Nicola Brady flies transatlantic from Dublin to review Aer Lingus's Business Class.
There’s a unique kind of anguish that comes from travelling economy on a long haul flight, trying in vain to get anything vaguely resembling sleep.
You know that just beyond the curtain lies a heavenly world of flat beds, free-flowing champagne and fluffy duvets. But does it live up to all of those mid air fantasies?
Travelling from Dublin to LA recently, I finally got to find out.
Aer Lingus flights to New York and LA are on an Airbus A330 from Dublin, with 23 seats in business class. With a seat pitch of 58 inches and a width of 21 inches, you have a good bit of room to play with, and the seat reclines into a fully lie-flat 6’6” long bed.
The seat pitches are fairly standard, but not the best in the business – Virgin Atlantic, which flies to LA from London, also has a 6’6” long bed but a width of 33 inches, and the seat placement means there’s no one in front of you.
Ethiopian Airlines, the only other airline flying direct from Dublin to LA, has a pitch of 68 inches, though the beds don’t fully recline.
While not gargantuan, I am fairly tall (one of my crueller nicknames is Hagrid). I do, however, find the Aer Lingus seats to be dreamily comfy, with more than enough room for me to stretch out, roll over in the night and sleep with my legs akimbo.
Seat back entertainment comes in the form of huge 16-inch HD screens (above) and noise-cancelling headphones, though one critique from fellow passengers is that the screen doesn’t tilt (meaning watching from a fully reclined position is tricky).
The addition of a seat massager is oh so welcome, as are the kitten-soft cotton sheets on the pillow and duvet (duvet! Take that, scratchy economy blankets).
There’s a handy compartment to store all your bumph, which is all but necessary considering your baggage needs to be stored for take off and landing (you do have your own roomy overhead compartment though, so there’s no jostling for space).
The in-flight Wi-Fi is rather zippy, and while you won’t be doing anything that requires too much power, you’ll be able to work and browse happily (as well as posting smug Instagrams, of course). Business class passengers surf for free, while Wi-Fi costs €6.95 to €29.95 in economy.
The only glitch? Three of the rows to the right of the plane are in blocks of two. So if you’re in the window seat, you still have to climb over your companion – if they’re lying flat at the time, it’s more than a little inconvenient.
In my experience, you can never fault Aer Lingus's service. Its staff are that quintessential blend of helpful and no-nonsense, and that level of service is continued in Business (as is to be expected). When I remove my makeup before take-off, a member of the crew rushes up, concerned that I’m starting to cry (and very relieved that I’m not). There’s a playfulness to the team that is, I think, uniquely Irish – there’s no sense of fawning or false platitudes, but you’re very well looked after.
Alas, the food isn’t as reliable as the service. On my outgoing flight, lunch is a rather flabby Irish stew, which is under-seasoned and bland. The other option is a fish pie, the scent of which has no place in an airtight cabin.
On my return, however the meal is a smash – my herb-crusted loin of lamb is perfectly pink with a flavourful buttermilk herb dressing, crisp fondant potato and spinach.
The canapés on both flights are exceptional – I tuck into bites of rare, seared tuna, plump olives and mouthfuls of creamy mozzarella with cherry tomatoes, alongside the obligatory champagne (Jean Pernet Tradition NV Brut is the tipple of choice).
Aer Lingus prides itself on serving a “fusion of the finest modern and traditional Irish food” but if there’s no consistency, it’s disappointing.
The little touches make all the difference. Amenity kits are stocked with top quality Voya products – think lip balm, moisturiser, facial wipes and mouthwash, in a handy pouch (that has since become my go-to toiletry bag). When you take your seat, a warm towel is handed to you, along with the glass of champagne in a cute glass adorned with the Aer Lingus logo.
But Aer Lingus really comes up trumps in the lounge. Or, rather, lounges – at Dublin airport you have a plethora of them. After check in, you can call into the Aer Lingus Gold Circle lounge, to relax a little before heading down to pre-clearance - where, don’t forget, your business class ticket allows you to join a dedicated, shorter queue.
The newest addition is perhaps the most welcome when it comes to transatlantic flights. 51st & Green (below) opened last year, and is located beyond US pre-clearance. Anyone who has headed down far, far too early to be met with limited shops and cafés will be glad of the gleaming white, dapper lounge, which is open to all business class passengers.
In 51st & Green, you can chill out with a coffee table book, charge your phone, and knock back a fresh Bloody Mary before making your way to a nearby gate for priority bording.
And when you land back in Dublin, you can nip into the Revival Lounge at the baggage claim area. This mini-lounge is the perfect place to freshen up after a long flight, with self-contained bathrooms with a loo, huge shower, fluffy towels and more Voya products. There’s coffee, pastries and fruit in a seating area too, if you want to grab a bite before hitting the road.
Stateside, there is a specialised (and very fancy) Aer Lingus lounge in New York, and in Los Angeles you have the use of the Air Canada lounge.
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Going to press, business flights to Los Angeles start at €1,349 one-way, with economy starting at €299 one-way by comparison. Business class flights to New York start from €899 one-way, with economy from €229 one-way.
There’s also the option to bid for an upgrade prior to departure, with the airline's 'Upgrade Yourself' feature. If your flight is eligible, you’ll be emailed with the opportunity to “make [them] an offer” – if your bid is successful, you’ll be notified at least a day before you fly.
It should be noted that a Del Boy style bid of €50 will get you nowhere… each flight has a minimum and maximum assigned offer value, and your bid needs to fall within this zone. A “strength gauge” will tell you how likely your bid is to succeed, but there’s no guarantee that it will be accepted.
It should tell you something that, towards the end of my flight, I found myself wishing it would last just a little longer (try saying that after 11 hours in a middle seat). When everything is this easy, flying truly is a pleasure – all the painful elements are removed and you can fly not only in comfort, but in style.
In comparison to other airlines such as Virgin or Emirates, Aer Lingus might fall a little short – some of the luxurious touches like sit down bars and chauffeur transfers are absent. But when all the elements are taken into consideration, it’s a good, solid product.
If you don’t flinch at the price, or if you find long haul flights particularly painful, then it’s absolutely worth the money. If you’re more used to economy but are heading off on a special trip, or manage to nab a deal, then you most definitely won’t regret it.
NB: Nicola was ugraded on a flight from Dublin to LA as a guest of Aer Lingus. Contact 1890 800600; aerlingus.com.