MIAMI — Let’s take a hop across the pond with US Airways, in business class!
Since 2009, the A330 fleet has been using a lie flat seat, called the Envoy Suite. The vast majority of my business class travel experience has been on American Airlines, and with American and US Airways currently morphing into the new American Airlines, I jumped at the opportunity to experience the premium product on the US Airways side of the family when recently had to travel from Philadelphia to Frankfurt. Can Envoy Class compete with the product of other trans-Atlantic carriers?
I landed in Philadelphia from Baltimore on a 31-minute US Airways Express flight. The flight arrived fourteen minutes early at concourse B, which meant no rush or long walk since my flight to Frankfurt departed from the adjacent concourse A.
The extra connection time gave me a chance to stop at the US Airways Club, which was on my way from concourses B to A. The club offers a variety of complementary snacks and beverages, but a coupon or payment is required for the alcoholic variety, and it has a good view of the ramp. About 45 minutes before the scheduled departure of 20:40 local time, I proceeded to gate A23, where boarding soon got started. The aircraft for this flight was an A330-243, seating 20 passengers in Envoy Class and 238 in economy. The 20 Envoy Class suites are arranged in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, which offers every passenger direct aisle access.
I quickly settled into seat 4A and was greeted by a very friendly staff. They quickly showed their good humored nature, when one of the attendants asked me to get her good side, upon noticing I was taking pictures. Abe, the attendant in charge of my section, immediately handed out amenity kits and offered pre-departure drinks: I chose a glass of champagne. He also handed out the dinner menu, which listed the starter plate, appetizer, main course, dessert and wine list. As is the case with that of other airlines, the menu also gave passengers the option of an express meal, in which everything is served at once to allow more time to work or sleep. The menu lists a mid-flight snack, but the description states that passengers can go to the galley for refreshments during the flight. For breakfast, the menu offered a hot or cold option.
Capt Jim Allen quickly got things underway after greeting us over the public address system. Once airborne, there was a hot towel service. I was then offered a beverage of my choice, I went with a cabernet sauvignon, and a nut plate as a starter. One difference I noticed compared to my experience on other U.S. airlines was that the nuts were room temperature, instead of warm, which is more common. A salad and appetizer cold plate soon followed. The menu offered four choices for the main course. I chose a fillet of beef, which turned out to be very tasty. There were three dessert options, a cheese plate, a four seasons mousse cake, or ice cream. I set my mind and appetite on the mousse, but by the time Abe got to me, he informed me the mousse was gone, so I settled for the ice cream. The mousse apparently was popular with the passengers who got to order before me.
Envoy Class offers a wide variety of of IFE options, including 252 movies, 36 TV programs, and 11 video games. The crew also handed out American Airlines Bose headsets, which shows the merger is well underway. This is also a likely indicator that these headphones are popular with passengers. Likewise, it resonates with American Airlines Group,CEO Doug Parker’s intention to adopt the best practices of each carrier. The IFE also has the popular moving map display that gives passengers situational awareness data, such as position, speed, altitude, and estimated time of arrival. Envoy class seats are also equipped with a power outlet and USB connections to keep mobile devices powered and charged. For any passenger not familiar with the Envoy Suite, there is a handy two-sided instruction card.
The flight duration was seven hours and thirty minutes. I opted for some sleep after dinner, as we were leaving Newfoundland, requesting to be woken up for breakfast, about an hour and a half before landing. Envoy Class offers a light blanket and small square pillow that resembles a cushion more than an actual pillow, maybe because the head position of the seat is more tapered than square in shape, so a wide pillow would probably not fit. I slept for almost four hours and woke up over the coast of Ireland. I opted for the cold breakfast, which consisted of fresh fruit, yogurt, and bread. Soon we were descending into Frankfurt.
The Envoy suite and service are excellent! My only previous experience with a US Airways premium product was in 2009 on a three-hour flight from Philadelphia to Santo Domingo aboard an A320. At the time, I thought the US Airways offering was very inferior based on my business class experiences with American and Delta on U.S. to Caribbean segments of a similar duration. For one thing, while the competitors served a hot multi-course meal for premium passengers, US Airways only provided a tray covered in plastic wrap containing a cold sandwich and accompanying snacks. In all fairness to US Airways, Doug Parker at the time was aware of these and other short comings of the newly combined America West and US Airways and was intent on fixing them. Five years later, the fruits of his labor are obvious. I was very pleased with Envoy Class as a whole. The crew was attentive and friendly, the food was very good, and the IFE can keep passengers fully entertained for hours. Envoy Class is very comparable to the competing trans Atlantic business classes offered by its U.S. and European competitors.
What’s in store for the future?
Going back to Doug Parker’s comments on best practices, it will be interesting to see what he does with three different international widebody business class products under the new American Airlines. The A330s have the five-year old Envoy Class. The 767-300s will adopt a brand new staggered 1-2-1 seating arrangement that will offer aisle access to all passengers, and the 777-200ERs will be retrofitted with the highly popular 1-2-1 reverse herringbone product similar to the one that debuted in early 2013 with the 777-300ERs. One letdown for passengers is that the new 767 seat does not have integrated IFE. Passengers will instead be offered Samsung tablets Bose headsets for IFE. The 777 business pod offers wider head space in lie flat mode, which allows for the larger pillow size that does not fit in the Envoy Class equivalent. In my opinion, the A330s and 777s offer an overall advantage over the 767, given their integrated IFE, while the three types retain a similar level of comfort for passengers wishing to sleep. Furthermore, the 787s and A350s arrive in late 2014 and 2017 respectively. They could potentially offer a glimpse of business class commonality for the future of the combined airline, as it aims to be more competitive with other major world airlines in the premium seat sector.