Trip Reports

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2018: Intra Europe Business Class Experience

When is business class not really business class?

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2018: Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge T3 SIN
SWISS Intl Airlines B77W Business Class SIN-ZRH
Cosmo Hotel Berlin
Westin Grand Berlin
The Intra-Europe Business Class Experience, 2018 Edition
Turkish Airlines A330 Business Class IST-AMM
Sheraton Amman Al Nabil
Egypt Air B737 Business Class AMM-CAI-NBO
Tribe Hotel Nairobi
Sheraton Kampala
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class NBO-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ADD-GRU
Sheraton WTC Sao Paulo
Sheraton Vitoria
Marriott Sao Paulo Airport
Avianca Brasil A330 Business Class GRU-SCL
San Cristobal Tower Santiago
Avianca VIP Sala Lounge Santiago SCL
Air Canada B77W Business Class SCL-YYZ
Air Canada Express E175 Business Class YYZ-BOS
W Boston
Element Boston
United Club BOS
United Airlines B757 First Class BOS-SFO
Le Meridien San Francisco
United Club SFO
United Airlines B77W Polaris Business Class SFO-NRT
ANA B787 Business Class NRT-SIN


When is business class not business class? When it’s intra Europe. In the course of my travels I’ve seen many a novice traveler happily bound down the jetway after buying a cheap upgrade to business class at the counter, only to gaze with disbelief at the cabin upon realising the reality of intra Europe J: economy class with a blocked middle seat.

I mean sometimes you get a shared table separating the two seats…

British Airways Intra Europe J

…but otherwise, not so lucky.

Iberia Intra Europe J

Oh yes, you can bet that a lot of tourists might splurge for an upgrade thinking “well, I’m on vacation anyway…” only to be massively disappointed. But not you, wise Milelion readers. You know better, because you’ve read the reports and now can look the check-in staff square in the eye before chortling from deep within the belly when they ask if you’d like to upgrade.

Last year was my chance to try intra Europe business on Oneworld, this year it was Star Alliance’s turn. I took a total of three intra Europe flights during my RTW trip

  • SWISS ZRH-TXL
  • Lufthansa TXL-MUC-BCN
  • Turkish Airlines BCN-IST

What’s interesting about this year’s edition is that I had three very different experiences:

SWISS (ZRH-TXL)

What made SWISS different from the usual intra Europe business class experience was the type of jet used on this flight. SWISS operates the Bombardier CS300 on select shorthaul routes, a narrowbody aircraft that was only started service with SWISS in late 2017 (SWISS was the launch customer).

The configuration is 2-3, so if you snag yourself a seat on the port side of the aircraft, you’ll have two whole seats to yourself, and the guarantee that you won’t need to climb over/be climbed over by anyone during the flight.

These planes are very new and the seats are still in immaculate condition, as you can see from the picture below.

Legroom was average, and there’s a small seat pocket for literature plus space to hold two water bottles.

They also have small, smartphone sized screens hanging from the ceiling showing the overall map. Plus individual air vents.

Some airlines use a movable curtain to separate intra Europe business from economy. Which reminds me of this funny ad that OMAAT posted some time back:

SWISS? Curtains are passe. Here’s a cardboard standee instead.

Each passenger in business class got a bottle of water and a packaged wet tissue before takeoff, I suppose in lieu of a welcome drink and hot towel.

Shortly after takeoff, breakfast was served which was unexpected on this 90 minute flight. It was all cold, with the exception of the bread.

The loos on this aircraft were surprisingly nice, but given it’s a fairly new one I suppose they should be. It had an automatic tap, another nod to modernization.

Before landing, the crew came around with a basket of milk chocolates for you to help yourself. SWISS has amazing chocolate, and they don’t mind if you take two. Or three.

I love the little touch that SWISS has done on the wings. Made for a great shot as we were descending into Tegel.

I thought that SWISS’s intra Europe business class product was a perfectly alright way of passing a 90 minute flight. It helped that the aircraft was brand new. I certainly wouldn’t pay out of pocket for this experience, but wouldn’t actively seek to avoid it either.

Lufthansa (TLX-MUC-BCN)

This was as close to a “classic” intra Europe business class experience as you could get.

I was super excited to travel with “Europe’s first five star airline“, because an award bestowed by a transparent and totally conflict of interest free organisation must surely be a seal of quality!

My luxurious ground experience began at TXL where I showed up 2 hours before departure to find the check-in counter totally deserted.

It’s a bit annoying that a 5 Star airline like Lufthansa did not have any signage instructing people where to check in, but after wandering around the terminal, I found that business class passengers could check in early at the Lufthansa First Class Check-in facility, an area of unrivaled opulence.

I mean, just check out those lounge chairs.

