star Alliance/Sky Team. Even if you weren’t, the wait times for economy weren’t necessarily longer at the three airports (LHR, ORY, MAD) I experienced IEBC in. In fact, wait times were actually shorter at MAD because Iberia decided to staff the whole business class line with two staff, while deploying many more to the economy class section. Ah, Spanish logic.

British Airways ran a much better operation at Heathrow, with many open counters for Club Europe (what they call IEBC) passengers. I actually passed throw LHR a few days before their infamous IT failure, which I hear they handled in a very British “what’s all this then?” way.

Your bags will get priority tags,  if that’s a big decision criteria for you. You also get additional luggage allowance.

Apart from priority check-in, passengers travelling on IEBC do receive expedited security clearance at airports where that is available. It was certainly nice to have, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it essential unless you’re the type who shows up at the airport at the last minute.

Lounge

If you need to get work done before your flight, one of the plus points of IEBC is that you get lounge access.

Now, depending on the airport and airline your experience is going to differ dramatically. In LHR we had access to the British Airways Galleries lounge, which was overcrowded and had non-functioning A/C.

Food items were limited to bread and a couple of hot dishes. No full English in a BA lounge was surely some sort of travesty.

There are a few alcohol stations, but don’t expect any bubbles.

The nicest part about the lounge was probably the decor. Check out this cool dress in BA colors.

In ORY, Iberia used the Premium Traveller lounge, a contract lounge operated by the airport authority. Contract lounges are hit and miss because the operator really doesn’t have any incentive to provide anything beyond a basic level of comfort.

However, this was a slightly better experience- nowhere as crowded as the BA lounges at least.


Ads

There was a lot of seating and natural light. ORY is a less busy airport compared to CDG but also smaller, so the departures area is a big hectic mess and this lounge is a nice escape from the main terminal.

The food selection was abysmal though, but they had sparkling wine. Which makes everything better.

The best IEBC lounge by far was Iberia’s in Madrid.

It was huge, quiet and had an excellent selection of food and drink. I was seriously surprised by the quality of offerings available for a morning departure.

There were several bar stations throughout the lounge with soft drinks and alcohol (minus marks for no Cava though. In Spain, really?)

They even had what looked like a wine tasting bar in one corner

The hot options approximated a full English breakfast, which was surprising given that breakfast isn’t really a thing in Spain. I was also impressed that they had staff regularly roving the displays and replenishing whatever ran out.

They also had a lot of supplementary items like juice, cakes, yogurt, and cheese.

Ice cream was available too at breakfast. Not just any ice cream, but Haagen Dazs.

So, well done Iberia. An excellent selection of food and a lounge you’d actually not mind spending more time in.

Seat

If you know exactly what to expect, you’ll won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the situation with Iberia. Note the curtains separating the last row of business class from the first row of economy.

Legroom is so-so, about 30 inches give or take. Your laptop screen will still get crushed if the person infront of you reclines suddenly.

Don’t expect any seatback IFE or anything like that. Don’t even expect them to distribute a tablet with movies and TV shows, as you’d get on narrowbody business class flights on other airlines.

Your only source of entertainment is this stenciled reminder on the bulkhead of where you’re seated.

Depending on the airline, they may either leave the middle seat empty or put some sort of additional tray to create the illusion of a different product. That’s what BA does, and that’s what I saw on a Lufthansa flight some time back too.

The seat divider is an excellent conversation starter. Perhaps you can be like this worst person ever, who goes out of his way to try to network with seatmates on long haul flights. Seriously dude, get a cat or something.

Entertainment on BA consists of the snazzy new M&S buy on board menu, a comedy in which the delightful Alex Cruz explains why BA is technically not a budget carrier (and why they don’t know what an uninterruptible power supply is)

Which brings me too…

Inflight Meals

Meals on IEBC are hard to predict and the policy varies from carrier to carrier. I was served meals on my BA flight from LHR-ORY (1h 30 mins), Iberia from MAD-CMN (2 hours) and Iberia from ORY-MAD (2 hours). My flights were all departing around traditional meal windows.

Iberia gives out menu cards on their flights, which makes it better than BA’s “chicken or fish” style of service.

Food quality was, well, similar to what you might expect in long haul economy on a major airline. The beef was airline beef, and the veggies were soggy.

You certainly won’t go hungry, but any would-be gourmands are likely to be disappointed. Here’s what they were serving for breakfast on Iberia.

BA’s meals weren’t much better. The highlight was probably the warm bread, although the inclusion of a single prawn should be applauded in the Alex Cruz era.

In case anyone is interested in the contents of the M&S buy on board menu, which BA introduced instead of free meals “in response to customer demand”,  here it is-

So that’s IEBC. And now that you know what it is, maybe you’ll think twice when the upsell offer comes at check-in. I guess the on-ground benefits are decent enough if you don’t have elite status with any FFP or a priority pass, but if you do there’s very little you’d get that you weren’t otherwise entitled to.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

8 Comments on "The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: The Intra-Europe Business Class Experience"

Notify of

Intra-Europe Business used to be a plush affair, but not anymore. Even buying award seats is a bad deal, as the only differences are lounge access and that empty middle seat. There are not that many takers these days, therefore it makes sense for them to dedicate more staff to Economy.

I flew between London and Helsinki as part of a longer flight and one leg was as you describe. To my surprise though, the other leg was on a spanking new A350 with 1-2-1. Plus cabin crew who kept trying to persuade me to have champagne with breakfast.

PS Forgot to mention – free wifi also! Better than champagne imho.

PPS Do real men get excited by sparkling wine? Next you will be telling us how much you like quiche…

I know some star airlines will try to ensure golds have the middle seat blocked in economy if possible as an unpublished benefit (at least they used to a few years ago when I was bumbling around Europe with status). Which means you even get the same hard product as an elite in economy.

So, who actually likes Biz Class in that part of the world?

wpDiscuz