MIAMI — LOT Polish has not exactly been living on easy street over the past few years. The carrier has faced intense competition from deeply entrenched regional full service carriers such as Lufthansa and Air France that have made the effects of the global recession all the more severe. Below the surface the carrier has been shedding routes left and right since 2010 in a bid to increase profitability. The carrier has also been courting partners since 2012 to convince one to buy a major stake in the airline.
But worst of all, the carrier bet the farm on the controversial Boeing 787 Dreamliner for its long-haul operations. Originally intended to help create one of the youngest and most advanced fleets in Europe, the move instead left the Warsaw-based airline with a bunch of expensive pieces of flying plastic when the type was grounded worldwide in January.
Having already sold off all but one of their Boeing 767s by the time of the grounding, the carrier was left up a big creek with a very small paddle. With long-haul operations effectively crippled the carrier hemorrhaged cash to the tune of $50,000 per day for months on end, eventually ending up broke earlier this year. LOT has been taking government loans consistently ever since, and has already admitted that if Boeing doesn’t compensate them for the loss in revenue they are already looking at dire financial straits for 2014.
It is against that backdrop that Airchive was invited by LOT Polish on a roundtrip from New York JFK to Warsaw.
Terminal one at New York’s JFK Airport isn’t exactly the airports crowning jewel, but it’s hardly the worst of the bunch either. LOT Polish’s check-in desks are located just below and to the left of the AirTrain entrance, making it an easy find. Premium economy passengers have the option to check in for the flight in at the business class desk, where a friendly LOT employee made check-in quick and easy.
Despite having a fast track security status it took almost thirty minutes to wind through the lanes. Obviously not LOTs fault, but the coach lanes moved faster. Post-security, premium economy passengers can enjoy the Lufthansa lounge at JFK’s Terminal One: this was not clear to us however, and we missed it.
Being an early evening departure, the terminal was packed with people leaving for flights across Europe. Desperately needing electricity, a search for an open outlet was quite the frustrating experience. Less than six (and often less than that) were found at multiple gate areas, and it took quite some time to locate one. Food options and shopping were plentiful, albeit the usual airport overpriced.
Conveniently at the same time an open electric outlet was located it was time to head to the gate for boarding. The aircraft was parked at gate 10, and upon arrival it was discovered that the flight was delayed thirty minutes.
Those in premium economy, known as Premium Club, board at the same time as those in regular business class, allowing plenty of time to settle in. For our flight though, a few members of the press, Airchive included, were allowed preboarding to take pictures. Consequently we did not experience the normal boarding process.
Upon first glance the premium economy cabin looks akin to a 1990s style business class: the 21 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration were wide, thick, and comfortable looking. Each seat features 38-inches of pitch and 19.5-inches of width, along with 132 degrees of recline. A leg rest, located under the seat, extended upward about 30 degrees. Each also features its own entertainment system by Thales and a universal power port.
Luggage quickly found a home in the large overhead bins, a hallmark of the Dreamliner. Preflight drinks, a pleasant surprise, were served from smiling flight attendants before pushback while folks began to settle in for the eight hour flight.
The first of two meal services began forty minutes after departure. Main course choices for dinner consisted of two options: chicken or salmon. We went for the chicken served on Israeli cous-cous with sautéed vegetables bathed in a tasty sauce. The meal also came with a salmon-based appetizer, side salad, and selection of cheeses with a fruit sauce; all served together. A desert course consisting of a mini crème brûlée came later. The chicken was particularly good, solidly bucking the stereotypical dry airline meat. The mini crème brûlée also impressed.
While eating dinner it was time to play with the entertainment system, located in the seat-back (or in the seat for bulkhead rows). The system is very intuitive and controlled via the touch screen or tethered remote. Unfortunately it is not especially well stocked. Movie choices are limited to twelve Hollywood-style movies total (though they were some great choices), along with Polish movies and kids movies. TV choices followed a similar pattern. Listening can be done with personal headsets or with a pair provided by LOT.
Despite several tempting movie choices it was time to get some sleep on our redeye flight. Reclining the seat back proved a bit confusing: the seat is listed as reclining to 132 degrees, but that felt unlikely. Realistically the seat felt like it decline more like 115 degrees, though we didn’t get a protractor out to measure it either. The leg rest was a nice touch, but didn’t lift up enough to be terribly useful: finding a comfortable position was quite difficult. Still, we slept on and off for about four hours.
The second meal service, breakfast, was served about ninety minutes prior to landing. It was simple, consisting of a European-style selection of fresh fruit, yogurt, and cold cuts on cheese. The meal was high quality and very tasty.
Coming in over the beautiful Polish countryside we made our final approach into Warsaw Chopin International Airport an hour behind schedule. A quick taxi to the gate followed a firm landing, and being at the front of the plane enabled a short deboarding. Being the only international arrival at the time we were through immigration and customs in less than ten minutes.
With no luggage it was a short walk to the curb, where a car was waiting to take us to our hotel downtown.
For an airline that has been struggling to stay afloat for the better part of a year, you certainly would not have noticed it on this flight. The quality of food and service were both excellent, pleasantly surprising myself and my seatmate regularly throughout the flight.
During waking hours the seat was plush and comfortable: no complaints. For overnight flights, however, the seat was slightly on the disappointing side. If the airline was able to match the 132 degrees of recline it supposedly already has, and/or add 20 degrees more on the footrest, the seat would be substantially easier to sleep in.
If a daytime flight, we would go for premium economy without thinking twice. For a red eye there would be some second thoughts: businessman travelling overnight to an important morning meeting? Think twice. Leisure traveler with nothing in particular going on after arrival? Go for it.
Ultimately LOT’s offering represents business class level service in an economy-style seat. The package, on the whole, easily rivals if not exceeds that of the other big full-service European carriers such as Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa.
The Dreamliner factor is not to be underestimated either. For long-haul travel it is, hands down, the plane to fly on. Being this author’s fifth long-haul flight aboard one, the humidity and lower pressure continue to make a noticeable difference following a lengthy flight (and help to offset the otherwise lackluster sleeping experience).
Unfortunately, however, the 787 remains an unreliable liability. Not only has the airplane continued to experience various problems with LOT, but highly publicized incidents on other carriers continue to give the airplane a bad name with the flying public.
Yet even with the 787s problems this author would go out of his way to ‘jump the pond’ on a Dreamliner vs anything else: LOTs excellent food and great service make it an even easier choice.
Airways was given rare access to visit the flightdeck not long before beginning our final descent into Warsaw. Check it out!