After check-in, I was invited to the Lufthansa lounge in TXL which must be one of the rare few airport lounges that is landside. TXL is in desperate need of an upgrade (and its replacement is long, long, long overdue- it was supposed to open in 2011!) and can’t actually hold too many passengers past security (you clear security and you’re literally at your gate). Therefore all the concessions, lounges and whatnot are landside. 

The lounge is huge, but was almost empty when I visited.

This lounge pulls double duty as both a domestic and international airline lounge (remember, it’s landside), so to be fair the selection was pretty decent.


Here’s what was on offer for my morning departure:

 

There was a French sparkling wine available, but no champagne at this five star airline lounge (aren’t you bringing that up that five star thing a bit too much, you say. Well, yeah, but if you want to be a five star airline this is what people are going to expect of you)

Before long it was time to board. Lufthansa has a more traditional intra Europe J layout, as you can see below:

There’s also a sign upfront to remind you that you are, indeed, in business class. I hear some Lufthansa jets have added a small medallion at the front of the cabin to declare their new five star status, but didn’t see it here.

From Berlin to Munich (70 mins), a short cold meal was served

And from Munich to Barcelona (2 hours), another cold meal.

I wasn’t a fan of either one, but I think cold meals are more acceptable in Europe than they are elsewhere (not in Asia, certainly).

This was your plain vanilla intra Europe J experience: pleasant enough experience on the ground, economy class + slightly elevated meal in the air.

Turkish Airlines (BCN-IST)

Turkish Airlines was a unique intra Europe business class experience for me because they actually had a different seat. Instead of economy with a blocked middle, TK has invested in recliner chairs similar to those you’ll get on north America domestic first class.

What I found even more amazing was that the IFE looked to be newly installed. See this controller in the armrest?

It’s a touch sensitive one, similar to those which started appear on SQ in 2013 with the revamp of their business class seat, and on other airlines shortly after. It’s strange to see that high tech controller alongside manual push to recline seat buttons, a kind of juxtaposition of the cutting edge and retro.

That IFE controller operates an individual TV screen, which pulls out from the armrest.

The IFE selection was substantial and more than enough for flight just over 2 hours.

It also had a USB port tucked at the side of the screen. I believe it could be used for charging and for watching your personal content.

Before takeoff the crew came around with welcome drinks (I picked the lemonade- Turkish does the best lemonade anywhere) and pre-packaged hazel nuts. I contemplated doing a Heather Cho but thought better of it.

The loo was nothing special, although they did have special Molton Brown amenities instead of the usual pump soap dispenser.

They were the only airline to give out menu cards in intra-Europe J (although Iberia did this last time round too)

Turkish Airlines has a chef on board all its business class flights, although I’m not quite sure why. I might understand the concept on a long haul flight where the chef has the time to play around with ingredients and get creative, but on a 2 hour hop like this where the priority is to get everyone fed quickly, there isn’t a lot he can do. The catering is done by DO&CO, who are capable of some pretty amazing stuff (the TK lounge in Istanbul and LH First Class Terminal in Frankfurt are catered by them), but I found the food disappointing.

The pasta (well, that’s what you get for ordering airline pasta) was nuked into oblivion, with the odd splash of cheese scabbing over the surface. The starter was, well, I don’t know what it was but judging from how much was left untouched by the rest of the cabin neither did most of my traveling companions.

It’s a bit unfair comparing this product to the rest, because Turkish does invest in a proper business class seat, but maybe that’s the point. On the vast majority of Turkish Airlines intra Europe business class routes, you will get a special, wider seat as opposed to the usually blocked middle seat (but note that there are still some aircraft in the TK narrowbody fleet without special business class seats, mostly A319s, A320s and 737-800s, refer to Seatguru for details). So if you have to fly intra Europe, see if TK can be your carrier.

Conclusion

I think you already knew what to expect coming into this post, but I hope it’s been useful to you nonetheless. There are some intra Europe routes where you can get widebody aircraft with much superior products, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Mercifully, most flights within Europe are fairly short, and you don’t really need business class. For me, I think I’d put the experience with TK at the top, followed by SWISS and then LH (but more due to SWISS’s new aircraft than any genuine service differentiation).

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3 Comments on "The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2018: Intra Europe Business Class Experience"

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Hey Aaron next time try Finnair. I was pleasantly surprised to get a spanking new A350 for the short hop from Helsinki to LHR. 1-2-1, hot breakfast with champagne, and free wifi. Not on all flights, so luck of the draw!

Hi… Has anyone had a confirmed Suites downgraded to First? Are there any avenues for compensation for such a scenario?

in order to keep discussions on topic, you might want to raise this in the telegram group (t.me/milelion). you’ll get more eyeballs there and probably a faster response