10 September 2015

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 September 10, 2015
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If it is the end of summer than you’ll find me heading to Montreux, Switzerland for my annual visit.  Montreux is truly the gem of the Swiss Riviera and my husband and I fell in love with the town many years ago.  This visit marked our eighth visit to Montreux and it is truly something that we look forward to every year and we are still finding wonderful new surprises.  Future posts will focus on the gluten-free food finds (and there were many) but this post is about something near and dear to my heart – the flights.  In my book, getting there should be just as much of an experience as the destination itself.  Past years visits included Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, SWISS, and Brussels Airlines.

 

This year we decided to try Aer Lingus’ newly re-designed business class from JFK to GVA via DUB.  I was actually very pleasantly surprised with Aer Lingus and even though there were some small hiccups on the return journey I would definitely fly them again.

 

Flight: EI 104
Depart: New York
Arrive: Dublin
Equipment: A330-200
Class: Business
Seats:  2A and 3A

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The outbound flight departs from Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 at JFK.  Aer Lingus has a separate dedicated check-in area with a separate business class counter.  Handling is handled by Jet Blue staff but they were extremely knowledgeable on Aer Lingus protocols and check-in was extremely swift and painless.  Bags were priority and transfer tagged, boarding passes for the connecting flights from Dublin (with priority boarding) were issued, directions to the Aer Lingus Gold Circle lounge were given, and we were directed to the fast track security lane.

Security was relatively painless and we were soon on our way to the lounge.  Aer Lingus has its own Gold Circle Lounge in Terminal 5 located across from Gate 26 on the second level of the terminal – accessible via stairs or an elevator.  The lounge itself is well-laid out and features three main seating areas: (1) Pre-flight dining area with tables, (2) main seating area, and (3) a smaller seating area towards the back.  There is a self-service bar area featuring a decent selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, light nibbles, and snacks.  The pre-flight dining area featured a small selection of hot dishes and additional beverages including wine.  The pre-flight dining options were fine if you wanted a heavier snack but I cannot imagine someone opting for this in lieu of onboard dining unless they truly wanted to sleep from takeoff until landing.  The options were a chicken dish, snap peas, cheesy potato wedges, and a pasta dish.  None of it looked particularly earthshattering but I did indulge in the potato wedges which actually were quite nice and as a celiac traveler there was definitely two and possibly three items that I could have had.


 
The most notable thing about the lounge is the stunning view of the old TWA Terminal that it affords.  I can remember traveling through the Eero Saarinen designed terminal as a child – before the demise of TWA and was always fascinated by its design and loved walking through its long connector tubes to get to the gates.

The lounge is a bit of a walk to the gate that Aer Lingus typically uses but the lounge attendant announced when it was time to make our way over.  Once at the gate boarding was announced and a dedicated business class lane was available.

Once onboard we were warmly welcomed and directed to our seats.  This aircraft had the smaller version of the business class cabin which is nicely laid out in a 1-2-1 or 1-2-2 pattern.  The seats and layout are very similar to those on SWISS and Brussels Airlines.  As we settled in pre-departure beverages were offered – orange juice, water, or champagne.  The crew quickly replaced any empty glasses with refills as we waited for boarding to be completed.  I was also able to confirm that my gluten-free meal was boarded.  Menus and amenity kits were also distributed and we were soon on our way.


 
Shortly after takeoff the crew swung into action with the pre-dinner cocktail service accompanied by an amuse bouche (a separate gluten-free version was given to me consisting of grilled zucchini, squash, and mushrooms).  The crew handling our side were really fantastic lead by the cabin service manager.  Doubles were always provided for cocktail orders and they really looked after everyone extremely well – they were always one step ahead and you did not have to ask for anything.

The gluten-free meal service began with a salad followed by a grilled chicken breast with mixed vegetables.  Dessert was vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The meal itself was actually not bad and it seems like chicken is the go-to protein for gluten-free meals as it is most often served on my flights wherever I am headed in the world. It is actually most welcome because given my shellfish allergy my worst nightmare is being presented with a large serving of shrimp as my meal. Caterers are clearly cognizant of food allergies and restrictions so likely play it safe with the faithful old chicken. Only one time in my millions of miles flown have I been presented with a fish main (which I had to pass on because of worry it might have been braised with a shellfish stock).

The regular meal service consisted of:

MAIN COURSE

Seared Fillet of Beef with wild mushroom sauce, seared squash, calcannon

or

Roast Breast of Chicken with fondant potato, broccoli, carrots, sauce vierge

or

Shellfish Mac ‘n’ Cheese with grilled asparagus

DESSERT

Chocolate and vanilla ice cream

CHEESE BOARD

A selection of cheese with plum and apple chutney

WINE LIST

Whites: Soave Classico Doc Monte Fiorentine, Ca’Rgate, Veneto, Italy; Sancerre ‘La Guiberte’, Domaine Alain Gueneau, Loire Valley, France

Reds: Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain; Château La Dame Blance, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France

Champagne: Jean Pernet Tradition Brut NV, Champagne, France

 

BREAKFAST

Fruit skewer

Irish bacon roll

A basket of continental pastries

 

Meal service was swift to allow for the maximum amount of sleep time.

 

Flight: EI 680
Depart: Dublin
Arrive: Geneva
Equipment: A320
Class: Business (Economy only aircraft, exit row)
Seats:  13A and 13C

Transit in Dublin was relatively easy though our connecting flight was departing from the older terminal and it was a bit of a walk from our arrival gate.  The terminal was hopping very early in the morning and we stumbled upon a lounge we had access to via one of our credit cards and decided to stay there rather the Aer Lingus lounge as we were tired and our connecting time was only about an hour or so by the time we reached the lounge.  The lounge was fine though looked a bit worse for wear but had a selection of food and beverages available.

Once we made our way to the gate the area was extremely crowded but we eventually found two seats.  Aer Lingus operates more a of LCC model on intra-European flights with no business class we were able to avail of priority boarding and secure a complimentary exit row seat (which had more room than business class on the mainline intra-European flights I have taken).  The plane feature all leather seating and everything was buy on board but for a 1.5-2 hour flight was fine.  It actually reminded me a bit of JetBlue.

 

Flight: EI 681
Depart: Geneva
Arrive: Dublin
Equipment: A320
Class: Business (Economy only aircraft, exit row)
Seats:  13A and 13C

The return experience was not nearly as seamless as the outbound.  We made our way to the Aer Lingus Business Class check-in which is handled by Swissport and also handles check-in for a host of other airlines at GVA.  The check-in agent was clearly not well-versed in how Aer Lingus operates and while we were able to check-in our business class baggage allowance he kept saying that because this leg of the journey was technically in economy class that we would not be given priority boarding or lounge access and could apparently not print the onward boarding passes so we would have to collect them in Dublin.  We had to push for priority baggage tags which he finally acquiesced to – though they were for Swissport and not for Aer Lingus.  The whole experience was actually extremely disappointing as we knew what we were entitled to and did not receive it.  Thankfully we once again had a choice of lounge access from our credit cards and the lounge we ended-up in was actually really very nice with lovely views and a very good selection of food and beverage items.


 
Once we made our way to the gate we were among the last to board and the flight was completely full.  Thankfully there was still overhead space available as all carry-ons must be placed overhead in the exit row.  The flight was similar to the outbound and we were soon in Dublin where we collected our onward boarding passes and made our way to the main Aer Lingus lounge.  The lounge was crowded but began to thin out as the wave of trans-Atlantic departures began.  The lounge has a similar design to the New York lounge and had two levels of seating.  Food and beverage choices were limited but adequate.  The nice part of the lounge is that for U.S. departures they call flights to progress to U.S. Immigration Pre-Clearence.  I truly enjoy countries that offer pre-clearance as you arrive in the U.S. as a domestic flight.  The facility was very good and we were through in a few minutes.  It is also nice that you are shown your bags on a video screen to confirm they are yours – so no need to claim and re-check. Unfortunately our flight was delayed due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft from Málaga due to weather.  The sterile area for U.S. flights does not offer much of anything so it would have been nice to have been alerted before leaving the lounge since it was known there would be a delay.  Thankfully it was only a couple of hours as they turned around the aircraft quickly and the gate agents did give constant status updates to keep passengers informed of progress.

 

Flight: EI 109
Depart: Dublin
Arrive: New York
Equipment: A330-300
Class: Business
Seats:  3K and 5K

seatmap4

Again, business class boards via a dedicated lane which was helpful given that the flight was completely full and there was a sea of passengers around the gate area (the flight was actually oversold and they were requesting volunteers to take the flight to BOS).  The gate we departed from had no seating area around it – seating was in the gate area across from the departure gate behind a glass wall.

Once onboard pre-departure drinks were offered and this time included the addition of a Kir Royale-type champagne drink in addition to the usual offerings.  We had selected the two “throne-like” single seats a row apart from each other.  These are really fantastic seats as they offer more space than the other single seats in the cabin and provide additional privacy.  Menus and amenity kits were distributed and we were soon on our way.

Once airborne the crew began service with canapés and cocktail service.  The gluten-free canapés was a crudité mix of peppers, carrots, cucumber, and olives.

The gluten-free meal consisted of a salad with micro-greens, carrot, melon, orange, and berries which was a rather interesting combination.  The main course was grilled filet of beef with no sauce accompanied by mixed grilled vegetables and baby potatoes.  The vegetables and potatoes were quite good but the beef was overcooked and had a funky taste to it lacking any real flavor.  Another side salad was also included along with a gluten-free roll from Irish company Denise’s Delicious.  While the prospect of a gluten-free roll was exciting the actual roll itself was utterly disappointing as it likely needed to be properly thawed and refreshed.  It was ice cold on the inside and fell apart turning into a sand-like consistency (which is also how it tasted).  Dessert was a fruit plate which I passed on as I was fruited-out from the salad course.  Pre-arrival meal was a quinoa salad with micro greens, tomato, and cucumber with another roll and a gluten-free berry scone from Denise’s Delicious.  The scone was very good particularly when smeared with the accompanied butter and strawberry jam.


 
The crew on this flight were good but not as proactive as their outbound counterparts.  Requests for beverages sometimes went unfulfilled and required a second reminder if you were drinking anything other than wine.  Those drinking wine had their glasses constantly refilled as the bottles were always on the service cart during each pass the attendants made through the cabin.  This aircraft had a larger business class cabin than the outbound and was completely full so the crew did have their hands full. The regular menu actually had a small section that listed all the allergens contained in each of the menu items – yet this was only on the flight leaving Dublin. The menu on the flight departing the U.S. did not have this information.

TO START

Smoked salmon tartar

Burren Smokehouse salmon, dill, courgettes

or

Toons Bridge mozzarella salad with tomato and pesto

MAIN COURSE

Lasagne of Irish salmon with roast cherry tomatoes

or

Bulmers cider-braised chicken with pearl onions, and mushrooms

or

Fillet of Irish Beef with green beans, jus, and roast potatoes

DESSERT

Raspberry fool and shortbread

CHEESEBOARD

A selection of Irish cheese with plum and apple chutney

AFTERNOON TEA

Healthy Power Salad (mixed seeds, carrot, couscous, spinach, and pulses)

Warm Scones (Fresh warm scones with Kerrygold Irish butter and Helen Gee’s strawberry jam)

 

The gluten-free meal options were more than adequate for the duration of the flights and it was nice that they tried to up their game with some gluten-free bread options (but need to find a way to make the rolls edible). The overall experience on Aer Lingus was positive but there are some inconsistencies when it comes to their outstations that make you feel like you are having to very different experiences. They definitely need to resolve this so that travelers who choose business class itineraries beyond Ireland have the same consistent experience that set the bar at their main hubs.  The long-haul hard and soft products were very good and on-par with the major trans-Atlantic business products.  I would not hesitate to fly Aer Lingus again to Ireland but might think twice about continuing onward in Europe if they cannot rectify the disconnect that is occurring at their outstations.
 


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